Points to Ponder
One of the themes of the book is the unbridgeable divide between West Egg and East Egg because its geographical gap reflects the same rigid social stratification that prevented many Americans who lacked the proper social connects from gaining access to the most elite layers of society. West Egg, where Nick and Gatsby live, is a wealthy area that is inhabited by the nouveau riche, those who had recently attained great wealth and had acquired the giant houses and the material possessions associated with the social elite. West Eggers, though, are looked down upon by citizens of East Egg, where the conservative, aristocratic elite, including Tom and Daisy Buchanan, live. The East Eggers are "old money" - a social class that simply does not easily admit new members to its fold. In spite of the lavish parties that Gatsby throws in his gigantic, impressive mansion, he cannot win the acceptance of the East Egg crowd. The only thing that divides West Egg and East Egg - and that divides Gatsby from Daisy - is the bay. Consequently, even though Gatsby can see the green light from the Buchanans' dock from his own yard, the light seems almost unattainable because he has not yet been able to cross the bay and become a part of Daisy's society.
The core of this book focuses on the American Dream and the "eternal optimism" with which Nick Carraway associates Gatsby. In fact, Nick even comments at the beginning of the book on Gatsby's unique untainted optimism - the only cause for Gatsby's tragic downfall stemmed not from himself but from the cynicism and jealousy of others who did not want him to succeed. No matter what goes wrong in his life, Gatsby is confident that he can make anything happen. In spite of the optimism inherent within the American Dream of rising from rags to riches, there is a certain inevitability which implies that rigid social hierarchies are too strong to break, regardless of hard work and dedication. There was a reason that Fitzgerald is known as the representative voice of the Jazz Age: he alone captures the unbreachable gap between aspiration and reality. Gatsby, who has attained millions and hosts parties that are attended by society's most beautiful and admired, cannot win the love of Daisy Buchanan simply because he is not "old money."
Another point to ponder is the narration and structure of this work. Even though Gatsby is the hero, Nick Carraway is the voice that leads us through Gatsby's story, and Nick is not an impartial observer. In fact, Nick is friends with Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby, and it is through his interactions with them that we see into their characters. The way that the story is structured - it begins with Nick living in the West after Gatsby's death, and then flashes back to the events of the summer of 1922. Even though the story is about Gatsby, the events that happen in Nick's life during the same time period are of equal interest to the audience, although Nick is so wrapped up in Gatsby's mystique that his self-references are brief. It is interesting to catch Nick's oblique allusions to his past engagement and then his growing relationship with Jordan Baker. Even though he and Jordan have supposedly become more intimate with one another, his sudden dislike of her at the end of the story symbolizes the abrupt end to Gatsby's life. Perhaps Nick had been interested in her only when she had played a role in Gatsby's story and had helped Nick to understand Gatsby more with her memories of him as a young soldier. Because Fitzgerald gives us little insight into Nick's psychological and emotional development in the novel, Nick seems to consider Jordan to be simply a character in his reconstruction of Gatsby's life.
As in This Side of Paradise, significant parts of The Great Gatsby mirror aspects of Fitzgerald's own biography. Like Nick, Fitzgerald was an Ivy League scholar, and just as Gatsby had found love in the South while a soldier, so too did Fitzgerald fall madly in love with the wild and beautiful young Zelda Sayre while stationed in Alabama. Fitzgerald won fantastic success with his works and short stories, and he was so desperate to keep Zelda's love that he used the profits from his short stories to appease her every whim. Fitzgerald, like Gatsby, was caught up in the fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle that many young people experienced in large Eastern cities during the 1920's, and like Gatsby, Fitzgerald dedicated himself, his energy and his limitless talents to win the love of a woman who could never be satisfied. By finding pieces of Fitzgerald's life in both Nick and Gatsby, we can unearth the aspect of Fitzgerald's personality that seemed to distinguish him from his fast-paced crowd: he understood the power of the American Dream and the dangers and rewards of pursuing it until death.
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Points to Ponder
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