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Themes in The Great Gatsby

Uploaded by eCheater on Jan 08, 2005

Themes in The Great Gatsby

1. THE CORRUPTION OF THE AMERICAN DREAM

The American Dream--as it arose in the Colonial period and developed in the nineteenth century--was based on the assumption that each person, no matter what his origins, could succeed in life on the sole basis of his or her own skill and effort. The dream was embodied in the ideal of the self-made man, just as it was embodied in Fitzgerald's own family by his grandfather, P. F. McQuillan.

The Great Gatsby is a novel about what happened to the American dream in the 1920s, a period when the old values that gave substance to the dream had been corrupted by the vulgar pursuit of wealth. The characters are Midwesterners who have come East in pursuit of this new dream of money, fame, success, glamour, and excitement. Tom and Daisy must have a huge house, a stable of polo ponies, and friends in Europe. Gatsby must have his enormous mansion before he can feel confident enough to try to win Daisy.

What Fitzgerald seems to be criticizing in The Great Gatsby is not the American Dream itself but the corruption of the American Dream. What was once--for Ben Franklin, for example, or Thomas Jefferson--a belief in self-reliance and hard work has become what Nick Carraway calls "...the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty." The energy that might have gone into the pursuit of noble goals has been channeled into the pursuit of power and pleasure, and a very showy, but fundamentally empty form of success.

How is this developed? I have tried to indicate in the chapter-by-chapter analysis, especially in the Notes, that Fitzgerald's critique of the dream of success is developed primarily through the five central characters and through certain dominant images and symbols. The characters might be divided into three groups: 1. Nick, the observer and commentator, who sees what has gone wrong; 2. Gatsby, who lives the dream purely; and 3. Tom, Daisy, and Jordan, the "foul dust" who are the prime examples of the corruption of the dream.

The primary images and symbols that Fitzgerald employs in developing the theme are: 1. the green light; 2. the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg; 3. the image of the East and Midwest; 4. Owl Eyes; 5. Dan Cody's yacht; and 6. religious terms such as grail and incarnation.

2. SIGHT AND INSIGHT

Both the character groupings and the images and symbols...

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Uploaded by:   eCheater

Date:   01/08/2005

Category:   Great Gatsby

Length:   10 pages (2,183 words)

Views:   29650

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