I just wanted to share some thoughts on why Gatsby is my favourite character in the whole of English literature.
Who is the linen clothed gentleman in whose mansion New York’s elite turns wild in endless nights of luxury and desire, entangled in his boundless, mysterious charm? Combining honour and disgrace, naïve romanticism and something brutally carnal, he encompasses human nature like a mirror: we may not like the picture, however, the clarity of the glass cannot seize to amaze us. Serving as an allegorical representation of the evil, corruption and fragility combined in every being, this idol tickles our senses leaving us both speechless and inspired. The truly Great Gatsby, is a fabulous fable, a tragic and hopeful fairy-tale, a fantasy capable of restoring faith in human dignity that it would be unjust to reduce to human form. Such a legend needs no introduction; he intoxicates all with the unmistakable aroma of a man who has penetrated into the realm of the extraordinary.
Fitzgerald’s protagonist is the ultimate embodiment of the American dream. Rising from being an unknown James Gatz in North Dakota with no prospects of escaping his social fate, he completely reinvents himself. At his endlessly bountiful summer feasts “oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos” were heard, his “bar in full swing” with “floating rounds of cocktails”. The “air alive with chatter and laughter”, as a swarm of guests enjoyed “glistening hors-d’oeuvres, spiced baked hams” and “salads of harlequin designs”. The reader is mesmerised by the myriad of colours, sights, smells that surround Gatsby and his ferocious eagerness to live beyond even the overindulgence of this very exciting era. His heart may manifest itself in peculiar, avant-garde, shameless ways but no one can deny him the satisfaction of having built his destiny from scratch because of it. After all, what is a man, if he does not want to be better himself, to become his own finest version?
“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth” wrote Albert Camus. Gatsby’s lie, his myth, is simultaneously fascinating and brutally honest. What truth of the absurdity of materialism and human behaviour are we not provocatively sold by Jay Gatsby? In post-world war I America, the economic boom and unprecedented prosperity lead young people such as Fitzgerald himself to behave wildly and attend parties such as those thrown by Gatsby. Simultaneously, the country underwent a social revolution from its youth’s rejection of strict Victorian ideals. Living in “the city” of dreams, Gatsby experiences his fictive romance, as if it were completely and utterly real. Yet another angle to him emerges, that of an idealistic and generous, self-made man who also retains a teenage sense of hope, a weakness for the accomplishment of an improbable desire. Fitzgerald places his protagonist solely in the boundary of the real, the very real, which he never escapes nor accepts.
Moreover, Gatsby’s love for Daisy makes the reader question his moral integrity allowing his enigmatic allure to spring to spectacular heights. Are the snob and greed in her “impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire”, that Gatsby so dearly loves to the point of “trembling”, just a reflection of his own? Inspired by the author’s girlfriend while at Princeton, wealthy debutante Geneva King, she is relatable and so is his disappointment with her personal and social rejection. In the author’s case, this took the form of King’s parents writing to him that “poor boys don’t think of marrying rich girls”, which allows the reader to appreciate the era in which the Great Gatsby lived and his subsequent gallantry. The source of his wealth may be bootlegging moonshine but we should merely marvel at Gatsby’s ambition and not frown upon the manner in which he fulfilled it. Charles Bukowski’s “Find what you love and let it kill you” springs to the mind of modern readers, who can but regard Gatsby’s life from this light: a hero who lets go of all security to immerse into the reality of true, unrefined love. Not only is this unique but it is also fundamentally human, in such a genuine way that it acts like a slap to the insensitivity of the crowds that get lost in the vastness of urban life.
To understand the opulence of Gatsby’s character we must enquire not in the love he has for Daisy but in the reason behind it. “No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart”, especially in the case of this epitome of chivalry and loneliness. She is too inadequate of appreciating Gatsby’s steadfast morality, which he ultimately loses by continuing to adore her. When finally meeting with Gatsby, an event he planned his entire existence for, she is most impressed by the material excellence of his “beautiful shirts” and “sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds”. She cares only for the luxurious fabric of his clothes and this seems to be the only thing about Gatsby capable of moving her. A tragic paradox indeed, as it is Gatsby’s unrestrained generosity that is “beautiful” and not his lifeless, material possessions. Even to a heartless woman like Daisy, Gatsby is a source of moral enlightenment and even his shirts inspire an undeniable greatness.
Significantly, Gatsby’s life makes the reader question to the extent to which his murder is justified. In his crippling ending, “the holocaust was complete” and the tragic fate of a life bursting with possibility and aspiration, sealed. Gatsby believed in “the green light, the orgiastic future”, the American dream or some other futile hope that motivated him to live beyond all rules. After Gatsby, nobody can, nobody will. Thus, Gatsby is an anti-hero of naturalism, a protagonist faced with the violence of a force greater than himself, namely poverty and social status. His life and death are in every aspect unreasonable, illegitimate, illegal. It is as much random as it is gorgeous. The author himself recalls in 1938 “that was always my experience-a poor boy in a rich town” and his perplexity is conveyed in Gatsby’s blurry consciousness. He can be understood in a plethora of ways, with something poetically ambiguous constantly surrounding him.
In William Shakespeare’s words: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. We have limited time to show or invent our desired identity. We can choose, to watch life fly past us like Caraway; wait for it to happen to us like Daisy or, we can be decide that no matter what, we will leave our very own, personal stigma on this harsh and unfeeling world that rejects us, like the upper classes have Gatsby. What makes Gatsby so profoundly great is his lavishness, his munificence, his liberality of manner. He consciously refuses to simply go through life, instead, he seizes every moment, grabs it by the horns. He may be just a stereotypical man with a need to dominate and a thirst for power beyond morality. She may be just a little brat who gives him nothing while dragging him by the nose. Regardless, his tale is that of a legend because he lives everything to the very fullest, on the most ferocious edge that life has to offer.
In conclusion, Gatsby, the Great Gatsby, does it all with such a splendour, magnificence, greatness with something of an artistically obscure and irresistible charm. The absurdity and futility of life vanish and we become floating clouds of hope in an imagery universe, as he invites us to join in living a life without any moral, physical or economic restriction. In fact, Gatsby’s complete desertion, in his last and sombre feast where the ecstatic voices transgress into missing people and the sound of jazz reduced to a solemn knell, a deathly silence, is not the most impressive or shocking notion in the novel. His love for Daisy and its persistence throughout his life, is in fact, most depressing. Gatsby does not die a hero of the American dream, a man appeased from a real or even one-sided love, a social revolutionary, savagely unjustified in his death. He does in fact seem to die the very death he wanted, in his desperate belief that he could become glorified by the soulless source of his great affection. All the more tragic is that he dies for a woman he spent his whole life forcing himself to love, in his abortive attempt for happiness. He dies a truly tragic hero whose tragic flaw is a conflict of identity, a hubris, in which his restlessness could not find peace.
My favourite hero is a poor man in a rich man’s house, a man whose wealth clashed with the social class that he was born into, in, according to society’s standards, an unforgivable way. Wow! What a shooting star, what a fluke, what a man…