According to Aristotle, there are a number of characteristics that identify a tragic hero: he must cause his own downfall; his fate is not deserved, and his punishment exceeds the crime; he also must be of noble stature and have greatness. These are all characteristics of Jay Gatsby, the main character of Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby is a tragic hero according to Aristotle’s definition.
Jay Gatsby is an enormously rich man, and in the flashy years of the jazz age, wealth defined importance. Gatsby has endless wealth, power and influence but never uses material objects selfishly. Everything he owns exists only to attain his vision. Nick feels “inclined to reserve all judgements” (1), but despite his disapproval of Gatsby’s vulgarity, Nick respects him for the strength and unselfishness of his idealism. Gatsby is a romantic dreamer who wishes to fulfill his ideal by gaining wealth in hopes of impressing and eventually winning the heart of the materialistic, superficial Daisy. She is, however, completely undeserving of his worship. “Then it had been merely the stars to which he had aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor” (79). Nick realizes Gatsby’s estate, parties, shirts and other seemingly “purposeless” possessions are not purposeless. Everything Gatsby does, every move he makes and every decision he conceives is for a reason. He wants to achieve his ideal, Daisy. Gatsby’s “purposeless splendor” is all for the woman he loves and wishes to represent his ideal. Furthermore, Gatsby believes he can win his woman with riches, and that his woman can achieve the ideal she sta…
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…w World” (182). Gatsby’s vision corresponds to that of the explorers who discover the promise of the New World.
Gatsby is a man of extreme capabilities but he fails to see the inevitability of his vision’s failure, and in his inability to see this, he keeps trying to attain it. He does everything in his power to accomplish this vision, until his death. Daisy indirectly causes Gatsby’s death, making her more than ever, unworthy of Gatsby’s affections. Ironically, Gatsby lived for Daisy and up to his death, believed and had faith in her and his vision.
Dillon, Andrew. “The Great Gatsby: The Vitality of Illusion.” The Arizona Quarterly 44 Spr. 1988: 49-61.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
Irwin, John T. “Compensating Visions: The Great Gatsby.” Southwest Review 77 Autumn 1992: 536-545.
Futility of the American Dream Exposed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
The ideal of the ‘American Dream’ has hardly changed over the past century. The dream is a unique American phenomenon. It represents a nebulous concept that is exemplified by a number of American values. Many deem wealth and success to be the means to this paradigm. When stability, security and family values also become part of the suburban lifestyle, the American Dream comes close to becoming reality. Nick Carraway, the candid narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby analyzes the legitimacy of this principle through the inevitable downfall of Jay Gatsby. The novel takes place during the ‘roaring twenties’ in two sophisticated, affluent Long Island neighborhoods. The people in these neighborhoods epitomize the superficiality and arrogance that distorts the American Dream. Fitzgerald utilizes this environment and its people to examine the negative attributes of the American Dream.
Fitzgerald portrays two neighborhoods, East Egg and West Egg, to display the slowly evolving corruption of the American Dream. East Egg houses old money sophisticates, and West Egg accommodates the less fashionable “nouveau riche” types. The apparent differences cause the two neighborhoods to develop a seeming rivalry. The different neighborhoods are connected through the characters becoming entangled with each other. Both Carraway, and his wealthy, yet enigmatic neighbor, Jay Gatsby live in West Egg. Carraway lives in a modest bungalow, which is overshadowed by Gatsby’s extravagant estate. In his magnificent manor, Gatsby indulges in an excessive and exaggerated lifestyle including many lavish parties: “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars” (43). Gatsby considers his prodigious wealth and stature to be the means to regain his one true love, Daisy Buchanan. Daisy’s aura of wealth and privilege–her many clothes, her perfect house, her lack of fear or worry—attract Gatsby’s attention and gradual obsession. Gatsby realizes that his own capacity for hope made Daisy seem ideal to him. He does not realize that he is pursuing an image that has no true, lasting value. This realization would have made the world look entirely different to Gatsby, like “a new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about” (169).
Daisy and her unfaithful husband Tom live in a large East Egg mansion directly across from Gatsby’s estate. In this environment, Gatsby’s destiny with Daisy becomes his individual version of the American Dream.