Nostalgia, the bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past, is the dominant feeling throughout The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is an eloquently written novel filled with intricate details and written to evoke the romanticism in anybody. The love affairs evolving throughout the story add substance as well as emotions to the author’s message, a moral lesson concerning how people think and behave. I found numerous instances in the book that aroused soul-searching questions that every person asks him/herself at one period of time or another.
Mr. Jay Gatsby, the self made millionaire, is desperately seeking to reunite with his first and only love, Daisy Buchanan, who is already married to Tom. The story unfolds through the eyes of Mr. Nick Carraway, who lends a moral standing to the story, remains more distant than the other characters, and is more a spectator than being actively or emotionally involved in the situations. Fitzgerald’s use of Carraway as a spectator, and how brilliant it is, is one aspect that all literary critics seem to agree upon. The first literary critic, Jeffrey Steinbrink, primarily focuses his analysis on the element of time.
He states, “the notion that the flow of history can be arrested, perhaps even reversed, recurs in The Great Gatsby as a consequence of the universal human capacity for regret and the concomitant tendency to wish for something better” (Steinbrink 179). The inability to recover the past as well as the tendency to try and correct it is most evident with Jay Gatsby. He is insistent upon Daisy admitting that she has never been in love with her husband. Gatsby says to Daisy, “just tell him the truththat you never loved himand it’s all wiped out forever” (Fitzgerald 7,139).
Jay Gatsby believes, with all his heart, that his dream of recapturing his long lost love is dependent upon erasing and forgetting the past five years. Nick tells Gatsby that the past cannot be repeated. Gatsby foolishly denies this and continues to believe that he can fix what has already occurred. Gatsby is only thinking with his heart and not with his mind. Gatsby feels as though his past with Daisy can be recreated if he could hear that he is the only man who Daisy has ever loved. Unfortunately, Gatsby is not Daisy’s only love; she has also loved Tom. Daisy informs Gatsby that he is asking too much of her and it devastates him.
It is as if Gatsby has never given any thought to the possibility that he may not be reunited with Daisy. Nick, the narrator, captures the reason why Gatsby seems to be so defiant in accepting things the way that they are. He states, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no mattertomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. And one fine morning—— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (Fitzgerald 9, 189). Pursuing our dreams requires a balance between what we want and knowing what we cannot have.
Fitzgerald is conveying an important message through Jay Gatsby. This is something that Steinbrink, the critic, has also mentioned in his article. He wrote, “man lives successfully only in a state of equilibrium between resistance to the current and surrender to its flow. He must accommodate the lessons of his past to his visions of the future, giving it to neither, in order to stand poised for happiness or disappointment in the present” (Steinbrink 181). We all have dreams that may not be attainable despite the effort we put forth to reach them. We continually strive to reach our goals only to fail.
It is a never-ending battle in which hopes are repeatedly raised and then destroyed again. Gatsby has become a victim to this mindset as we all have, or will, at some point in our lives. However, we cannot allow it to envelop our entire being. Constant pursuit of dreams stems from possessing a strong sense of motivation, an important characteristic to possess, and defines one person from another. Believing in the possibilities that lie in our future are no more important than knowing when to give them up. Gatsby is not the only character who is confused or effected by the way life has turned out.
The varying ways that different characters are affected is a point that the second literary critic, Malcolm Cowley, made a distinction about. He states that the “characters belong to their own brief era of confused and dissolving standards, but they are affected by the era in different fashions” (Cowley 155). This idea is thoroughly supported and correct. Cowley states that Gatsby can never truly be like the ritzy East Egg people despite the amount of wealth he may accumulate because that type of person is not who Gatsby is (Cowley 156).
He has worked his way into the upper class but will always continue to be separate and different from those that are born with a silver spoons in their mouths. Gatsby has been effected by the emphasis on materialism because he feels the only way he can gain Daisy’s love is to do whatever it requires to become wealthy. This is demonstrated when Gatsby makes it a point for Daisy to see where he lives and to show her all the riches he has obtained. Nick is also present during the tour, but the purpose is to prove to Daisy that he is worthy of her affection.
Upon the arrival at the last room to be shown in his mansion, Gatsby’s bedroom, Gatsby makes a point to show his wardrobe to Daisy as if wardrobe is important. Nick states that Gatsby “took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher” (Fitzgerald 5, 97). At this time, it becomes very apparent that Gatsby has been affected by the times in which he has lived.
He places a great emphasis on his own wealth, mostly because of Daisy’s insistence for her partner to be rich, and this is apparent even in the beginnings of their relationship. The narrator confesses that Gatsby “had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same strata as herselfthat he was fully able to take care of her” (Fitzgerald 8, 156). Gatsby feels compelled to be wealthy in order to have Daisy’s love. Despite Cowley’s lack of mention that Gatsby has been affected by the time in which he exists, his examples of other characters are correct.
Cowley states that “Tom Buchanan is wealth brutalized by selfishness and arroganceDaisy Buchanan is the spirit of wealthbut she is as self-centered as Tom and even colder” (Cowley 155). The “selfishness and arrogance” on Tom’s behalf is demonstrated through his behavior in many ways. Tom is selfishly stuck in believing in his past glory as a football star. He is arrogant in readily believing the superiority of the white race. Tom says, “it’s up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things” (Fitzgerald 1, 17).
With this statement, Tom does not entertain the idea that if whites were superior to minority races, then the Nordics would not be in any danger of being taken over. His ideas are bluntly racist but arrogant as well. Tom’s arrogance is also evident when he refuses to acknowledge that Gatsby may have something better to offer Daisy than himself. Instead, Tom proclaims, “She’s not leaving me [and] certainly not for a common swindler who’d have to steal the ring he put on her finger” (Fitzgerald 7, 140). Cowley is also correct about his depiction about Daisy.
That Daisy is coldhearted becomes clear in the final chapter of the novel. Daisy is the one who runs over her husband’s mistress with Gatsby’s car, then allows Gatsby to accept the blame, which cost him his life, and then abruptly leaves town with Tom without mentioning a word to anyone. She does not attend Gatsby’s funeral, and he was supposedly a man with whom she was in love with. There is no evidence within the novel that shows the slightest hint of Daisy being emotionally hurt, nor struck with grief about Gatsby’s fate. She sends no flowers or explanation for her disappearance.
Daisy may be a beautiful woman, but when she never acknowledges Gatsby’s death, we know she is cold-hearted and self-centered. Another point that Cowley mentioned regards Nick and the role that he plays. Cowley says that Nick “stands somewhat apart from the action and [his] vision frames’ it for the readerNick stands for the older values that prevailed in the Middle West before the First World War” (Cowley 155). This is true about Nick. As I read the book, I too, undoubtedly believed Nick’s comments and observations as if he were an upstanding moral authority.
He represents the values that many Americans believe should be preserved such as true love, honest people working hard for their money, and a higher emphasis on how people should live their life, rather than judgement based upon material possessions. However, despite the great feeling evoked by the thought of living a good and honest life, the direct opposite of these beliefs has and continues to be a sustaining force in society. In addition, society also likes to believe in the idea of cherishing the ones we love, and to always let those loved ones know how much we care about them.
Unfortunately, with busy lives and many chores to tackle, too many times I have heard people say how they wish that they had said or done something different, and had done so before it became too late. Too often we are aware that we are pushing someone or something into the background of our lives and continue to do so. It is vitally important to let loved ones know how much they are cherished before the opportunity to let them know disappears. This message has also been overlooked in the literary criticisms I have read about The Great Gatsby.
I am disappointed that none of the critics I read mentioned a particular conversation between Meyer Wolfsheim and Nick, which takes place after Gatsby’s death. It is a pitiful situation when Nick is unable to gather any of Gatsby’s friends or acquaintances to attend the funeral. Wolfsheim is one of Gatsby’s closest friends but still refuses to go. This is when Wolfsheim says to Nick, “Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead” (Fitzgerald 9, 181). His statement is so true but it is not a valid excuse to not pay his respects to Gatsby.
But, it is still an important message that should not be overlooked when reading this story. Fitzgerald sends a strong message to his readers through Wolfsheim. Fitzgerald’s novel sends a lot of messages, or warnings about life. His story is both enlightening and entertaining, and the praise that he receives from literary critics is well deserved. The literary critics, Steinbrink and Cowley, also do a fine job of analyzing the novel as well as adding a fresh perspective to a reader that he/she may not have thought about before.
Steinbrink’s article re-confirmed an aspect of the novel that I had noticed, but was unable to put into words, as he most eloquently stated about the inability to recapture the past. Cowley, the second critic, was correct in his statements about Nick representing a moral authority, which speaks for all of society. He was also correct about different characters being effected by the times that they lived in. This was a fresh perspective that I had not thought about.
I had known that Daisy and Tom were rich snobs’ but had presumed it was just their way, and not that their attitudes were contributed to by the society and time in which they lived. Overall, a great majority can be learned from reading The Great Gatsby as well as reading analyses by literary critics. Being able to comprehend and understand another person’s perspective can only add to a person’s knowledge to draw upon. I can better understand the novel by learning how other people interpret the meaning of it. I am pleased with the new perspectives and insights that I have gained through such a short novel.