The Great Gatsby

by: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Themes

Main ideas Themes

What the old aristocracy possesses in taste, however, it seems to lack in heart, as the East Eggers prove themselves careless, inconsiderate bullies who are so used to money’s ability to ease their minds that they never worry about hurting others. The Buchanans exemplify this stereotype when, at the end of the novel, they simply move to a new house far away rather than condescend to attend Gatsby’s funeral. Gatsby, on the other hand, whose recent wealth derives from criminal activity, has a sincere and loyal heart, remaining outside Daisy’s window until four in the morning in Chapter 7 simply to make sure that Tom does not hurt her. Ironically, Gatsby’s good qualities (loyalty and love) lead to his death, as he takes the blame for killing Myrtle rather than letting Daisy be punished, and the Buchanans’ bad qualities (fickleness and selfishness) allow them to remove themselves from the tragedy not only physically but psychologically.

Class

In the monied world of The Great Gatsby, class influences all aspects of life, and especially love. Myrtle mentions this with regard to her husband, George, whom she mistook for someone of better “breeding” and hence greater prospects: “I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe.” Similarly, Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy is bound up with class. Only after amassing a large fortune does he feel able to make his move. At the end of the book, class dynamics dictate which marriage survives (Tom and Daisy), which one is destroyed (George and Myrtle), and which one will never come to be (Gatsby and Daisy). Only the most affluent couple pulls through the events that conclude the book. In fact, it seems that the accident may have brought them closer. When Nick spies on them through the window, he reports that “there was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture, and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together.” Because of their elite class status, Tom and Daisy share a belief that they are immune to the consequences of their actions. In the final chapter, Nick calls Tom and Daisy “careless people” who “smashed up things and . . . let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

The American Dream

The American Dream refers to a shared set of ideals that guide the spirit of the United States. These shared ideals include a notion of freedom that ensures all Americans the possibility of upward social mobility, as long as they work for it. Every character in The Great Gatsby draws inspiration from the American Dream’s promise of wealth and prosperity. At the same time, the novel itself critiques the notion of the American Dream. Readers may end the novel wondering if the American Dream is actually attainable at all. Gatsby suffers the most from the promise of social mobility inherent to the American Dream. He spends his life believing that if he makes enough money and acquires enough possessions, he can transcend his lower-class birth and become equal to Daisy and Tom. However, even though Gatsby succeeds in acquiring wealth, he is never accepted by the upper class. Gatsby’s failure to attain the American Dream suggests the Dream is both an unattainable and unwise goal.

Love and Marriage

The ideals of love and marriage are profoundly strained in The Great Gatsby, a book that centers on two loveless marriages: the union between Tom and Daisy Buchanan and between George and Myrtle Wilson. In both cases, the marriages seem to be unions of convenience or advantage than actual love. Myrtle explains that she married George because she thought he was “a gentleman,” suggesting she hoped he’d raise her class status. Daisy nearly backed out of her marriage to Tom the day before her wedding, and Tom had an affair within a year of the wedding, but the couple is well-suited because of their shared class and desire for fun and material possessions. Even Gatsby’s all-consuming passion for Daisy seems more of a desire to possess something unattainable than actual love. Nick, meanwhile, dates Jordan Baker throughout the book, and though their relationship has its moments of warmth and kindness, both parties generally seem lukewarm and emotionally distant. “I wasn’t actually in love,” Nick recalls, “but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.” Such “tender curiosity” may be the closest thing to love in the entire novel.