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How can Gatsby be called 'great'?"

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Introduction

"A bootlegger with gangster 'gonnegtions', a purveyor of sordid parties, a prime exponent of the hedonistic Jazz Age, how can Gatsby be called 'great'?" The title of F Scott Fitzgerald's novel 'The Great Gatsby' can be seen as incredibly ironic: not only can the 'greatness' of the eponymous character be vehemently contested, he is not even named 'Gatsby'. In fact, he is a criminal, James Gatz, who, although he appears to be an epitome of the idealistic American Dream, having grown from an impoverished childhood into a life of excess and splendour, he has obtained everything through crime and corruption. Indeed, it has been said that 'The Great Gatsby' is "a parable of disenchantment with the 'American Dream'"1, and it is, for the American Dream is the idea that "through hard work, courage and determination, one could achieve prosperity." James Gatz did not obtain his prosperous lifestyle through "hard work", but rather through felony. Of course, it may seem that he 'worked hard' for it, and there is no disputing his determination and perhaps even his courage, but the "hard work" on which the American Dream is based is not the work of criminals. Of course, we cannot deny that Gatsby has achieved a great deal in his lifetime, all, apparently, in the name of love. ...read more.

Middle

so far, I see I have given the impression that the events of three nights several weeks apart were all that absorbed me. On the contrary, they were merely casual events in a crowded summer, and, until much later, they absorbed me infinitely less than my personal affairs. Nick experiences first-hand Gatsby's idealistic dream of loving Daisy, and he admires this with the qualities he believes him to have. He chooses to admire this Gatsby rather than the pretentious and enigmatic man with rather unsavoury connections. It is this partiality, brought on by naivety, and awe, that allows the reader to query the reliability of Nick Carraway as a narrator, and the true "greatness" of Jay Gatsby. Nick's perceptions, however, are not completely unjustified. Gatsby does have an "extraordinary hope" that he will be able to love Daisy once again, and his determination to win back her love led to him gaining everything he regarded as necessary. (This can be likened to F Scott Fitzgerald's own chase for his wife, Zelda). This can be seen as a quality that makes him "great". However by obtaining his riches and prosperity through "work", rather than by heritage, and by living on West Egg, rather than the fashionable East Egg, he has made himself an archetype of "new money", an idea that was not liked by the rich in early twentieth century America. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, Gatsby's eventual downfall has the reader questioning this scene and these qualities. It can be said that if Gatsby had told the truth, and Daisy had held the blame for killing Myrtle Wilson, he would not have been killed in the brutal way that he was, and there is reason for us to believe that it would not have meant the downfall of Daisy, either. After all, Nick himself says that "Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply", and one can assume that this would also be true for Daisy: Wilson would not have shot Daisy as he does Gatsby: it would appear that his "romantic readiness" was eventually the cause of his murder. The fact that he was killed by Wilson is deeply ironic: the underdog, the only poor character we see in the novel, running a "bare", "whitewashed" garage under the god-like eyes of "Doctor T. J Eckleburg", kills the prosperous, rich, idealistic hero, showing not only the "disenchantment of the 'American Dream'", but also that there really is no place for Jay Gatsbys in the world: the qualities which Nick perceives as "great" slowly pave the way for his defeat. Was Gatsby "great"? No, he was simply naively idealistic in a society completely deficient in morality. 1 The Great Gatsby: Two Versions of the Hero, David Parker, Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations. ?? ?? ?? ?? Gemma Edney L6th AS English The Great Gatsby ...read more.

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