Fitzgerald evokes a particular question from the reader; a longing to find out who Gatsby really is, and this highlights Fitzgerald’s success in masking the real identity of Gatsby, only allowing the reader a small insight into his personal and past life, using rumours and uncertain perceptions to obscure the reader’s view of Gatsby. Fitzgerald does eventually display the motives, or ‘point of existence’ of Gatsby, and in the uncovering of Gatsby’s motives the reader is able to see how Gatsby bases his reality in terms of his desires, thus being able to define him as somebody ‘a figment of his own imagination’. Gatsby’s motive of the novel is revealed to be his enticing and attempt to impress Daisy; to satisfy his long-burning desire. As Nick sums up “young men didn’t drift coolly out of nowhere and by a palace on Long Island Shore”. It is from Gatsby’s attempts to capture this dream that the reader is able to see imperfections about his ‘real’ character, and of who he aspires to be. Gatsby strives for perfection and aims to manufacture an image of a wealthy, eloquent, and suave gentleman. However, through this attempt, the reader is able to see that this is a mere desire of Gatsby to escape the confines of reality and enter a dream world. His manner of speaking is perhaps most telling in this argument- Fitzgerald makes the reader expect Gatsby to deliver sentences in an eloquent, upper-middle class manner, as a wealthy party host would, however Nick’s narration informs us of his inarticulacy, epitomised by Gatsby’s short and clunky sentences, such as his hurried statement of “People who do interesting things. Celebrated people”. Through Nick the reader can also see how Gatsby “began leaving his elegant sentences unfinished” during the car journey, the point at which Gatsby’s desire comes to light. He is also said to “pick his words his care”, highlighting the fact that he is concealing something and that he is not the person who he paints himself to be. He “chokes” when explaining his Oxford educated background, and to Nick it is something that sounds “unnatural”, another example of Fitzgerald’s success in displaying the enigma of Gatsby and confusing the true reality of Gatsby.
Fitzgerald puts a mask on Gatsby’s true identity; however there are moments in which he allows the reader a glimpse into the contents behind the mask, as if making Gatsby’s guard ‘slip’. Gatsby’s facial expressions offer an insight into this transformation: his “smile of quality reassurance” “vanishes” for a moment during his first meeting with Nick, and “an expression of bewilderment” is said to arise after he reunites with Daisy. These anomalies symbolise his enigmatic character- he is a man who is experiencing the battle of illusions versus reality.
Gatsby, and his relationship with wealth and class are also enigmatic. The “green light” symbolises a want for wealth and consumerism, something that reflected the nature of America in the “roaring twenties”. (In Fitzgerald’s own life we see that his marriage proposal to Zelda Sayre was only accepted when she saw that he was in a state of financial security, so some of his acceptance of love may have transgressed into the novel.) “The American dream” automatically implies equality and avocation of democracy, however there are certain images throughout the book that contradict this. The wide variety of references to Europe, including an “Oxford” education, “Marie Antoinette restoration salons”, “gardens of Versailles” and “little Montegro” evidences the class extrapolation from Europe; America’s paradox of attempting to transform its image in an unsuccessful way reflects Gatsby’s attempt of trying to manufacture an image that cannot be fulfilled.
The references to clocks and time, however, are arguably Fitzgerald’s greatest success in his shaping of Gatsby’s battle of realities vs. dreams. The “dangerous tilting” of the clock, and Fitzgerald’s description of Gatsby as an “overwound clock” highlights an inherent flaw in Gatsby’s nature. In the same way that the clock is trapped in the exact moment when it stopped working, Gatsby is trapped by his dreams of ideal love with Daisy. He is basing his reality on a dream that is firmly set in the past, and irretrievable. Thus, Gatsby creates this artificial illusion of himself in order to satisfy his longings for the past, and as a result of this conflict between reality and a past dream, Gatsby’s reality is obscured, and thus it is his illusionary existence in trying to reclaim the past that makes him a mere figment of his own imagination.
Thomas Smith 7F3