Compare and contrast the writers' presentation of Gatsby and Heathcliff.

Authors Avatar

Mark Hosking





        Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a short American tale arising out of the jazz age during the 1920’s. It is full of love, expectations and ultimately loss. The eponymous Gatsby is, as the title suggests, the focal point around which Fitzgerald presents his story, through the narrator Nick Carraway. In much the same way that ‘The Great Gatsby’ was a product of its era, Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ is largely a result of the romantic movement that was sweeping Europe, intellectually and artistically in the late eighteenth to mid nineteenth centuries. The focus on freedom, emotion and the individual come cross strongly during the novel, with the protagonist, Heathcliff’s name conjuring images of the wild Yorkshire moors in which the tale is set.

Bronte implements the use of a narrator in her novel. The role is split between the pompous Lockwood and the pragmatic servant Ellen Dean (Nelly). Lockwood’s judgement, and therefore Bronte’s presentation of character through him, is made doubtful to the reader by a series of blunders. An example being where Lockwood, upon encountering Heathcliff’s dogs: ‘indulged in winking and making faces at the trio’ after previously being warned ‘to let the dog alone’- showing that he reacts badly to situations, this leading us to interpret views presented through him sceptically as a result. We, as the reader, view Lockwood with a mixture of humour and irony. This is because he is a character supposedly fleeing from the pressures of London society and yet he is shown by Bronte to yearn it by his attempts to socialise with Heathcliff. Nelly, on the other hand, is considered to be far more worthy narrator because of her close association with Heathcliff – having grown up with him - and her honest, occasionally blunt opinion. An example is where Nelly asks Catherine ‘Why do you love him?’ (referring to Edgar Linton) and then proceeding to say ‘Bad!’ to her replies. This could be construed as a breach of etiquette in the nineteen hundreds for a servant to speak so to a lady of higher station and demonstrates Nelly’s ability to speak her mind which endears her to the reader. As a result of this fact it is Nelly who undertakes the conveying of the tale of ‘Wuthering Heights’ and to whom we look for our opinions in other characters. She is, in fact, a narrator within a narrator due to her recounting of the tale of Wuthering Heights to Lockwood for entertainment and both tells the story and yet features heavily in its events.

Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway is young, thoughtful and intelligent. He has moved from the ‘West’ in favour of the fake and unproductive society of New York which he ultimately rejects. The landscape to which he moves is unproductive due to the fact that it grows or produces nothing – dealing only in stocks and shares – a world that Nick unsuccessfully immerses himself in. The world into which Nick ventures could be accurately captured by Fitzgerald’s description of Daisy’s voice being ‘full of money’ . He is also considered to be truthful in regard to his views on other characters. This impression is given to us by the words: ‘I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known’. A self-confession giving vital information to us – this being that what Nick says can be taken as an objective view or judgement. His actions throughout the novel, including his contempt towards Tom Buchanan and Daisy following their response to Gatsby’s death, and his noble attempts to gather supposed friends and relatives to Gatsby’s funeral, when they flocked to his parties, also add to Nick’s honest nature and therefore Fitzgerald’s presentation through him. Both Bronte and Fitzgerald share in the creation of their narrators as forming them as strangers discovering new and unfamiliar places; taking the reader with them as their knowledge and relationships develop.

Both authors use the narrator in their novels for a variety of similar reasons. A narrator gives an added element of realism to the story, as if someone is actually telling something that happened. The use of precise dates and setting also add to this feeling of the novels being ‘real’. ‘West Egg’ in Gatsby and ‘1801-’ in ‘Wuthering Heights’ elucidating this point. The narrator also allows a detached character development that one is unable to achieve if the novels were written in the first person. Opinions can be posited and actions can be viewed externally to the actual character, making judgements more objective. The narrator is a narrative device that both authors use in their presentation of both Gatsby and Heathcliff. Having a narrator means that that character must be present in a particular circumstance for us to learn of it. Examples from the novels are where Gatsby and Daisy insist Nick stays when Daisy is shown round Gatsby’s mansion: ‘I tried to go then but they wouldn’t hear of it’ because if Nick departed then there we would not learn of the reunion of the former lovers. Also Nelly is present, or is told of, all major events in the novel, so allowing us to learn of them through her. A contrast in the author’s presentation of Heathcliff and Gatsby is that Fitzgerald’s narrator is from a much higher echelon of society than Nelly, this probably being a result of the fact that a servant would never learn what Nick, as a close friend, learns of Gatsby as this would require a breach of tacit class rules established at this period of time. Wuthering Heights, on the other hand, is seemingly outside society and there are no such taboo’s to prohibit interaction between servants and members of higher classes.

Join now!

In comparison, both authors choose, as part of their presentation of Gatsby and Heathcliff, to have the narrators tell their tales retrospectively. In the case of ‘Wuthering Heights’ however, the inclusion of two narrators means that there are shifts from past to present, although the bulk of the story is told with Nelly recounting it to Lockwood. We are informed by Fitzgerald at the start of the novel that Nick ‘came back from the east last autumn’. Fitzgerald also tells us, through Nick, that ‘Gatsby turned out alright at the end’ which could be though of as ironic considering that ‘at ...

This is a preview of the whole essay