ESSAYS: The Great Gatsby

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When F. Scott Fitzgerald first published The Great Gatsby, it was named Under the Red, White, and Blue. However, after having revised the novel many times with his many editors, publishers, and personal advisors, Fitzgerald eventually released the book under its contemporary title. Why did Fitzgerald make the change? Under the red white and blue referred to the life of people in America, or under the American flag. His novel is focused on the corruption of the American dream, and the corruption of those residing within. The great Gatsby referred to one of the principle characters in the novel, Jay Gatsby. Why was Gatsby so great that the book was named after him? Jay Gatsby was portrayed by Fitzgerald as the son of God, or of a God. Fitzgerald reminds us of this throughout the novel, and from beginning to end he fills the text with hints as he alludes to Gatsby’s divine spirit. The ‘Great Gatsby’ was a great man- Fitzgerald tells the reader that Gatsby was so great he could not have been a man- that he was a heavenly figure. Fitzgerald wanted the reader to believe that the American dream had died, and to further ingrain his belief in our minds, he destroys religion and morality’ but the final and most dismal reality Fitzgerald faces us with is that no man is a great man- the only great man encountered in The Great Gatsby is the son of God- who is superior to man, and cannot be judged by the same rules. An author uses imagery to convey specific thoughts and emotions from his readers. Fitzgerald constantly reminds us that Gatsby is a heavenly figure by associating Gatsby with the moon. The moon is a heavenly body; therefore, Gatsby’s presence brings out the heavens. The first time the narrator, Nick, meets Gatsby, it is at one of Gatsby’s gaudy parties, and ‘the moon had risen higher.'(Fitzgerald p.51) just before Nick met Gatsby. When Nick leaves the party, ‘a wafer of a moon was shining over Gatsby’s house.'(p.60) After Myrtle had been run over by Daisy, Nick speaks to Gatsby outside Daisy’s house, and Nick ‘could think of nothing except the luminosity of his pink suit under the moon.’ The imagery in this location suggests that Gatsby is innocent of the crime he is implicated in, which is the murder of Myrtle. The moon shining down on Gatsby, making his suit radiate, suggests that heaven looks with favor upon Gatsby. Gatsby is linked with the heavens occurs when he describe! d having kissed Daisy for the first time. ”sidewalk was white with moonlight’ The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars’ Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees- he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.'(pg.117) This particular passage suggests to the reader that Gatsby is indeed a heavenly figure, the son of God, as moonlight shines down upon him, and he has the superhuman ability to hear the sounds of the stars. When Nick saw Gatsby for the first time, Gatsby had been gazing out over the water of the Sound. ‘Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.'(pg. 25). This is an unusual phrase, since we would expect Gatsby to determine where he fit in the local heavens, not which share of the local heavens was his. This shows that Gatsby is not a part of our world; rather, a shareholder. Fitzgerald then moves to establish Gatsby as the son of God by creating moments of Gatsby’s life which parallel that of Jesus. The first example of this is when Nick first meets Gatsby, and Gatsby smiles at Nick. ‘He smiled understandingly- much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.'(pg. 52). The usage of the word eternal suggests that Gatsby is immortal, as is the son of God, who died so that we may all be immortal. Such a deep and compassionate smile can only come from a man of extraordinary power. Fitzgerald continues by elevating Gatsby above his high-class and powerful friends, who attended his parties. ‘I wondered if the fact that he was not drinking helped to set him off from his guests, for it seemed to me that he grew more correct as the fraternal hilarity increased.'(pg. 54). This once again illustrates that Gatsby is a higher figure than the rest of society, as his affluent guests fit a level below him. The Great Gatsby was set above everyone, even the best of the best. As the novel and Gatsby’s life progress, it follows Jesus’ life in parallel. Jesus was brought before the government, and was questioned repeatedly as to his motives, and whether or not he claimed to be the King of the Jews. Gatsby was questioned by Tom on pages 134-142. Tom questioned Gatsby’s motives, his past, and his occupation. This interrogation was not dissimilar to that of Jesus, as Jesus remained wholly calm during his rough interrogation- Gatsby remained unfazed and composed during his heated interrogation. When Gatsby died, he went in a similar fashion to that of Jesus. Not by the same method, death on the cross, but by an extremely similar process. ‘Gatsby shouldered the mattress and started for the pool. Once he stopped and shifted it a little and the chauffeur asked him if he needed help, but he shook his head and in a moment disappeared among the yellowing trees.'(pg. 169). This imagery is consistent with that of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus had been forced to carry his own cross to the place of the crucifixion (on his shoulder), and similarly Gatsby had carried his mattress (on his shoulder) to the place of his death. People had asked Jesus if he needed assistance carrying his cross, and Jesus refused- just as Gatsby had refused aid from his chauffeur. The reason for Gatsby’s death was similar to Jesus’, as well. Gatsby had been killed because George Wilson believed that Gatsby had killed his wife, Myrtle. In reality, Myrtle had been killed by Daisy. Therefore, Gatsby had died for Daisy’s sin. In the same way, Jesus had died for the sins of mankind, while he himself had committed no sin. Both Jesus and Gatsby had died for the sins of others. Their deaths were similar, but so were their funerals. Gatsby’s funeral had few attendees: ‘The minister glanced several times at his watch so I took him aside and asked him to wait for half an hour. But it wasn’t any use. Nobody came.'(pg. 182). Gatsby’s best friend, Wolfshiem, had not attended the funeral- ‘Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead,'(pg. 180) because Wolfshiem had wanted to keep a low profile, and not jeopardize his own safety by appearing at the funeral. In the same way, Jesus’ burial place was kept secret to protect it from graverobbers, and there were few people in attendance at the funeral- to keep the lowest possible profile. Gatsby had tried to improve his life in the same way as Ben Franklin- with a daily schedule to stay on track and an orderly system of life. Ironically, Franklin’s list of moral improvements (which Gatsby followed) included number 13, ‘Mimic Jesus’ (Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin). Gatsby had mimicked Jesus, and ended up the same way as Jesus had- dead. Gatsby’s life had not been a waste. As Jesus had saved souls, started a major religion, and helped lead people in a new and better life, Gatsby had changed the narrator of the novel, Nick. ‘Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.'(pg. 7). Gatsby’s life, which had much suffering, had served the purpose of helping Nick to learn more about life and about people. Jesus had been the son of a merciful God, sent into a spiritual society composed of extremely pious citizens. It had been Jesus’ task to show God’s people how to better live their lives, and to be ready for Judgement Day. Gatsby had been the son of a meretricious God, sent into a meretricious society whose social echelon was dominated by the upper class, who could destroy or control anything they wanted without consequence (as demonstrated by Tom and Daisy.) ‘[Gatsby] was a son of God- a phrase, which, if it means anything, means just that- and he must be about His Father’s Business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty.'(p.104) The parallel thus existed not only between Jesus and Gatsby, but also between a spiritual society and a meretricious society. Gatsby left a lasting impression on the world behind him. After his death, his presence lingered over everyone, as did the death of Jesus. ‘As the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailor’s eyes- a fresh, green breast of the new world.'(pg. 189). This image of Long Island, with its beach, water, and green color, expresses hope- this is a land that can become anything- one of the core philosophies of the American Dream. By exposing the pure American Dream beneath the modernized Long Island, Fitzgerald suggests that the American Dream has not only been neglected and unachieved, but that irrevocable corruption had set in. Living under the red, white and blue is thus meretricious, as the American Dream is now a false attraction. Gatsby’s life after death was seen through the moonlight- the haze had disappeared- we now see that beneath the superficial world in which we live there is a purity to be found. Beneath the riches and material objects there is an intangible yet concrete basis on which we build our society. Though our society has lost its morality and lost its cause to dream, as demonstrated in The Great Gatsby, ultimately there is a truth which we can find- but we will always lose the truth no matter how hard we try- since we are merely men. The Great Gatsby found his truth after five years, and lost it’ but in effect The Great Gatsby’s moonlight removed the falsities which concealed the universal truth we all seek

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