Writers use characters to convey messages or mold themes around their work. Writers do not live in a vacuum. They live in societies where they make observations, see things, and experience life and people. These experiences and observations are expressed through characters in a writer’s piece of literature. Therefore, to gain insight into what an author desires to communicate in his/her book, it is worth making an effort to understand the characters he or she uses in his/her work. This paper explores some of the main characters Scott Fitzgerald uses in his books. It looks at their lives and the contradictions displayed to attain happiness and achieve their American dreams.
In the novel, The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald characters` appearance masks the reality of their lives.
Characters of the Novel: The Great Gatsby.
He is from Minnesota and is interested in the bond business. He moves to New York to seek freedom, try his luck in business and escape from his small town. He ends up living in a rented house in the West Egg district of Long Island. His neighbors are rich and unfashionable. They have a few social connections, but it does not prevent them from a garish display of their wealth. Unlike other residents of the district, Nick was educated at Yale and he has strong social connections in East Egg, a fashionable area of Long Island, home to the established upper class. He is a conservative man. After Myrtle dies in an accident and Gatsby is shot, he is not interested in East Egg. He thinks the place is shallow, empty and overwhelmed with moral decay. He detests the fact that everyone seems obsessed with the pursuit of wealth at all costs. He decides to leave East Egg for Midwest to look for peace and sanity. He neglects his love for cynical and beautiful Jordan Baker.
He is a soldier and in love with an attractive, shallow and wealthy “golden girl” named Daisy Fay Buchanan. After having a fling with her at Louisville, Gatsby becomes obsessed with her and spends his life and fortune trying to win her love. To finance his extreme needs, he uses illegal means to amass wealth. His business partner is Meyer Wolfsheim, a shady Jewish businessman whose wealth comes from gambling and racketeering. He builds a gothic mansion across the bay. Although he loves Daisy, she seems interested in his wealth. She uses him for entertainment and to break the boredom of her life. In the end, she gets engaged to a man of her social class, then she falls in love with Tom and they move to East Egg together. In the end, Gatsby dreams of winning Daisy back. Wilson shoots Gatsby to death because he has been suspicious that Gatsby had an affair with his wife and that the accident in which Myrtle died had been caused by Gatsby`s car. This death marks the end of elusive dreams that Gatsby seemed to pursue by all means.
He is wealthy, a symbol of carelessness and shallowness. He fancies his racing cars, horses and engages in sordid affairs despite being married to Daisy. He treats her shabbily, but she chooses to remain with him because he offers her money, security and expensive lifestyle.
She is a wife of George Wilson and a gaudy mistress of Tom Buchanan. She is a copy of her ostentatious sister. She seems not to care that Tom is married.
She gets money from Tom and enjoys life. When George realizes that she is having an affair, he says that he is going to leave her. She is killed in a car accident by Daisy.
Jordan Baker is wealthy and attractive to whom Nick dates while they meet in New York. Like her friend Daisy, she is shallow, careless and a compulsive liar. George Wilson is married to Myrtle. He is the owner of a garage in the Valley of Ashes. He idolizes his wife and cannot withstand the news of her death. Without trying to find out who was really responsible for her death, he shoots Gatsby and then commits suicide. Mr. and Mrs. McKee are party animals and live in an apartment next to where Tom keeps his mistress. They look comfortable to dine and wine with people who have questionable family values. Friendship and partying override family concerns.
Appearance vs. Reality
Oxford dictionary defines appearance as the fact or act of appearing, as to the mind or eye or before the public. It is an outward or visible aspect of a person or thing that may not be the true representation of someone or something. The reality, on the other hand, is a quality or state of being real.
In life, things and people are not what they seem. Interests, desires, fame, preferences, and prejudices cause people to wear veils or masks that hide who they are. Many characters in ‘The Great Gatsby’ differ from who they are. They lead artificial lives and misrepresent themself. The first casualty of appearance versus reality is Jay Gatsby.
Jay Gatsby bears the badge of what reality and appearance represent. His family is poor and lives in North Dakota. He was brought up in poverty and one would expect that he learned something from such an experience.
He attended St. Olaf College, however, he dropped out after two years due to lack of money. He worked as a janitor to meet his needs but could not manage to do so. In chapter four, he lies to Nick that he comes from a rich family in the Middle West. In chapter two, it is evident he made his money through bootlegging and other illegal means. His business colleague is a Jew gambler and racketeer. However, rather than experience the bitter truth that his wealth is not genuine, he deliberately creates the impression that he is real and his wealth is honest. To imitate the lives of his educated colleagues, in chapter four, he lies to Nick that he studied at Oxford. He does this in an effort to sound and look scholarly and impress his peers and show Daisy he was a self-sufficient man.
In chapter seven, he admits to Tom that he only spent five months at Oxford. Such a period would not have made him a scholar at Oxford. According to Jordan Baker, it was not a coincidence that Gatsby bought his house near that one of Daisy. His love for Daisy is the biggest illusion haunting Gatsby. He mistakenly believes Daisy loves him back. He exhausts his estate in an effort to please and win her. He wastes five years of his life pursuing the love that is never required. The fact is Daisy is only interested in his wealth that backs Daisy`s sense of security. When he quarrels with Daisy, he tries to convince Nick that he will manage to solve the problem and eventually reunite with Daisy. It turned out to be mere illusions. In chapter seven, Gatsby`s love for Daisy gets shattered when she decides to marry Tom. Jay is presented as a man who cannot see reality. He is leading a life full of assumptions and wishes that seem to take precedence over reality. He even changes his name from Jay Gatsby to James Gatz in order to attain a phony status and look appealing.
Daisy Buchanan is another victim of an illusion. She marries Tom because of her obsession with money. Money helps her run away from the fact when she feels threatened.
She thinks money can offer her happiness, security and everything she deserves. Her husband cheats on her. Instead of leaving him, she gladly sticks with him. She is not concerned with her daughter Pammy. She is careless and obsessed with her flinching beauty instead of worrying about real things like taking care of her child. Her dress code is completely different from who she is. White represents purity. It cannot stand for corruption and unbridled pursuit of material wealth at all costs.
West Egg is a place where the classless society is dispelled. People living in this region are wealthy from personal gains. They do not have a rich lineage and they are not seen as equals in comparison to people living in East Egg. Inhabitants of West Egg do not have strong social contacts and a strong educational background. Rather than sink in pity, they look at peace with themselves. Their colleagues at East Egg are educated, moneyed and with numerous connections. Although they appear to have riches, education, cars and fancy lives that other people may desire, they seem to lead vain lives one should not expect from educated people. The things that appear to be good lives are, in fact, wallowing in a stupor, sexual immoralities, deception, dishonesty, pretense, and utter carelessness.
An exceptional case is that of Nick Caraway. He is aware of how corrupt money has made his colleagues. He can see money destroying Gatsby and however, he refuses to be corrupted like his peers. He is honest, leads modest live poles apart from the gothic mansions owned by Gatsby and Tom. He cautiously parts with his materialistic girlfriend when he detects anomaly in her life. Materialism does not dominate his life. He seems alert and capable of anticipating trouble. After the death of Gatsby, he leaves for Midwestern, in order to stay away from the wasteful lives of his friends.
The book, The Great Gatsby, dispels the American dream myth that a person can gain happiness by working hard and getting rich. The lesson learned from the characters in the book shows otherwise. On the surface, the American dream and pursuit of happiness is about working hard, rising in the hierarchy of the community and becoming part of a classless wealthy community. From the appearance of it, it seems easy and open for all to achieve the dream and obtain happiness. However, in reality, segregation and racial prejudice seem to be on the rise in the United States. For example, in the book, the residents of West Egg are termed unfashionable and with a few connections, on the other hand, those who reside in East Egg are educated and rich and are referred to as fashionable, full of life and with many connections. It seems people are discriminated against depending on where they live, what they do, where they went to school, what materials they possess etc. Even where citizens seem to have made it, the characters of East Egg portray them as wallowing in dishonesty, pretense, marital affairs, corruption, and other moral vices.
The very wealthy that is supposed to give them freedom, joy and ultimately help them achieve the American Dream turns to be the thing that consumes their lives. The Valley of Ashes is another classic example of how the American dream is dispelled. It is the “human dump” of all the geographic locations and it is a symbol of hopelessness. It is a no-man’s land between two classes in a struggle involving money. The name of the valley symbolizes how people come with hopes, fail and are dispatched to the ash heaps of the society. A classic example of that is Dr. T. J. Eckleberg`s billboard. The board depicts the picture of the doctor’s glasses and eyes. Dr. T. J. Eckleberg has moved away because of troubles faced by his business located at the Valley of Ashes.
People in the Valley of Ashes work hard, but the American dream seems far and elusive more than ever. For example, Wilson owns the only gas station in the Valley of Ashes.
He has invested time and money in the Valley of Ashes which has made him weary, depressed and hopeless to make a profit. Myrtle tries to live the dream and accepts to be a mistress of Tom Buchanan. Her life is a candle in the wind. When she is with Tom, she feels safe, rich, sophisticated and socially equal to others. This behavior shows she is unhappy with herself and her life and has to depend on others and mask her unhappiness. Her husband George is a completely different person from what he seems. He is unsuccessful in business and without any sense of breeding. He is not the person Myrtle thought he was when she married him. To her and other characters of the book, the American dream remains an illusion, something so near yet too far.