The Great Gatsby: Significance

English
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What is the significance of The Great Gatsby? Use central idea and supporting detail.

May 31st, 2015

Nick begins the story of Gatsby's past by saying that Gatsby "sprang from his Platonic conception of himself," which refers to that his ideal form. That is, the Platonic form of an object is the perfect form of that object. Therefore, Nick is suggesting that Gatsby has modeled himself on an idealized version of "Jay Gatsby": he is striving to be the man he envisions in his fondest dreams of himself. Gatsby is thus the novel's representative of the American Dream, and the story of his youth borrows on one of that dream's oldest myths: that of the self-made man. In changing his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby, he attempts to remake himself on his own terms; Gatsby wishes to be reborn as the aristocrat he feels himself to be.

It is significant that Gatsby leaves college because he finds his work as a janitor degrading. This seems a perverse decision, given the fact that a university education would dramatically improve his social standing. His decision to leave reveals Gatsby's extreme sensitivity to class, and to the fact of his own poverty; from his childhood onward, he longs for wealth and­ for the sophistication and elegance which he imagines that wealth will lend him. His work as a janitor is a gross humiliation because it is at odds with his ideal of himself; to protect that ideal, he is willing to damage his actual circumstances.

Fitzgerald uses the character of Dan Cody to subtly suggest that the America of the 1920s is no longer a place where self-made men can thrive. Cody, like Gatsby, transcended early hardship to become a millionaire. Like Gatsby, he is remarkably generous to his friends and subordinates. Cody takes to drinking because, despite his wealth, he remains unable to carve out a place for himself in the world of 1920s America. It is important to note that Cody's death is brought about, at least in part, through the treachery of the woman he loves; this foreshadows the circumstances of Gatsby's death in Chapter VIII.

The painfully awkward luncheon party at Gatsby's mansion underlines the hostility of the American 1920s toward the figure of the self-made man. Both the Sloanes and Tom Buchanan treat Gatsby with contempt and condescension, because he is not of the long-standing American upper class. Though Gatsby is fabulously wealthy, perhaps wealthier than Tom himself, he is still regarded as socially inferior. For Fitzgerald, nothing could be more inimical to the original ideals of America. The first Americans fought to escape the tyrannies of the European nobility; Tom Buchanan longs to reproduce them.

This chapter makes it clear that Daisy, too, is a part of the same narrow-minded aristocracy that produced her husband. For Gatsby, she became the symbol of everything that he wanted to possess: she is the epitome of wealth and sophistication. Though Gatsby loves this quality in Daisy, it is precisely because she is an aristocrat that she cannot possibly fulfill his dreams. She would never sacrifice her own class status in order to be with him. Her love for him pales in comparison to her love of privilege.


May 31st, 2015

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May 31st, 2015
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May 31st, 2015
Dec 10th, 2016
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