The Great Gatsby

Posted by Happy Landings - November 15, 2010

“His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people– his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He 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. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end. (Fitzgerald, 104)”

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby demonstrates the simultaneously awesome and tragic power of invention. Jay Gatsby, as he is christened during one of his foundational brushes with wealth and status of his benefactor, Dan Cody, has the rare ability to make dreams reality. At least, he has achieved a particularly prominent  one: the American Dream. Chapter 6 chronicles Gatsby’s transformation, his resentment of his poverty-ridden past, and the moments that instilled in him the importance of wealth and how to attain it.

Jay Gatsby is a tragically self-realized figure. Identity is an invention and he demonstrates expertise in this. Gatsby is a hero of American-y mythic proportions. Through luck and calculation– in encountering and studying Dan Cody– Gatsby learns how to make his fortune and goes from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby, elusive, enigmatic socialite and bootlegger. This feat, his literal re-invention of himself, is godlike. Jay Gatsby reconstructed himself. He made himself a new, great man.

One of his flaws has to do with the fact that any construction is based off of a set of plans drawn at one point in time. Indeed, this passage identifies the date of James Gatz’s plans for Jay Gatsby when he was seventeen years old. Reality, as opposed to dreams and ideals, is dynamic. His relationship to Daisy is demonstrative of the tragic flaw of realized dream:

“Gatsby, his hands still in his pockets, was reclining against the mantelpiece in a strained counterfeit of perfect easy, even of boredom. His head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock and from this position his distraught eyes stared down at Daisy who was sitting frightened but graceful on the edge of a stiff chair.
‘We’ve met before,’ muttered Gatsby. His eyes glanced momentarily at me and his lips parted with an abortive attempt at a laugh. Luckily the cock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place. (Fitzgerald, 91)”

The clock, which Nick Carraway describes as being antiquated, is a physical obstacle to Gatsby’s realized dream. Here, Gatsby and his beloved Daisy Buchanan are reunited. Up until this point, she has merely been a motif in the dream, certainly it’s driving point but existing only in the periphery nonetheless. As such she is a vessel on which nobility can be projected. But her true nature is a conventional nobility. She is aloof and pure, not necessarily in a fundamental manner, but because of her material comfort.

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