With reference to critical assessments and different readings of the novel such as the ones below discuss the presentation of Gatsby and how readers might evaluate the central character and his dream. When discussing the presentation of Mr Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s novel it is important to look at the views of all of the characters as well as those of critics and readers. Gatsby’s name precedes him in the novel and the readers and Nick himself are not introduced to the title character until chapter 3. Although Nick believes that he has a sighting of Gatsby at the end of the first chapter, an actual meeting does not yet occur.
At this point however Nick has already created his own image of Gatsby based on the small amount of information that he has received from Jordan Baker. As this is the only opinion we have to base our own on at this point, as readers we are inclined to agree with Nick that Gatsby is a very rich and dominant man with more power than sense, “… come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens. ” As we learn more about the character it becomes obvious that he is living in the past and through an ongoing dream.
It is argued that Gatsby is “great because he is dignified and ennobled by his dream. He becomes a kind of Promethean idealist”1. Although this is a very valid view others prefer to take a less sympathetic view of the main character and feel that his obsession with the past and Daisy is somewhat more dark and disturbing. It is because of this that the clashing views of Gatsby occur, whether that be that he is simply in love with a woman whom he strives to be with, or that he has a more sinister obsession with this woman and will not give up until he has her.
Alternatively, with the use of the word “orgastic” in the last paragraph of the novel, it could be that Gatsby’s desire is very much more a sexual one. Fitzgerald uses this word to show an individual sense of sexual satisfaction, of which Gatsby is apparently striving to reach. However, in the 2001 film adaptation this word was changed to “orgiastic” which suggests a more global satisfaction at a much higher level, which is perhaps a link to Little America and how the original American settlers must have felt when they first arrived in the country.
This theory links Daisy with America and shows the possible contrast between Gatsby’s desires for Daisy and his desires for his country. It is important to remember, however, that Fitzgerald uses the word “orgastic” for a reason, firstly to perhaps highlight his selfishness and desire to make only himself happy and secondly to highlight his overwhelming sexual desire for this woman. Critics seem to be divided on this and many different opinions of Gatsby’s true motive for wanting to ensure Daisy as his wife have been put forward.
Personally I feel that it is apparent that Gatsby has this strong sexual urge which he wishes to fulfil with Daisy, but I also feel that this is not directed in an obsessive way, simply that he is lost in his own passion so does not realise how far this desire has taken him from reality. When Daisy hits Myrtle when driving Gatsby’s car, he covers for her. I think that this is some evidence towards showing his love for her and that it isn’t all about the sexual attraction he has.
Also towards the end of the novel when Gatsby realises that he cannot have his love he simply retreats to his house dreaming of what could have been and feeling sorry for himself. Although it is apparent that Gatsby’s urge to have Daisy is a very strong one, I don’t feel that it is so much obsessive as desperate. Essentially this desire and desperation seems to be related more to moving from the world as it is in the present into something better, which is what Gatsby strives for when he is wooing Daisy. Gatsby’s desire lies with Daisy however Nick recognises that she cannot fulfil all of his desires.
Because he has lived with this dream for so long the reality could never live up to his expectations, which agrees with the way that one critic describes Gatsby’s love, as being “adolescent”. It is for these reasons that Nick does not believe that Gatsby could ever reach this “other world” and so will forever live within his own dream. Whatever this “something better” is is unclear, but it is evident that Gatsby feels some sort of intensity towards achieving his goal. Throughout all of this we as readers and critics must remember that a central theme of the whole novel is insight and perception and perspective.
This is made very clear with the poignant image of the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg in the valley of ashes. These play a particularly vital part later on in the novel when George Wilson mistakes them for the eyes of God, believing that God is all seeing, when in reality these eyes are blind. Although evidently blind the theme of vision and the image of these huge looming eyes is re-current throughout the novel and create the deception that these eyes do in fact see everything that happens between the characters.
This theme can be extended and also include Gatsby himself, and the theory that these eyes see everything creates an image that Gatsby’s actions are always being watched, whether he be at home or in New York. This can be linked with his criminal affairs. On the day that Gatsby and Nick take lunch in New York they must drive past these all-seeing eyes to reach their destination. During this trip Gatsby shows some signs of his criminal connections, firstly when stopped by a police officer.
It appears to Nick that Gatsby must once have been able to do a favour for either this particular man or the police as a whole unit as after simply flashing an unknown white card he is allowed to continue on his way. Then once they reach New York and sit down to lunch Nick is introduced to Mr Wolfshiem, who he learns apparently fixed the 1919 World Series. Also Mr Wolfshiem mistakes Nick for someone else, “I understand you’re looking for a business gonnegtion (connection). ” and Gatsby must put him straight, which shows some indication of criminal activity and connections.
These 3 fairly obvious acts of criminal business show that Gatsby could perhaps actually be “… a boor, a roughneck, a fraud, a criminal. His taste is vulgar, his behaviour ostentatious, his love adolescent, his business dealings ruthless and dishonest. “2 Also Nick notices a change in Gatsby on this journey out of town. He states that “We hadn’t reached West Egg Village before Gatsby began leaving his elegant sentences unfinished… ” which indicates a sense of fraud on Gatsby’s part relating to his actually persona.
This comment by Nick suggests that he has some suspicion of Gatsby perhaps not being all that he has seemed to be, or made himself out to be. It’s almost as if he is leading a double life and this idea is re-enforced at the lunch a little later when the events with Mr Wolfshiem occur. So the idea that these huge looming eyes see everything means that these eyes see both sides of Gatsby. The criminal side of him which only his business associates and those in New York seem to see, and the typical American boy side which he has on display when at home and hosting his parties.
Of course this is the side that he shows to Daisy as she is a respectable young woman and he does not want to jeopardise any chance he has of her possibly leaving her husband for him. With this in mind Gatsby takes a somewhat daring chance by allowing Nick to experience a small part of his “other life” as, being Daisy’s cousin, there is a chance that the information may return to his love. However Gatsby could perhaps be being cleverer than it first appears by letting Nick into his more personal business, as Nick is more likely to trust him and so encourage Daisy to be with Gatsby.
We can also examine Jay Gatsby’s character in the context of the American Dream. He appears to personify everything which America is and stands for, but because we learn of his possible other life it is hard to respect him as much as before. Certainly Nick’s view of Gatsby changes throughout the novel. Right at the beginning he states that Gatsby “… represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn”, but also says that “Gatsby turned out alright in the end”, indicating that his opinion changes at some point in the story from what he immediately thought of Gatsby.
This indicates that there is always something more to learn about Gatsby, which is emphasised when, right at the end of the novel after Gatsby’s death Nick answers a phone call at Gatsby’s house and has to inform the caller that the man is dead. In the movie adaptation Nick finds some forged bonds in Gatsby’s house and burns them in order to ensure that the police do not find them. This shows an amount of respect the Nick has for Gatsby, as he does not want his name ruined in West Egg.
Although his business associates know “the other Gatsby” his admirers in the village and those who attend his parties do not and Nick wishes to preserve this memory of Gatsby as a typical American man living the typical American Dream. Gatsby has the quality similar to that of the America that they live in. That is of an “embodiment of human potential, free from any limits set by past experience”3. This characteristic of Gatsby is one that Nick admires hugely, however he still feels scorn towards the main character, as he does not agree with the corrupt ways in which Gatsby has achieved his wealth.
Just as America used the Declaration of Independence in1776 to try and shed itself of its past Old World values, Gatsby has reinvented his character determined to leave behind his parents to create his ideal self. However the irony is that to create this ideal self of hope he took part in criminal activity to attain the wealth, which most certainly got him to that point in life. Also, ironically, he is attempting to leave behind his parents and his past, but essentially he is still living in the past in regards to his dream of being with Daisy.
In this sense Gatsby’s aspirations are somewhat contradictory. By the end of the novel our views of Gatsby are likely to follow suit with Nick’s and change. As readers we are likely to have more sympathy with the character by the time of his death as we have learnt much about him. Also Nick seems to respect him more by the end than he did at the beginning, stating, “He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it”.
He appreciates how hard Gatsby must’ve worked to reach his dream and leave behind his past, even if that did mean keeping some dark secrets and playing a hand in some dodgy dealings. He respects Gatsby for the amount of work and strife he must have gone through to reach this point of almost happiness. Also by this point we cannot help but feel sympathetic for Gatsby as the only thing missing from his ideal life was Daisy, and in the end he never won her back.
Overall I feel that as readers we are inclined to feel at least some sort of sympathy with his situation and in some ways be fascinated by his character and the way in which he lives. Emotionally he is a complex man however mentally he seems to be quite simple. He doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for Daisy to return to him and leave her husband, as far as he is concerned it’s a simple thing to ask. This is the high price paid for “living too long with a single dream”.