Self-Betrayal In American Pastoral And Great Gatsby Essay, Research Paper
The final scene in American Pastoral and the first party scene at the Gatsby estate in Great Gatsby serve important functions in explaining common characteristics of Swede and Gatsby. The scenes convey that both protagonists share a common trait of not being true to themselves. In these scenes, both characters betray themselves so that they can attempt to live their version of the American Dream.
In Great Gatsby, Gatsby envisions his American Dream as marrying Daisy. In order to accomplish this Gatsby creates an entirely artificial personality and lifestyle that betrays his true identity. Gatsby becomes a self-made man after rejecting his parents, poverty, and name. Gatsby s created persona is symbolized at his party by his possessions, guests, physical appearance, manner of speech, and intellect.
At the party scene Gatsby presents this false appearance through his possessions. Gatsby s mansion, equipped with a Rolls-Royce in the drive and motor boats on the water suggests that Gatsby is enormously wealthy. At the party the guests are blitzed with the fine food, the gin and liquors, and the real brass rail. (p. 44) Gatsby entertains his guests with these luxuries to create an impression of wealth and stability, two qualities that Daisy needs in a husband. Later in the evening at the request of Gatsby, the orchestra plays Tostoff s Jazz History of the World, an avant-garde selection just recently premiered at Carnegie Hall. The selection promotes Gatsby s style and taste for music and suggests his connection to the movers and shakers in the art world.
Gatsby s guests at the party also suggest his self-betrayal. The crowd at the party are for all intents and purposes an anonymous audience that Gatsby flaunts his fabricated lifestyle for, in the hope that Daisy will be present. Most of Gatsby s guests are not even invited, but to Gatsby it makes no difference. This indicates that Gatsby throws parties solely for notoriety and to impress Daisy. As Nick describes, the guests, conducted themselves to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all. (p. 45) This passage further indicates that Gatsby does not care who exploits him for his parties, as long as there is a possibility of Daisy attending.
Gatsby also betrays himself by feigning his appearance, manner of speech, and intellect. The guests at the party find Gatsby immaculately dressed, suggesting an enormously wealthy and sophisticated person, with remarkably good taste. In conversation, Gatsby attempts to sound as though he is an upper-class British gentleman, as is evident by his use of the affectation Old sport. However in reality Gatsby picks his words with such care that it is obvious, at least to Nick, that he is acting. Gatsby also betrays himself by attempting to appear intellectual, as is suggested by his Gothic library. However at closer inspection, the shelves of literature all appear to be unread. Gatsby betrays himself by attempting to adopt a pseudo-British facade of clothes, conversation, and intellect.
Throughout American Pastoral the Swede s self-betrayal involves trying to live a version of the American dream which is to live life to perfection, when in reality perfection is not real or natural. Part of the Swede s perfection involves avoiding or ignoring situations involving conflict. In the final dinner scene the Swede denies to himself any personal reactions that would lead to conflict, all in order to allow for his American Dream of a conflict-free life. Notably, Swede s self-betrayal is evident when he does not stand up to his father, when he does not confront his unfaithful wife, and most significantly in his failure to rescue his daughter.
Throughout the dinner scene Swede betrays himself by avoiding conflict with his father. During dinner Lou monopolizes the conversation in an argumentative and unrelenting manner. Instead of challenging his father, as most of the other guests do, Swede attempts to pacify his father, in a conciliatory manner, by explaining the others opinions to him. The Swede denies himself the possibility of holding a conflicting opinion because he believes that a son should maintain filial love for his father. This refusal to hold an independent opinion allows for the congenial relationship with his father that the Swede considers necessary in his American Dream.
Before dinner, Swede discovers Dawn s infidelity and betrays himself by not confronting her or Orcutt. The Swede s motivation for remaining reserved is to avoid any conflict, He could not turn the dinner party into a battle for his wife. Things were bad enough without colliding with Orcutt in front of his parents. (p. 360) This passage indicates that preserving the mellow atmosphere of the dinner party is more important than dealing with his immediate marital problems. During dinner Swede sits across the table and views Dawn and Orcutt as two predators. (p. 366) This further symbolizes the Swede s passive response to the affair by suggesting that the Swede is prey, or at the mercy of his wife and lover.
During the dinner party the Swede questions his failure to rescue his daughter in Newark. His mind wanders as he imagines what his father s reaction would be to Merry s history, Four people, Grandpa, she d told him… No! and his heart gave up, gave out, and died. (p. 421) The Swede will not save Merry because he believes that his father and the rest of the family could not handle the truth about Merry. A few years earlier, he nursed his wife through a nervous breakdown and at this point it would be detrimental if Dawn found out the truth about her daughter. He decides that he would rather deny himself a future relationship with his daughter than reintroduce her to a family that would crumble. The Swede would rather live in the illusion that his daughter was framed by Rita Cohen and ran away at the age of sixteen than accept that she is a killer. This illusion allows for the Swede s life to appear much more perfect than it would appear if he acknowledged that his only child is a terrorist and killer.
Although the protagonists of the two novels have different motives in the party scenes, they both betray themselves in order to achieve their American Dream. Gatsby s American Dream is to marry Daisy, and everything about him is artificial and solely intended to impress her. The Swede wishes to live a calm, peaceful, and perfect life even if he has to turn his head the other way and ignore the truth about his wife and daughter. Both characters go to elaborate lengths to create and preserve artificial facades, and in the end, both characters loose everything.