, Research Paper
Several great authors have used symbolism to enrich their works. As a literary device, symbolism has the power to add depth to a piece of writing. It forces the reader to think and make connections and succeeds in adding a whole new meaning to the experience of reading. In the novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald has used symbolism in the form of characters, to develop the theme, the corruption of the American Dream.
All of the characters in The Great Gatsby are symbolic of different classes in American society, from the rich to the poor. As a group, they portray the dissatisfaction of the people living in their time period – the Jazz Age. In them, the author characterises all the hopes and dreams of the people living at that time. As is typical of human beings, none of the characters is satisfied with what he has. Each one wants more than what he is getting out of life.
Tom and Daisy are both representatives of “old money”. They seem to have it all: wealth and all the trappings that come with being wealthy. They are the embodiment of the American Dream and yet they are both dissatisfied with themselves. They are the classic example of the corruption of the Dream because in spite of all they have, they are still seeking the things that each person looks for in life: love, peace and true happiness. They are indifferent to the suffering, hopes and dreams of those around them. “They were careless people – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money and let other people clean up the mess” (Fitzgerald, 170). An excellent example of this is the fact that Daisy lets Gatsby take the blame for a crime that she has committed. She conveniently forgets her love for Gatsby and leaves for Europe with a seemingly clear conscience. To an average person, for example Nick, it would appear that Tom and Daisy have everything. But really, they have nothing but money and status. Perhaps they realize that money is not enough to live a fulfilling life but they are too set in their ways to change. Tom and Daisy are both afraid that __________________ Their thoughts and actions expose the Dream for what it is becoming – superficial and shallow.
On the other hand, Myrtle and George Wilson strive for what Tom and Daisy already have – wealth and a place in the upper echelons of society. They are the “poor”. They represent the lowest rung of the social ladder; those who live from hand-to-mouth, those who have to toil to put food on the table. Their life is filled with what they would call “miseries”. For Myrtle and George, the definition of happiness is simple – money. To them, wealth is the one way ticket out of the Valley of Ashes. What they do not know is that the Dream they are fighting for is rapidly disintegrating. Hard work is no longer sufficient to achieve success. The American Dream is becoming horribly corrupt.
Unlike the others, Nick is the one character with whom the reader can identify. His dreams are those of a common middle-class man. He seeks wealth, the opportunity to prove himself and a comfortable life. His goals are a reflection of those of every average individual. But Nick, like almost everyone else, is caught up in the materialistic aspects of the dream. At the beginning of the story, he automatically links money to happiness and success. Only towards the end does Nick begin to realise that the choices he made earlier in life were for all the wrong reasons. It is here that he really begins to appreciate Gatsby and the purity of his dream. In his opinion, Gatsby is “worth the whole damn bunch put together”(146). Nick offers the reader insight into a world in which the true American Dream is now almost extinct.
Of all of the characters in this book, Gatsby is the only one with a seemingly pure dream. He seeks true love. The irony of the situation is that the path Gatsby chooses to achieve his dream is corrupt beyond belief. He is the representative of “new money”. He is born and brought up in a disadvantaged home. To attain his one true love, he resolves to make a name for himself in the world. Gatsby chooses what many others like him did – bootlegging. It is a profitable business and is a quick way to earn the money that he needs to win Daisy. Like so many others of his social standing – those with “new money” – he tries his best to fit in and fails miserably. Despite his success, in the end, he is all alone. He is described as “the poor son-of-a bitch”(166). People flock to his marvellous parties like bees to honey but not a single person, except “Owl-eyes”, can be bothered to attend his funeral. But Gatsby dies with his dream intact. He believes with all his heart that Daisy will belong to him someday. Without doubt, Gatsby’s dream is the purest one of all but it raises one question – Can the end justify the means?
F. Scott Fitzgerald has successfully used the characters as symbols to emphasise and develop the theme of the novel. Individually, the characters are symbolic of different classes in American society. As a group, they represent the dissatisfaction and general indifference of the people living in their time period. Each class defines the dream differently but they are all concerned only with the material aspects of the Dream. As the days go by, and the American Dream becomes increasingly corrupt, it is harder to find individuals who realise its true meaning. Those like Gatsby who have unselfish, pure dreams are exceedingly rare. But it seems as if Fitzgerald is asking that even if one’s dreams are pure, are they necessarily attainable?