Is Gatsby A Hero? Essay, Research Paper
In Fitzgerald s Gatsby, Gatsby is not great and not Gatsby (his real name is Gatz). He is a criminal who has involved himself with Wolfsheim. He has committed crimes in order to buy the possessions he feels he needs to win the woman he loves, who is another man’s wife. Thus a central question for us, as the reader is, why is Gatsby a hero? Why, does Fitzgerald invite us to cry out with Nick, “They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” In Gatsby, Gatsby is a hero because of his dream, that dream is what separates Gatsby from what Nick calls the dust. It is not what is known as the Dream of success, the belief that every person can rise to success, no matter what his beginnings. It is a kind of idealism, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, Nick calls it. It is a belief in fairytales, that life can be beautiful. Gatsby is not interested in power for its own sake, or in money. What he wants is his dream, and that dream is embodied in Daisy. He must have her, and he will do anything that is required in order to win her. Gatsby, however, is not the typical hero. He is more tragic. The tragedy of Gatsby is his choice of Daisy as the person in whom to embody his dream. A tragic hero can best be defined as a person of significance, who has a tragic flaw and who meets his or her fate with courage and nobility of spirit. In Gatsby, Gatsby is a tragic hero.
The first time we, as the reader are introduced to Gatsby s dream is one June night when Gatsby is staring at a Green light at the end of Daisy s dock. That Green light represents Gatsby s dream. The color green is a traditional symbol of hope. As long as Gatsby gazes at the green light, his dream lives. Until now Gatsby s dream, however, is a mystery.
We, as the reader, are introduced further to Gatsby s dream through Jordan. She begins as though she were telling a fairytale. And indeed it is. The princess in this case is Daisy, a beauty, and the most popular girl in Louisville. All the officers from the nearby Camp are competing for the honor of her company. On this particular day, she is sitting in her white dress in her white roadster with a young lieutenant who is speaking to her with the kind of romantic intensity that princess s love. His name is Gatsby. Daisy apparently loves him as much as he adores her, for she’s ready to go to Manhattan to say bye to him when he’s sent overseas. And though she decides to marry Tom, she drinks herself into a stupor on the night of her marriage when she received a letter from Gatsby.
Jordan goes on to describe the marriage: Daisy’s devotion to Tom and Tom’s affairs. What is surprising is that Daisy seems to have been faithful. As Jordan describes it, Daisy has not given Gatsby a thought until the mention of his name stuck in her memory. It’s hard to say if she loves him.
In the case of Gatsby, it’s not hard to say. As Jordan explains, “‘Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay.’” And Nick responds in a moment of powerful luminosity. “Then it had not been merely the stars to which he had aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.”
What Nick realizes suddenly is that Gatsby’s possessions and his lavish life are not a showy display of wealth, but a necessary means to the fulfillment of his dream. Until now Gatsby s dream is a mystery. Now the truth is unveiled, and we can understand his desperate yearning for Daisy, and for everything that is symbolized by the Green light at the end of Daisy s dock.
Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby had taken her aside at one of his parties and had asked her to ask Nick to ask Daisy to Nick’s house for a meeting. This indirection is deliberate, for Gatsby is terrified of seeing Daisy again.
Though Gatsby loves Daisy with an unbearable intensity, he doesn’t want to offend her or Tom. He’s afraid to ask Nick directly, so he uses Jordan as a bridge. Afraid, also, that Daisy will refuse to come to see him, Gatsby arranges for Nick to ask Daisy to Nick s house for a meeting and makes sure Daisy doesn’t know he’ll be there, too. Gatsby’s elaborate plans show us just how long he has thought about this moment. Gatsby s plans also reveal the heart of a romantic, a novice at love, who is obviously unused to dealing with women or with situations such as this. Nick agrees to invite Daisy over.
The day arrives, and it is raining. Gatsby is so nervous that he can hardly function. He has not slept. He is as pale as a schoolboy on his first date. Life with Daisy in Louisville had been so wonderful years before; now he is terrified that even should Daisy agrees to renew their relationship, it won’t be the same.
Daisy arrives looking beautiful She is dying to know why Nick has invited her over. Both his paleness and the rain reinforce our sense of terrible insecurity. Gatsby says, “This is a terrible mistake.”
Nick then leaves Gatsby. When Nick returns, the rain has stopped, and Daisy and Gatsby are radiantly happy. Fitzgerald’s choice of the word – “radiated,” to describe Gatsby suggests that Gatsby has come alive again. He has rediscovered his dream. He walks Daisy and Nick over to his house and shows them his possessions.
Daisy admires his possessions and the colors of pink. She is astounded. Gatsby overwhelms her with tangible signs of his affection and when he takes out his shirts, she bends her head into the shirts and begins to cry. “They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobs. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before.” It seems silly to cry over shirts. But it is not the shirts themselves that overwhelm her but what they symbolize: Gatsby’s extraordinary dedication to his dream.
Then Gatsby tells Daisy about how he has watched a green light at the end of Daisy s dock. For so long that light had been a symbol of his dream, of something he had wanted more than life itself. Gazing at it that night when Nick first saw him, Gatsby must have believed that if only he could have Daisy he would be happy forever. Now suddenly he has her, the light is just a light again, and Nick wonders if this person could ever be as wonderful or as magical as Gatsby’s idea of her. No matter what we think of Gatsby or of his dream, we are drawn to him by the sad knowledge that dreams themselves are often more beautiful than dreams fulfilled.
Nick realizes this, too, when he says: “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams- not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.” The sad knowledge that dreams themselves are often more beautiful than dreams fulfilled is obvious later during one of Gatsby s parties.
In this particular party, Daisy does not have an enjoyable time and she argues. Tom is becoming suspicious about who Gatsby is and his money. Gatsby’s nothing more than a big criminal, he tells Daisy, which is true. Daisy defends Gatsby with a lie, yet she captures the spirit of Gatsby more honestly than Tom’s cruel truth. Gatsby is upset because Daisy did not have an enjoyable time. But more importantly Gatsby is upset because he can’t turn back time. “I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” Nick says. “You can’t repeat the past.” “Can’t repeat the past?” Gatsby cries out in desperation. “Why of course you can!” What Gatsby wants is to obliterate the years since he last saw Daisy. He wants life to be as beautiful as he believed it could be. Like all of us, he wants to ignore the fact that life is always changing, and that time moves. If only Daisy would tell Tom, “I never loved you!” If only he could take Daisy back to Louisville, marry her, and begin their lives together as though there had been no Tom. He must win her to satisfy his own Platonic image of himself, the ideal self which he associates with his love for Daisy in Louisville. The tragedy of Gatsby is his choice of Daisy as the person in whom to embody his dream.
We, as the reader are introduced to the end of Gatsby s dream on the hottest day of the summer. Now that Gatsby has had daisy he has called off all his parties and fired all his servants. Gatsby had fired all his servants to avoid gossip caused by his affair with Daisy. Gatsby is invited to Daisy s house. The nurse brings in Daisy s daughter. Gatsby is stunned; he had never quite believed the child existed until now. Drinks are served, and everyone tries to be well mannered, avoiding the problem at hand. But Gatsby cannot conceal love for Daisy, and Tom sees it. Daisy has suggested that they go to Manhattan. In Manhattan Tom asks Gatsby his intentions towards Daisy and attacks Gatsby about his possessions and his lavish life. Gatsby, helplessly, responds, “‘Your wife doesn’t love you. She’s never loved you. She loves me.’”
They both argue, begging Daisy to support them. Gatsby wants Daisy to say she never loved Tom, never in their marriage. It is this effort to deny the past- to shape the world according to his dream- that brings about Gatsby’s downfall. Tom admits he has been less than an ideal husband, but points out “‘Why- there’re things between Daisy and me that you’ll never know, things that neither of us can ever forget.’” Daisy has tried up to this point to support Gatsby, but now she finds herself turning to Tom. Now that Gatsby’s dream has been hurt, Tom finds it easy to end it. He has done some investigating of Gatsby’s activities and has evidence about his crimes. Gatsby s defenses become weak, and Daisy slips slowly back into the protection of her husband. A romantic dream is worth less to her than the protection of a husband, unfaithful though he may be. For Gatsby there is nothing left but “the dead dream,” which sustains him like a spirit that fights on after the body is dead. The party is over and they all go home except for Gatsby.
Nick also does not go home, because Gatsby is standing outside Daisy s window afraid that Tom could do something harmful to her. He is still afraid and sends Nick to check on Daisy. Nick looks in a window and sees Daisy sitting opposite Tom, eating. They aren t unhappy and Nick realizes that they have admitted each other again and that Gatsby has lost Daisy forever. She has returned to the protection of Tom’s money. Nick goes home and leaves Gatsby “standing there in the moonlight- watching over nothing.” The dream is ended.
Later Nick goes to talk to Gatsby. Gatsby talks about the story of his courtship of Daisy. The information helps Nick to understand Gatsby. Now that the dream is ended, the past is more alive to Gatsby. Gatsby hopes that by talking about the Daisy he knew years before he can keep the spirit of his dream alive.
All of us have wanted something we couldn t have, something that was beyond out reach. And so, as Gatsby tells Nick about his courtship of Daisy, we can t help but sympathize with him. We can understand how he felt when he entered Daisy s home for the first time and became in love with everything about her. It was not only Daisy he hungered for, it was everything about her, too. The fact that everybody wanted her merely increased her worth in Gatsby s eyes. He himself was nothing and had no past. She stood for everything he was not- for everything he wanted to become. And so he committed himself to the following of a grail, and made marrying Daisy his ultimate goal in life. Daisy promised to wait for Gatsby until the war ended. What Gatsby had not bargained for was Daisy s youth and want for the attention of society. She was too insecure to stay alone for long, and soon began going out to parties. At one of them, she met Tom, who seemed quite secure. She loved Gatsby, but he was nothing and had no past. And he wasn t there. So she married Tom.
The end of Gatsby s dream took place on the hottest day of the summer. Now it is autumn a symbol of change. Nick says bye to Gatsby, and says “‘They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” Nick disapproves of Gatsby, his materialism; his gonnegtion with Wolfsheim; his love of a women as shallow as Daisy; his pathetic labors to win her back by showing her what he has, this in place of who he is. And yet he is not part of the dust. His dream has some courage and nobility about it, which sets him apart from the others. The others belong to the dust because they are materialistic, and also cruel. They are without values. They have no compassion. Gatsby, on the surface, seems just as far away from beauty. In reality he is nothing more than a criminal. And yet in Nick s eyes he is better than the others because of his total dedication to his dream. When the dream is gone, he has nothing left to live for.
This is obvious, when Nick thinks about what Gatsby was thinking when he was killed. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created. A new world, material without being real. What Nick means is that for Gatsby, the world is “material”- it is something he can see and feel- yet it is completely without meaning for him. Without Daisy- without his dream- to sustain him he is in an unfamiliar and frightening world. Gatsby has lived “too long with a single dream”; without it life has become absurd. Unlike the rest of the rotten crowd Gatsby cannot live without his dream, and so, in a sense he is already dead before he is dead.
We as the reader are then given the meaning of the dream in America. Nick thinks of what America must have looked like to the sailors seeing it for the first time. It was a new world then, pure. Nick calls it “a fresh green breast of the new world.” Nick realizes that men have always been dreamers, but that dreamers cannot simply dream. They must have some object or person to fix their dreams upon. Such was this continent, he thinks, in the early days. The idea of America as a land of infinite possibilities was so magnificent that man was “face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” The land- its physical beauty and its apparently limitless horizons, were worthy of the dream.
This dream is “the American dream.” This was Gatsby’s dream, too. For Gatsby the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock symbolized the same American dream that drove the sailors to the new world. Gatsby believed in the dream, and Nick will always love him for it. But what Gatsby never understood is that the dream was already behind him, “somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields rolled on under the night.” Unable to find an object or a person commensurate with his capacity for wonder, Gatsby finds Daisy, an unworthy substitute for the real dream.
The Gatsby is not, then, just a book about Gatsby. It is a book about America, its promise, and the betrayal of that promise. Throughout the book Fitzgerald has contrasted Gatsby the dreamer with “dust” that preyed on his dream. The tragedy of Gatsby is that he still dreams, but that he is not wise enough or strong enough to see that Daisy is not worthy of his devotion. He cannot step back to see where he has gone wrong. Nick can. Nick loves Gatsby, but he knows what is wrong with Gatsby’s dream. And so, he returns to the Midwest to begin his own life. Clearly, Gatsby is a tragic hero.