Hi everyone! I hope you read the Great Gatsby and are ready to get down to business. If you haven’t, you still have plenty of time – my analysis of the book ended up being much longer than I originally anticipated, so I’m going to break it up into parts. This post I’ll be discussing the characters of the novel. Sunday I’ll probably discuss the colors and maybe start discussing some of the themes of the novel, and then hopefully I’ll have wrapped up the whole analysis by next Wednesday.
What this basically means is GO BUY THE GREAT GATSBY AND GET TO WORK! You won’t regret it. If you’ve already read it, please, read on. My analysis is chock-full of spoilers, though, so unless you enjoy having the entire book ruined for you, I recommend you click away now.
Without further ado, here is the beginning of my very long train of thought. 😉
As I write this I am drinking coffee and trying to function off of six hours of sleep. I stayed up past midnight listening to the Great Gatsby, and I woke up early to finish it.
First of all, it’s amazing. It’s probably my new favorite book. I love how you close it dissatisfied – not because your life seems deficient, but because their lives were. Humanity, society, “the foul dust that floats in the wake of dreams,” (to quote the novel), seems flawed. And it is, of course, but especially so in the novel.
It’s a tragedy. It’s a beautiful, pathetic, thought-provoking tragedy. And it’s incredible. I want to break down my thoughts on the novel into manageable chunks, so I’ll start with the characters.
Nick Carraway: I like Nick. He’s the lens through which we see this would, so it’s helpful that he’s the only one in the novel who’s removed enough to recognize the absurdity of it all. Amid the luxury and the debauchery, he’s the sane, poor one. He’s not happy – no one in the novel is, really – but he isn’t miserable. He sees the humanity through the façade – and that’s important. Also, he’s Gatsby’s only friend in the end. He’s the only one who’s really ever there for Gatsby throughout the entire novel. All these people come to his house and attend his parties and drink his champagne, but nobody cares about Gatsby – nobody really knows who he is: literally.
Gatsby: I say that only Nick knew Gatsby because even though Daisy and Tom and Jordan knew him, they only knew his façade. The only one who Gatsby ever tells about his past and his old self is Nick. In the movie trailer for the new Gatsby movie (which honestly looks really bad: it makes the whole story seem very shallow) Owl Eyes says something to the extent of “Mr. Gatsby doesn’t exist.” To my knowledge, that’s never said in the book, but there is a ring of truth to it. Mr. Gatsby, as he is perceived, is not real. He isn’t legitimate. His money is illegitimate, he has no connections – he is “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere.” I love Gatsby, but I pity him. I pity him because the real Gatsby, the Gatsby we catch glimpses of through Nick’s eyes, is tragic. He is a man who is desperately in love with a woman – maybe not even in love with her… It could be her money, or her social standing, or (and this is what I think) what she represents and symbolizes in his mind. Regardless, he’s in love with some aspect of her, and he has to know it’s futile. He just has to. Daisy isn’t just a woman to him, she’s a time machine. There’s a passage where he talks about when he and Daisy first fell in love, and it shows you that…
“Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder that mounted to a secret place above the trees – he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.”
The quote goes on and talks about Daisy, and how he tied that vision of fulfillment and ultimate purpose in life to her.
Nick remarks, “I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was.”
That is what I think Gatsby sees in Daisy. That’s why he needs her to not only love him, but also to have never loved her husband, Tom. He doesn’t just want Daisy, he wants the idea of her – to be transported back to when life was pure. Before he put on his façade and became this whole different person – back to when he tied his ultimate fulfillment to her. He associates her with that dream, with the meaning of life – beyond the fragility and the insincerity that this world he’s entered into is made of. He thinks that with her he can start over – return to purity and innocence. (Which is what Daisy represents, by the way: which is why so much of what she wears and owns is white.)
Daisy Buchanan: I’ve already talked about what Daisy is in relation to Gatsby, but I think Daisy is interesting in and of herself. At the beginning of the novel, Nick goes to the Buchanans for the worst dinner of all time – during which Tom Buchanan’s mistress calls and Daisy is just plunged into despair and in the midst of trying to make pleasant conversation, she tells Nick about what she said when her daughter was born. “I’m glad she’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
Daisy’s life sucks. Her husband – who’s a total jerkface, really – is having an affair and not even trying to be discreet about it; the man she used to love (and does again) and her husband are pressuring her in opposite directions; she’s unhappy (that’s another theme of the book, about the distortion and subsequent failure of the American dream through the lens of that society… but more on that later). I think this is one of the saddest things in the book – Daisy’s got the life that every girl longs for, and here she is telling Nick that the only way to get through it is to become so stupid and bling that you can muddle along under the pretense of happiness. Another sad thing is Daisy’s almost nonexistent relationship with her daughter and realizing that the little Buchanan girl is never going to be happy either, both because of the culture she’s growing up in and because of her parents’ awful marriage and crap-ton of terrible decisions.
Tom Buchanan: Tom is hard for me to decipher. I mean, he doesn’t just exist to be a jerk.
Actually, he does. But it’s deeper than surface level jerkism. As far as I can pick out, Tom displays the absurd ignorance of the upper class… He constantly makes bigheaded speeches about white people being the superior race; he thinks he can have whatever he wants with no consequences. I think this sort of blows up in his face when Myrtle is killed, but not completely – I’ll elaborate on this later. Tom, to me, represents entitlement. I mean, the first time he’s mentioned in the book, Fitzgerald writes:
‘There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked… “Now don’t think my opinion on these matters is final,” he seemed to say, “just because I’m stronger and more of a man than you are.” ’
He’s arrogant and foolish and mean, but nobody calls him out on it because he’s rich. Unfair? Heck yeah.
Jordan Baker: Jordan is the last character I’m going to profile. I actually liked Jordan, against my better judgment. (She’s kind of a plot device. But I like her anyway.) I got the feeling that she, like Nick, sort of saw the flaws in things and kept herself impassive and emotionally withdrawn. At the same time, she is very much involved in their lives. What I found the most interesting about Jordan was her façade – she was almost entirely fake, in a way, hiding her real self (her dishonest self, as Nick points out) under layers of put-upon airs and mannerisms. Jordan also seems to be the only one who escapes the whole fiasco unscathed – except maybe some well-hidden heartbreak when Nick breaks off their relationship. It’s like, she’s a part of what happens, but sometimes you almost feel like she isn’t there at all, and is just watching herself from the outside. She’s involved without being invested. There’s a certain coldness to her.
She makes me think of Daisy’s line about being a beautiful little fool. Jordan sees through things but pretends not to. She goes along with things, not in an exactly foolish or blind way, but she doesn’t care. She’s indifferent – or at least she appears to be. She is, as the Jazz Age would describe her, cool.
Apathy seems to be a theme in this novel, as I’ll get into later. As for now, have a great evening, and I’ll see you on Sunday.