The American Dream Colonial Modern
Major Themes: the American Dream • Thwarted love is a minor theme • Major theme: the decline of the American dream • As people get richer, the American dream unravels and disintegrates • Fitzgerald’s view of the American dream: • Self-discovery - pursuit of happiness • Individualism
Major Themes: the American Dream • Gatsby is in love with Daisy • the class differences are great • He resorts to crime to make money • He thinks money, status and excess will impress her
Major Theme: The Two Upper Classes • East Egg, Tom and Daisy, represent “old money” • Graceful - elegant • Charming - tasteful • Subtle • E.g., Daisy and Jordan’s elegant white clothes • The Buchannan’s tasteful mansion
Major Theme: The Two Upper Classes • West Egg, Gatsby, represent “nouveaux riches” • People who have got rich quickly • Excessive - ostentatious • Gaudy - lacking in social grace • Vulgar - lacking in taste • E.g., Gatsby’s monstrous mansion • His pink car
Major Theme: The Two Upper Classes Old Money Nouveaux Riches Tasteful, elegant, well-bred Lacking heart and consideration for others Bullies who use money to get what they want Use people e.g., Tom’s mistress Criminal activity is source of Gatsby’s wealth but he is generous, kind and loyal He uses money to show people a good time He is devoted to Daisy His devotion ultimately leads to death
Motif: Geography East Egg West Egg Old aristocracy, old money Traditional values ideals Corruption Moral and social decay (closer to NYC) Quest for money and pleasure Death (ashes)
Motif: Weather • Weather helps create mood (setting) • Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion is in pouring rain • Awkward and melancholy • Their love reawakens • The sun comes out • Gatsby angrily confronts Tom • Hottest day of the year • Scorching sun
Motif of Death • Nick tells Daisy: “All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath, and there’s a persistent wail all night along the north shore” (9). • In NYC, Myrtle needs to buy “a wreath with a black silk bow for mother’s grave that’ll last all summer” (36). • “You can’t live forever; you can’t live forever” (36).
“A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds, and by more cheerful friends”
The Ghost Motif • Nick hears “the owl-eyed man break into ghostly laughter” (91). • At the second party one of the guests is an “orchid of a woman,” a “ghostly celebrity of the movies” (104). • Nick comments: “No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart” (96).
Gatsby’s world is. . . “a new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about” (161).
“They were gone, without a word, snapped out, made accidental, isolated, like ghosts, even from our pity” (135).
The Car Motif • cars refer to: • restlessness • power in all its manifestations • death. • “Jordan Baker” is an amalgam oftwo American makes of car. • “You’re a rotten driver,” says Nick to Jordan.
Cars “rip” and destroy • Mrs. Ulysses Swett’s car runs over the right hand of the drunk on Gatsby’s drive (62) • Tom’s chambermaid in Santa Barbara “ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night and ripped a front wheel off his car (77) • Myrtle’s death: “her left breast was swinging loose like a flap, and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath. The mouth was wide open and ripped a little at the corners” (137).
Daisy: Flowers and Luxury • Buchanans’ house— “a half-acre of deep pungent roses” (7) • “For Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchids. . .” (151) • “the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among the dying orchids on the floor beside her bed” (151) • “She blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete” (111)
Color Imagery • Daisy—usually associated with white • “Daisy’s face, tipped sideways beneath a three-cornered lavender hat, looked out at me with a bright ecstatic smile. . . A damp streak of hair lay like a dash of blue paint across her cheek, and her hand was wet with glistening drops” (85). • “I’d like just to get one of those pink clouds and put you on it and push you around” (94)
More Colors: Gatsby • “shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, with monograms of indian blue” (92) • “’An Oxford man!” He was incredulous. ‘Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit’” (122) • His gorgeous pink rang of a suit made a bright spot of colour against the white steps (154) • “The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of transit, a thin red circle in the water” (162).
The Time Motif—Gatsby seen against a perspective of inexorable time • At Nick’s tea party, Gatsby nearly tips a “defunct clock” on the mantelpiece over. • Gatsby— “running down like an overwound clock” (92) • Gatsby at 17– “his heart was in a constant turbulent riot,. . . [while] the clock ticked on the washstand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor” (99)
Gatsby only seems to have pushed time backwards and destroyed its power.
Sea Imagery • By tradition, the sea is often linked metaphorically with the voyage • a form of emotional experience: • maturity • moral awareness • recognition of one’s true identity.
What preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams (2)
Sea Diction and Imagery • [Nick] “wanted to leave things in order and not just trust that obliging and indifferent sea to sweep my refuse away” (177). • After Myrtle’s death, “a fog-horn was groaning incessantly on the Sound” (147). • On the green Sound, stagnant in the heat, one small sail crawled slowly toward the fresher sea. . . Our eyes lifted over the rose-beds and the hot lawn and the weedy refuse of the dog-days alongshore. Slowly the white wings of the boat moved against the blue cool limit of the sky. Ahead lay the scalloped ocean and the abounding blessed isles” (118).
The Green Light • Situated at the end of Daisy’s East Egg dock • Barely visible from Gatsby’s West Egg lawn, • Represents Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for the future. • Gatsby associates it with Daisy, and in Chapter 1 he reaches toward it in the darkness as a guiding light to lead him to his goal. • Because Gatsby’s quest for Daisy is broadly associated with the American dream,
Hmmm. . . Ashes to ashes and dust to dust? • the valley of ashes between West Egg and New York City: a long stretch of desolate land created by the dumping of industrial ashes. • represents the moral and social decay that results from the uninhibited pursuit of wealth, • the rich indulge themselves with regard for nothing but their own pleasure • also symbolizes the plight of the poor, like George Wilson, who live among the dirty ashes and lose their vitality as a result.
What do the eyes suggest? • are a pair of fading, bespectacled eyes painted on an old advertising billboard over the valley of ashes • may represent God staring down upon and judging American society as a moral wasteland, • instead, throughout the novel, Fitzgerald suggests that symbols only have meaning because characters instill them with meaning. • the connection between the eyes of the Doctor and God exists only in George Wilson’s grief-stricken mind (159). • the eyes also come to represent the essential meaninglessness of the world and the process by which people invest objects with meaning.
Eye Diction • “After Gatsby’s death the East was haunted for me like that, distorted beyond my eyes’ power of correction” (176). • “As we started through the gate into the cemetery I heard a car stop and then the sound of some one splashing after us over the soggy ground. I looked around. It was the man with owl-eyed glasses whom I had found marveling over Gatsby’s books in the library one night three months before. I’d never seen him since then. I don’t know how he knew about the funeral, or even his name. The rain poured down his thick glasses, and he took them off and wiped them to see the protecting canvas unrolled from Gatsby’s grave” (174).
1 Corinthians 13: 9-12 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.