The Great Gatsby Literary Analysis Essay Example
Richard DeVos, an American billionaire businessman, once said, “Money cannot buy peace of mind. It cannot heal ruptured relationships or build meaning into a life that has none.” The notion that money and material possessions cannot truly fulfill human souls is not only integral in DeVos’ quote but is an underlying theme within F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby. Characters in the novel are incorporated as examples of those with worldly belongings, whom, nonetheless, feel without purpose or unfulfilled.
For example, Jay Gatsby, while throwing extravagant parties and flaunting his innumerable wealth, still feels incomplete without his lover, Daisy, and longs for the past when they were together. Secondary characters, too, are used by Fitzgerald to display unimaginable wealth, but crippling loneliness within. Lastly, Daisy, affluent East egg resident and the lover of Gatsby, feels as if she has lost herself within the decadence of her youth. As Fitzgerald lucidly portrays through Gatsby, various secondary characters, and Daisy, one may obtain all “material” desires and remain unfulfilled.
One character that has acquired a great deal of wealth and possessions is James Gatsby. He has based his worth on the tangible items he has obtained as well as the status he has achieved, partially because of his poor past. His ego is driven by the procurement of Daisy’s heart. During chapter five, in which Gatsby and Daisy reunite in Nick’s humble shack, Gatsby’s two great loves also assemble: his accumulation of wealth and Daisy. To impress Daisy, Gatsby makes a spectacle of his mansion and its internal possessions:
I’ve got a man in England who buys me clothes. He sends over a selection of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall.” He [Gatsby] took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel...shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender. (Fitzgerald 92)
The sheer decadence of this scene illustrates Gatsby’s luxury. He himself is so wealthy that he can afford to wrinkle his finely pressed, imported shirts. His heaving of shirts into the air is a projection of power. Gatsby can do whatever he pleases with priceless items. These “treasures”, to him, are both attainable and replaceable.
Despite Gatsby’s obvious material success, he is still not fulfilled. His aggregation of wealth is simply a means to win Daisy’s heart. Jordan Baker, Gatsby’s secret confidant, explains to Nick that, ‘” Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay...’ He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths —so that he could “come over” some afternoon to a stranger’s garden” (Fitzgerald 78). Gatsby’s decisions all relate back to securing the final and most esteemed prize: Daisy. Gatsby associates Daisy with success, and thus, feels empty without her, perhaps because of his love for her, but also, because she represents the completion of the American Dream. Despite his achieved wealth and status, Gatsby still vies for Daisy’s affections to fill the empty feeling in his soul. It is only when the past can be repeated that Gatsby will be fulfilled. But, alas, as readers come to learn in The Great Gatsby, one cannot recreate nor change the past, no matter how hard one tries. Thus, Gatsby’s unfulfillment endures, regardless of his many material successes.
Furthermore, the secondary characters in Fitzgerald’s glamorous 1920s environment, while seemingly insignificant, represent ostensibly wealthy, prosperous people, who feel internally unfulfilled. They can be found at Gatsby’s opulent parties, where people of grandeur and polish arrive and entertain one another. However, their celebration is merely a distraction from the emptiness within their souls. For example, one guest, a woman playing the piano, sobs as “tears coursed down her cheeks —not freely, however, for when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes, they assumed an inky color...” (Fitzgerald 51).
The woman, though doused in extravagance, even on her lashes, still feels a sense of emptiness and sadness. The very act of the beaded jewels preventing or muddying her sadness is a metaphor for the illusion of wealth. While those with many possessions may appear successful, their true dreams and goals could indeed be contrasting or stifled by the wealth they possess. This woman’s opulent facial decoration does not mask her sadness, but in fact, enhances it, as its inky residue “pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets'' (Fitzgerald 51). The lady in yellow feels unfulfilled, and no amount of extravagant décor can truly conceal her feelings of isolation.
Moreover, countless guests that visit Gatsby’s home find themselves with sentiments of dissatisfaction. Nick Carraway recounts the plethora of esteemed guests he encountered in west egg and the crimes they committed after the summer of 1922. Of those in New York, Nick describes a man named “Henry L. Palmetto, who killed himself by jumping in front of a subway train in Times Square” (Fitzgerald 63). The guest that Nick describes can be surmised to be a person of great power and wealth, as he parties within Gatsby’s mansion. Yet, his future was far less luxurious than his lifestyle in 1922.
Fitzgerald implements the dark twist that a seemingly well-off man killed himself to illustrate the lingering feelings of unfulfillment underneath the decadence and luxury. Henry, while simply a secondary character, is employed as a window into something much more sinister at play amidst the dancing and partying. While Nick is in awe of the many interesting people he meets at Gatsby’s parties, like Henry and the woman in the yellow dress, they too, like everyone else, feel unfulfillment rising amidst the beaded eyelashes and lavish automobiles.
Of the many wealthy people that Nick Carraway encounters, Daisy Buchanan, his cousin, may be one of the most affluent he has known. Daisy, as Gatsby describes, has a “voice full of money”. There was, as Nick develops, “the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it...High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl” (Fitzgerald 120). Otherwise speaking, Daisy radiates high society and excess, as it is doused in every inflection.