The Great Gatsby Character Dynamics - What's Love Got to do With it?
A Circumstance of the Heart
“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he [my father] told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” This statement is the voice of Nick Carraway, one of the main characters and the storyteller in the book the, The Great Gatsby and my first impression based on this statement was to retract in distaste. “Oh, no”, I thought, “not another book about rich people in the 1920’s totally unrelated to the modest, modern day lives we currently live.” It wasn’t long, however, before I was hooked on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, his command of the English language, his skill for weaving symbolism into his writing, and his ability to show each individual reader that no matter how much wealth you obtain in this life, true poverty is really a circumstance of the heart.
“Oh, no”, I thought, “not another book about rich people in the 1920’s totally unrelated to the modest, modern day lives we currently live.”
Fitzgerald weaves a story narrated by Nick Carraway that centers on his eccentric neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Gatsby throws extravagant parties to capture the attention of the object of his affection, a Mrs. Daisy Buchanan. I was intrigued by Fitzgerald’s skill to describe his characters. For example, Fitzgerald describes Daisy by saying, “Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth – but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.” That’s brilliant writing because you must imagine a face that is both sad and lovely, a mouth that is both bright and passionate.
What a Twisted Web
It was in the early moments of reading the book that I felt for Daisy. I saw her as victim. There was a beautiful sadness, a cynicism in her that I recognize in a few of my friends that have been hurt in their relationships and life. Instantly, I bonded with Daisy because of her pain. Fitzgerald made her very human and vulnerable at the start. It was a good tactic that made her immoral relationship with Gatsby almost excusable and that can be a tough storytelling method to accomplish with conservative readers.
By the end of the book though, I saw Daisy as another product of materialism. She wished to remain in her unhappy shallowness and refused to have the courage to give up all for true happiness – for something deeper and of the soul. She is an icon of all who sacrifice the significant things in life to have those things in life that will eventually be unimportant in the end.
In this, Fitzgerald does an excellent job of portraying the different sides of money. Gatsby feels he can buy Daisy’s love and capture her attention with his possessions, and Daisy cannot leave her own possessions for a happier, more meaningful life where she is truly loved. Oh, what a twisted web Fitzgerald weaves and in his story he has submerged a deeper meaning for all humanity. Money cannot buy love!
The anguish a reader can feel for the now tragically dead Myrtle and her grieving husband depicts the tragedy of marriages bound by nothing but one-sided love and save face unions.
Humanity is Reflected in the Tragedy of Love
One thing you can’t overlook about Gatsby is that Fitzgerald made the book very readable. I read it fast, not because it was a page-turner, but because the humanity portrayed within drew me back to it each time. Take Mrs. Myrtle Wilson, who lives with her mechanic husband over the garage where he works. She has an affair with wealthy Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband. There was something indescribably haunting about George Wilson’s grieving for a woman who had not been faithful or truly happy with him. Fitzgerald paints these haunting scenes descriptively when he portrays George’s grief as, “a hollow, wailing sound” or “…Wilson standing on the raised threshold of his office, swaying back and forth…” The anguish a reader can feel for the now tragically dead Myrtle and her grieving husband depicts the tragedy of marriages bound by nothing but one-sided love and save face unions.
And then finally, the humanity is reflected in the tragedy of love not recompensed with Gatsby and Daisy. That chapter ended with, “So I walked away and left him (Gatsby) standing there in the moonlight – watching over nothing.” And the reader must turn the page.
That is impeccable insight coming from a male writer. No cold logic, just pure unadulterated insight and heart – this is what makes Fitzgerald a woman’s author because, “chicks dig this stuff”.
Things we do and don’t do for Love.
I enjoyed The Great Gatsby because I tend to be fond of hidden meanings, philosophies and symbols in fiction. From The Great Gatsby, I could glean meaning as an analyst, a thinker, and a writer.
And finally, what about Nick’s relationship with Jordon Baker in the book. I can live with the fact that Gatsby’s work is shrouded in mystery and I can even live with the fact that a little more romantic detail to Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy Buchanan would have been pleasing, but I truly missed knowing more about Jordon and Nick. I understand why Fitzgerald probably did this – to keep our focus on the relationship that is central to the story. Perhaps he was sketchy with Nick and Jordon’s relationship as further proof of the futility of love representing the other relationships in the story – one big circle of dysfunction so to speak.
But frankly, I found something normal and lovable about Nick that makes him almost appear like the only sane character in the story. At one point, Nick describes his relationship with Jordon as thus: “Her grey sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved her. But I am slow thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires, and I knew that first I had to get myself definitely out of that tangle back home. I’d been writing letters once a week and signing them “Love, Nick,” and all I could think of was how, when that certain girl played tennis, a faint mustache of perspiration appeared on her upper lip. Nevertheless there was a vague understanding that had to be tactfully broken off before I was free. Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known”.
That is impeccable insight coming from a male writer. No cold logic, just pure unadulterated insight and heart – this is what makes Fitzgerald a woman’s author because, “chicks dig this stuff”. It’s how most woman analyze their feelings about a relationship. Fitzgerald almost turns the hand on relationships, though, and makes Nick the sensitive, thoughtful one and Jordan the observable liar with a “cool insolent smile”. What a refreshing twist to think of the woman as a rock, an island, instead of the man for a change. This is what makes us believe the story. This is what makes us believe what Nick Carraway, although purely fictional, says about the life around him in the “eggs”. The reader wants to know Nick is happy and normal with all the chaos around him. Perhaps if Fitzgerald had developed the relationship between Nick and Jordon just a little more, it would have reinforced the ineffectuality of the other relationships all the more.
However, all and all, I won’t argue with Fitzgerald’s choices as the story stands on it’s own just as it is and has so down through the years. The book seems to hold a certain morality lesson behind it as it concludes with the empty Gatsby mansion with the unkempt lawn. There is a picture of rejected, neglected love that shouts from the end of the book in the scene where Nick Carraway scuffs the obscene word off the mansion steps. Perhaps in the end, it is obscene the things we do and don’t do for love. And F. Scott Fitzgerald captures this perfectly in The Great Gatsby.
What Version of the Great Gatsby did you like best?
Fitzgerald, F. S. (1953). Three novels: The great Gatsby;. New York: Scribner.