The Great Gatsby: Debunked

Jay Gatsby is the great and mysterious driving force behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel, The Great Gatsby. That’s a lot of “greats” for one guy. What really makes Gatsby so great? And is his greatness real or is it just a euphemism for the American dream gone wrong?
At first glance Gatsby would seem to have it all in this 1920s jazz age novel of American society. He has the big house, the great car, glittering parties, and even a plane, but we quickly learn that Gatsby is pining for his long lost love, Daisy Buchanan. A man desperately in love as so many critics have claimed [1]. I don’t buy it. It is simply the motivation for Gatsby’s greatness, which really makes him seem a little less great as his stimulus revolves around the very basic and primal need for, er, sex. Strike one against Gatsby.
Really though, no matter Gatsby’s motivation for attaining his title of “Great,” he did end up achieving what seems to be the classic American Dream of “money, wealth, and popularity” [2]. So can we honestly fault him for his love/lust-inspired motivation? Perhaps not, but we can certainly take the great-o-meter down a notch by inspecting the means to his end.
Meyer Wolfshiem, “the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919” [3]. Though never conclusively stated in the novel, we get the sense that Gatsby attained his fortune by questionable business practices instituted by a questionable businessman. Why, you ask, is this any reason to make the great-o-meter waver? Super PACs anyone? Well, it’s a question of moral character in the creation of the American Dream. It seems to me that Gatsby really lost himself as he made his life synonymous with the American dream. Strike two against Gatsby.
But when all is said and done, perhaps Gatsby’s biggest crime against his title of “The Great,” is his willingness to lie and deceive, not only to the world, but to himself also, for the sake of covering up the truth about the love of his life and his reason for obtaining greatness in the first place. Daisy Buchanan is a prime candidate for involuntary (we think) vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an atrocious act of human indecency! The real question is whether Gatsby ignored this small incident of murder in order to continue to perpetuate the lie of perfection he created around his beloved Daisy Buchanan. Perhaps this is the part where Gatsby begins to question his own motivations and ideals…a little…maybe…not so much. It was a nice thought while it lasted. But unfortunately, strike three for Gatsby.
Normally I would go with the whole three strikes and you’re out metaphor, but Gatsby lives up to his plummeting great-o-meter and does us one better. He gets himself murdered protecting the law-abiding, anti-murdering character of his dear Daisy who has fled Long Island in search of a better life (with no murders to her name) in the great Midwest where nobody knows her. It’s one of the great things about being wealthy that Gatsby didn’t really grasp. One never has to be responsible for one’s own actions. He paid for that misstep with his life. Not so great now Gatsby.
In the end, while Gatsby was granted the title of “The Great,” it seems that the novel may well better had been dubbed “The Not-So-Great Gatsby.” But then, that might just be way too obvious for a great American novel about the great American Dream.

[1] http://classiclit.about.com/od/greatgatsbythe/fr/aa_greatgatsby.htm

[2] Fitzgerald, F. Scott The Great Gatsby (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1925).

[3] Ibid.

7 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby: Debunked

  1. Do you think that Gatsby’s “willingness to lie and deceive, not only to the world, but to himself” characterizes the current mentality of our nation? I wonder if “we” as Americans are all so bent on conquering the world that we are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a status that in the end is unobtainable for all. The “Great” Gatsby, like many people in power, seemed to me to be a man with horse blinders on and with no understanding of the consequences of his actions.

  2. I have a difficult time separating Gatsby’s need for approval being status driven or simply love based. Is Gatsby’s drive to achieve Daisy’s affection really a representation of his strive for the higher class? I find his “greatness” to be an aside, as he seems to have no interest in the people he invites to his house, trying to be great only to impress Daisy
    (whom I find to be a better representation of the 1%) . I have a hard time separating what is ladder climbing and what is the passionate human nature of love in Gatsby. But maybe thats the romantic in me.

  3. Gatsby was reworking himself in an effort to achieve his idea of social greatness before he met Daisy. Afterall, he had already changed his name and spent time traveling around the world on the yacht by the time he met Daisy and so I do believe that more motivated him to climb the social ladder of greatness than Daisy. As a child even he made lists to improve himself – those lists centered around items that would make him fit into what society and therefore he perceived as elite, grand, and great. Daisy was the cherry on top, the ultimate symbol that he had made it and was accepted completely by the upper class and so for me it is hard to say if he loved truly loved her or if he loved simply the idea of loving her, the elite most desired young rich woman, and her loving him back.

    1. I agree. Daisy was definitely the “cherry on top.” I’m still trying to decide whether Gatsby liked Daisy or what she represented. During his initial days with Daisy, Gatsby was infatuated not only by Daisy but also by her house, home life, and the opportunities money afforded her.

      1. Amanda, I agree with you. I am really debating if it was actually Daisy he loved, or the “idea” of Daisy. I think I’ve finally come around to the thought that it was probably a combination of the two, maybe initially driven by the financial rewards she could provide then moving into something more.

    2. I have to agree with Jenna. It seems as though Gatsby had a desire to completely reinvent himself before he met and fell in love with Daisy. She came to represent the achievement of his goal of complete reinvention. I wonder if Daisy had left Tom for Gatsby, if he would have moved on to another goal? As he had been busy improving himself since childhood, perhaps he would have focused on something else once he had acquired Daisy as well?

  4. I wonder if by judging the means of Gatsby’s generating wealth we fall into the trap of taking his actions out of context? I agree that in society today his efforts and means as implied by Fitzgerald might not only be looked down upon but might also earn Gatsby a jail sentence as well, however, in the 1920s such means were generally the only way in which a person of lower class could bridge the enormous disparity between rich and poor (a gap which still exceeds today’s disparities though by a slim margin). Judging a person of the 1920s based on a populist movement of the 2010s might be committing a grave parallax error.

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