The Great Gatsby

  • Created by: REBECCA
  • Created on: 02-05-18 18:50

Symbolic Geography

Nick is from a wealthy family in the Middle West, which he terms The ragged edge of the universe. The Midwest is far removed from the bustling hub of political and financial growth on the Eastern coast of the country; instead it revolves around agrarian society and small family businesses, such as the Carraways' wholesale hardware store. Fitzgerald himself was from St Paul, Minnesota in the Midwest and so Nick's boredom with traditional and rural life is from authorial experience.

According to Nick, West Egg is the less fashionable of the twoalthough he acknowledges this is a superficial judgement. West Egg is inhabited by the nouveau riche, people who have risen to wealth and gained celebrity through their ostentatious and tasteless activities. It is influenced by Europe; Gatsby's house isfactual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy. 

In comparison, East Egg is occupied by white palaces whose colour represent their purity compared to the dirty wealth of West Egg. Occupied by established wealthy families such as the Buchanans, this side of the bay is fashionable and all-American, full of houses such as the cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion which disguises the darkness of Tom and Daisy's marriage.

The opposition of the two Eggs is a microcosm of America in its entirety.

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Symbolic Geography

Of all the landforms Fitzgerald could have chosen to represent the real-life neighbourhoods of Great Neck and Port Washington on Long Island, he chose eggs. Eggs typically represent rebirth and fertility; in this case they represent Gatsby's chance to reinvent himself and be anything he wants to be. More widely, if Gatsby represents America (in the view of Nicholas Tredell), then the eggs represent opportunity and possibility to do anything with the great new land mass that was discovered in the 17th century. Furthermore, Nick acknowledges their relevance to the egg in the Columbus story, a tale of true American pilgrimage.

The Valley of the Ashes is inspired by the T.S. Eliot poem 'The Wasteland', and also the real life location of Flushing, New York. It can be viewed in one way as Purgatory, as nothing ever happens and the inhabitants simply exist in a grey haze. Alternatively, it could be viewed as an image of Hell as the men engage in fruitless, Sisyphusian labour, shovelling ash but already crumbling away into nothingness, overseen by the perturbing eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg.

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Nick Carraway

The narrator of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, is a member of a prominent, well-to-do family from the Middle West of America. He journeys East to New York to join the bond business: I supposed it could support one more single man. Throughout the novel, Nick demonstrates that he is a somewhat unreliable narrator and the reader should bear in mind that the events of the summer of 1922 are skewed through the lens of Nick's biased, judgemental eye.

Nick exists in a sort of liminal space, never quite part of things, for example the gathering at Tom's apartment in New York: I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life. His glorious descriptions of people like Daisy may be down to the emotions she provokes in him; contrastingly his scornful depiction of Tom Buchanan (a cruel body) is exacerbated by his intimidation and distrust of Tom. This problematises the entire narrative - is Daisy as innocent and charming as she seems, and is Tom as aggressive and bigoted?

Cars are extremely symbolic in The Great Gatsby. Nick does own a car; an old Dodge in fact, but significantly he never drives it. If driving is a metaphor for life, then Nick has no life of his own as he's too involved in judgementally documenting the lives of others, despite being inclined to reserve all judgement. Nick can be assessed as a v*yeur; enjoying the pleasures of life through watching other people live vicariously.

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Tom Buchanan

Tom Buchanan is from an enormously wealthy family from Chicago, which is significant in itself: Chicago is an extremely populous and advanced city and yet it's in Illinois, a Midwestern State. Tom is from the same wholesome, agrarian background as Nick but his tremendous wealth and status has allowed him to shift his life to France and to the East Coast. 

Nick portrays Tom in a particularly negative light; he's said to have arrogant eyes and a cruel body. His life appears to be going downhill as he's in a somewhat loveless marriage with Daisy, hiding affairs and forever seeking something more than his existence. He spends his time contemplating scientific stuff, which he uses as an excuse for bigotry and prejudice. 

Tom exists in the world of Old Money, hence his house's location in East Egg. His wealth is entrenched in generations of Buchanans, which he splurges on a string of polo ponies and their home, the cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial Mansion. He seems to enter frequent conflicts with the lower classes: for example, his immediate dislike of Gatsby due to his ostentatious new wealth and breach of social custom. Furthermore, Tom breaks Myrtle's nose with his open hand, as though punishing a bad dog. His sense of superiority stems from his strongly male, paternal identity as well as his impressive physical stature, which he uses to defend his position of privilege against the audacity of women and the other races.

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Jay Gatsby

The narrator, Nick Carraway, is strangely fascinated by the character of Gatsby, for reasons he can't quite place: there was something gorgeous about him. Nick constantly romanticises Gatsby's smile and the way it makes him feel. Again, the reader cannot pinpoint their relationship: does Nick idolise Gatsby as a manifestation of the self-made man, or is there a homoerotic subtext to the entire narration?

Like all other characters in the novel, Gatsby's car is extremely representative of him. It's yellow, and throughout the text Fitzgerald employs the colours yellow and gold to symbolise the money and decadence of the 1920's. Nick also calls it gorgeous, making it transparently clear that cars in the novel are a metonymical representation of their owners. Tom Buchanan scornfully labels it a circus wagon to stress his dislike of Gatsby; the car is flashy and ostentatious, like the nouveau riche inhabitants of West Egg.

Supposedly, Gatsby is a son of God, which implies his inherent purity and majesty. He also sprang from the Platonic conception of himself. This acknowledges that according to Plato's theory of forms, Gatsby is the disappointing physical manifestation of a pure, idealised dream. Nick can worship him to no end, but the sad truth is that Gatsby is doomed from the start, preyed on by foul dust because the physical form of the idea can never match up to the idea.

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Daisy Buchanan

Daisy Buchanan is Nick's cousin, from the Midwestern State of Kentucky. Like Tom and Nick, she belongs to the world of Old Money and so she was unable to marry Gatsby while he was a poor soldier. (Similar to the situation of Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald prior to his success of 'Tender is the Night'.)

Throughout the novel, Daisy is romanticised; she has a voice full of money and she's sad and lovely, a surprising juxtaposition which reveals the decadent freedom but emotional emptiness of her life. Her namesake is a small and dainty flower, thus implying her beauty and femininity, however daisies are technically a weed - a dark undertone to her personality which people occasionally detect: the basic insincerity of her compliments reveal her shallow nature.

Like all characters of the novel, Daisy's car acts as a metonymical representation of her personality. She's seen in a little white roadster, again conveying her supposed purity and daintiness.

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Daisy Buchanan

Daisy has an increasingly cynical view of life: that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool. (Direct quote from Zelda Sayre.) In this way she is the polar opposite of Gatsby as her mind has been corrupted by the failure of her own American Dream: she has all the wealth and status she could dream of, but her material riches fail to provide her with emotional satisfaction she desires. Fitzgerald usually describes her with the diminutive noun girl to emphasise her immature need to be loved.

Although some readers view Daisy as shallow and insincere, it is impossible not to sympathise with Daisy as the reality of her can never live up to the Daisy that occupies Gatsby's imagination. Gatsby pictures her as the green light, an enchanted object that represents everything he desires: Old Money wealth, status, a new identity. However, no person can provide this for him, which means Daisy truly falls short of his expectations.

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Myrtle Wilson

Myrtle Wilson is originally introduced as Tom's some woman in New York. Where Fitzgerald usually employs the diminutive form girl to infantilise his female characters, in this case he uses the term woman to emphasise and foreshadow Myrtle's sensuous and feminine qualities. The some also reflects her replaceability; Tom would have an affair with absolutely anyone just for the thrill of it. There's nothing special about her.

Unlike Daisy, Myrtle has a perceptible vitality about her as she's full of hope for a non-existent future with Tom. She dreams of being Daisy but she was unfortunately not born into the 'high palace' of Daisy's social class. This is reflected in her decoration of the apartment in New York: it was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it. Myrtle seems to believe her taste is sensuous and classy, however she lacks the breeding to sense that it's tacky and unpleasant, as Daisy would know. The apartment becomes a metonymical representation of her aspirations: she wants it to be a rich, luxurious home paid for by her loving husband. The sad reality is that it's a few rooms paid for by her lover in order to continue their extramarital affair, and it's ruined by the tacky decor. 

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Cars in The Great Gatsby

In The Great Gatsby, cars are status symbols and indicators of power. Tom deliberately delays selling his car to Wilson to exploit his power over him as Wilson's livelihood depends on fixing cars. The only car visible in the garage is a dust-covered wreck of a Ford, which is a metonymical representation of capitalism breaking down. The Ford Motor Company at this time was one of the biggest, most successful corporations. They utilised the factory production line, making labour cheap and manufacturing thousands of Model T cars in a short space of time. Fitzgerald makes note of the in-built obsolescence of cars, which condemn their owners to financial struggle within merely years. Like Wilson, the car is vulnerable to the predators of time and money as they miserably depreciate in a corner. 

Daisy's car, a little white roadster, establishes her virginal and supposedly pure character. However, it's also the site of her premarital romance with Gatsby, which makes it an enchanted object in his eyes. The car is gone, like their original love - that particular car can never be recovered. It confirms that Gatsby's imagined Daisy will always remain elusive to him.

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Cars in The Great Gatsby

Gatsby's car is described scathingly by Tom Buchanan as a circus wagon, which represents the perceived flashiness and ostentation of new money characters such as Gatsby. It's yellow, representative of gold and luxury, but also cowardice: Gatsby hides behind the facade of his expensive belongings to disguise his real identity of James Gatz of North Dakota. Strangely, Nick describes the car as gorgeous, the same adjective he employs to capture Gatsby's romantic qualities, further alluding to the homoerotic subtext of the novel. The perception of a car as gorgeous seems distinctly capitalist; almost like a marketing campaign to sell this particular car, romanticising it to the point where the reader feels as though owning this car will better their own life.

Jordan Baker is extremely careless when it comes to cars and driving, establishing her as a new perception of women who no longer care about the male gaze. Nick recalls that she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, which conveys her wealth and status as she has never been forced to be materially responsible - she can just use her money to replace everything she damages. She refuses to take ownership of her recklessness and bad decisions, insisting that the other driver will get out of my way. She is a spoiled character and this manifests in her driving. Nick dubs her a rotten driver, which seems a little hypocritical as he never drives his own car.

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Race in The Great Gatsby

As we crossed Blackwell's Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled towards us in haughty rivalry. / 'Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge,' I thought; 'anything at all...'

Nick's use of the racial slur establishes him in an insensitive position of privilege, unaware of his own bigotry although in chapter II he condemns Tom for racism. He uses the zoomorphic language of 'bucks' to further denigrate the black men, while using the diminutive noun 'girl' to infantilise the woman and reassure himself that they pose no threat to his own status and power. 'Yolks' is a metaphor for the whites of their eyes, adding to the novel's motif of eggs to reinforce the idea of possibility and rebirth. In this case, the 'yolks' suggest something yellow - more distinctly not white. Nick will go to extreme lengths to separate himself from these people and Other them as best he can.

Queensboro Bridge acts as a liminal space between Nick's home and comfort zone of West Egg, and New York City where he understands anything might happen and he's not in control as he wants to be. New York is cosmopolitan and tolerant, unlike Nick, and he views the city in trepidation as he enters unfamiliar space where his political idealogy is unwelcome. 

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Religion & Philosophy

In The Great Gatsby, no major characters seem to actually believe in God. Alone in his faith is George Wilson, who punctuates his wife's death with the tragic refrain Oh, my Ga-od! Oh, my Ga-od! as he falls back on the only thing he had except his wife - religion. However, he claims he doesn't belong to any churches, which implies his loneliness and isolation.

The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg come to be a synecdochic representation of God, constantly watching over the hellish Valley of the Ashes and seeing the unfortunate truth of the American Dream: its failure. The eyes care nothing for the greed and decadence of the upper classes; they only provide a perturbing yet somewhat comforting presence to the miserable labourers of the valley. Perhaps that's why George Wilson doesn't attend a church; he can see the eyes of God from his window.  Wilson also sees the emptiness of the Dream: you can't fool God.

Gatsby himself is said to be a son of God, implying him as a Messianic figure of the text. His purity and majesty is inherent in his descent from God. He sprang from the Platonic conception of himself; Fitzgerald seems to acknowledge that Gatsby exists in an illusory realm. The idea of Gatsby was so pure and romantic but the reality is different, as Gatsby's clean slate has been dirtied by his criminal activities and deceptions.

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