A brief analysis on the tragedy of The Great Gatsby

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A brief analysis on the tragedy of The Great Gatsby



    Key Words

    I. Introduction

    II. Background

    2.1 The Life Experience of F. Scott Fitzgerald

    2.2 The Social Reality

    III. The Tragedy in The Great Gatsby

     3.1 Historical Tragedy

    .1.1 The Tragic Conflict between Traditional Ideal and the Modern History Process 3

    3.1.2 The Symbolism of Eastern and Western Area

    3.2 Social Tragedy

    3.2.1 The Doom of the American Dream

    3.2.2 The Cold Relationship between People

     3.3 Life Tragedy of the ProtagonistGatsby

    3.3.1 Gatsby’s Re-meeting with Daisy

    3.3.2 Gatsby’s Conflict and Struggle

    3.3.3 Gatsby Devoting His Life to Daisy after the Car Accident

    3.3.4 Gatsby Dying in a Wretched Way IV. Conclusion




    A Brief Analysis on the Tragedy of The Great Gatsby

    AbstractF. Scott Fitzgerald, American novelist and short story writer, is widely considered the literary spokesman of the ―Jazz Age‖-the decade of the 1920s. In 1925, Fitzgerald published his masterpiece,

    The Great Gatsby. Readers will have a strong sad feeling on this novel because of the unfortunate fate of the protagonist -Jay Gatsby. This paper will focus on the tragedy of The Great Gatsby, and make a brief

    analysis of the tragedy in the point of historical, social and the fate of the character. Through this, we can have a deep understanding of the meaning and the special charm of this work.

    Key Words: Tragedy; Value; Gatsby

I. Introduction

     Francis Scott Fitzgerald (September 24,1896-December 21, 1940) was an American author of novels and short stories, whose works are the paradigm writings of the Jazz Age. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century and is considered a member of the Lost Generation of the 1920s.

     It was Fitzgerald’s exciting experiences in the university’s literary groups that nourished his ambition to become a writer. In 1920 his first novel This Side of Paradise was

    published. It was an instant success. He became rich and was married to Zelda, a daughter of an upper-class family. Two years later, his second novel The Beautiful and the Damned

    was published. In 1924 he and Zelda moved to Paris, living among the expatriates of the twenties. The next year he published his best novel, The Great Gatsby, which eventually

    established the author’s position in American literary history. In 1926 All the Sad Young

    Men, a collection of his best short stories appeared. Another collection, Taps at Raveille,

    was published later in 1935. In December, 1926, Fitzgerald and his family returned to the United States. He worked briefly in Hollywood and soon became an alcoholic. In 1930-1931 the Fitzgeralds lived in Europe again, where Zelda began to suffer a mental breakdown .Back in America, Fitzgerald established a residence in the vicinity of Baltimore


to be near Zelda’s hospitals. His second masterpiece, Tender Is the Night was published in

    1934, and was harshly reviewed by the critics. From 1937 to 1939 he worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Alcoholism badly impaired his health and he was never able to recover .He died of a heart attack, leaving his last novel The Last Tycoon unfinished.

     The Great Gatsby is widely considered to be Fitzgerald’s greatest novel which is ranked second in the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. Time Magazine also included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.The novel reveals a tragedy of the American society as well as the

    fallibility of the American dream by focusing on the disillusionment of a young man, Jay Gatsby. Gatsby used to be a poor lieutenant but fell in love with Daisy, a woman from the social elite, who married a man called Tom Buchanan from her own social strata afterwards. Gatsby later made a lot of money out of bootleggers and he still could not forget Daisy. Therefore he held huge parties, catered food, opened bars and orchestras in his tremendous mansion which was across the bay from Daisy’s house. By inviting people that came from everywhere to attend these parties, he hoped that one day Daisy would notice that and also came to attend them so that they could meet again and he could win Daisy back, recovering the years they had lost. However, the reality was so cruel that dampened his passion for love and exhausted his keen intellect. After trying to impress Daisy with his mansion and his wealth, Gatsby discovered that he no longer understood Daisy. And when the truth is revealed about Gatsby and Daisy before Daisys husband, Tom Buchanan, Daisy would not

    go away with Gatsby. Gatsbys five year dream was over; even so Gatsby was willing to

    take the blame for Daisy who was driving after a car accident happened in which Myrtle, Toms mistress, was killed. In the end, Gatsby died disillusioned with the concept of a self -made man, George Wilson, who was Myrtles husband and was misled by Tom. He shot

    Gatsby and then killed himself. The tragedy of The Great Gatsby came to an end. From the

    above introduction, we can learn that the tragedy of the novel not only relies in the character themselves, but also deep in the social and historical condition.

II. Background

     2.1 The Life Experience of F. Scott Fitzgerald

     F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896 into a St. Paul middle-class family. After an


    unsuccessful undergraduate career at Princeton, he entered the Army as a second Lieutenant and while in training camp he met the beautiful girl who was to become his wife, He married Zelda Sayre as his literary career got off to a meteoric start in 1920. Through the 1920s when money seemed plentiful and postwar morality encouraged a reckless pursuit of happiness, he and Zelda traveled in Europe and New York, acting out the glamorous life-style he wrote of in his most popular magazine fiction. He was a spokesman for the so-called Jazz Age, setting a personal as well as literary example for a generation whose first commandment was: Do what you will. The speed of his life slackened as his life was shredded by Zelda’s insanity and his own self-destructive alcoholism. He fell from

    favor as a writer when the indulgent decade of his triumph went down under the impact of a worldwide Depression in the 1930s. Through years of emotional and physical collapse he struggled to repair his life by writing for Hollywood-producing at the same time a series of stories that exposed his humiliation there.

     2.2 The Social Reality

     The writer lived in the 1920s which is called the Jazz Age in American literature. Following the shock and chaos of World War I, American society enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity during the roaring 1920s as the economy soared. At the same time,

    prohibition, the ban on the sale and manufacture of alcohol mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment, made millionaires out of bootleggers and led to an increase in organized crime. Although Fitzgerald, like Nick Carraway in his novel, idolized the riches and glamour of the age, he was uncomfortable with the unrestrained materialism and lack of morality that went with it.

     The American Dream is the faith held by many in the United States of America that though hard work, courage, and determination one can achieve a better life for oneself, usually through financial prosperity. These were values held by many early European settlers, and have been passed on to subsequent generations. Nowadays the American Dream has led to an emphasis on material wealth as a measure of success and/or happiness. American Dream also refers to the dream of material success, in which one, regardless of social status, acquires wealth and gains success by working hard and good luck. The novel is remarkable for its evocation of an atmosphere of conflict and paradox. The party is crowded and yet empty. The night is beautiful but garish. The scene not only epitomizes the


    Jazz Age, its superficiality and tawdriness and its equally powerful sweetness and charm, but also represents the authors major theme: the disillusion of American Dream.

III. The Tragedy in The Great Gatsby

     3.1 Historical Tragedy

     3.1.1 The Tragic Conflict between Traditional Ideal and the Modern History Process

     The history of human being is actually a contradictory history between ideal and the reality, that is, a tragic history that human try to transcend reality to ideal. The temporary life of Gatsby experienced different stages in the changing of the American Dream. The novel summarizes the development and the disillusionment of the American Dream in the point of history and reality. As a young man who peruses the American Dream from West to East, Gatsby has set his life goal when he was only 17-year old; abide by the self-discipline of Benjamin Franklin. He grew up in strictly follow the early moral guidelines and teachings of United States, but in order to achieve his goals, he followed an infamous gambler Cody in reality. Though Gatsby has specific life goals and loyal to his dream, he saw a ―Golden girl‖ as the focus of his dream. His dream has been materialized,‖ He must feel he has lost the warmth of the past and paid a high price for his dream-this is a new world, rich in material but not so real.‖ The death of Gatsby was not only a

    disillumination of individual ideal, but also the doom of American Dream, the tragedy of American history. At the end of the story, Nick sighed with emotion,‖ Gatsby believed in his dream of a future with Daisy. He didn’t realize that when we move towards our dreams,

    they move farther and farther away from us. We move forward, like boats sailing against the wind and weaves, but all the time we are carried back into our past. (F.Scott Fitzgerald, 1985147)

     3.1.2 The Symbolism of Eastern and Western Area

    In this work, the Western, which represents the traditional forces, is pure and a simple example of virtue, while the Eastern, as a symbol of depravity, is evil and sophisticated. The journey of Gatsby and Nick from West to East, symbolizes the development history of the United States from agriculturalization to industrialization and urbanization, people in Eastern cannot see the future but constantly think about the simple and pure Western. And


    their journey from East to West shows the setback of civilization and the tragedy of history.

     The author narrated the whole story in Nick’s tone in this book. Nick was a victim of the First World War He was a wandering person, looking for his own spiritual garden. After the Great War, he came back to his hometown restlessly. But he couldn’t suit for the life there, so he decided to go East There, he met the main character Gatsby and became friends with him ,later, he knew Gatsby well and knew about his sincere love in his heart. He helped Gatsby but when he at last found it was a wicked deal, he warned Gatsby and told him it was unfair, but it was too late. Gatsby became the victim of wicked minds. Nick saw the whole thing from the beginning to the end by his own eyes, he understood the cold human relationships deeply, and he was disgusted with it and continued his wondering. Returning his hometown with a tragic feeling, his life trace marked a round circle empty and meaningless. His idea of himself ―a thinning list of single man to know, a thinning

    briefcase of enthusiasm, thinning hair embodied his sentimental feeling. The author portrayed Nick to imply human spiritual loss, thereby described sadness of human beings. As the literature critic Stanley Cooperman pointed,‖ the tragedy of the Great Gatsby lied in

    Nick’s return to the West‖.In a deep sense, it points to the hopeful future, or rather, it retreats to the past of United States. It fully shows the historical tragedy in The Great

    Gatsby. The Western area Nick eventually returned to was where retained his warm memories of the past,‖ That’s my Midwest---not wheat land, not Prairie, nor the deserted

    towns and villages the Swedish people moved out of, but those exciting trains returning home in my young, but the street light and sleigh bells in the cold night, the shadow of the Christmas Holly wreath on the snowy ground reflected by the lights inside the window.‖

     3.2 Social Tragedy

     3.2.1 The Doom of the American Dream

    When human history develops into twentieth century, the American Dream becomes the main aim of Americans. At the end of the First World War a most important literary development takes place---the modernistic trend, in which a new group of writers called the lost generation rebel against former ideas and values, but replace them only by despair or a cynical hedonism. American literature of 1920s is characterized by disillusionment with ideals and further with civilization the capitalist society advocate. The lost generation in the 1920s shows a sense of loss after the war. Among American writers


    during the 1920s; F. Scott Fitzgerald is crowned with the most credible achievement in the United States. His masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, conjures up the image of the roaring twenties, the age of flapper, and the Jazz Age. In the denouncement of the novel that deluded faces the corrupt and goes down to defeat, F. Scott Fitzgerald bitterly portrays the lamentable scenes he catches in the course of ethical and cultural collapse through disillusionment of the American Dream. In The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald finds a metaphor for an entire era when he portrays Gatsbys world as an endless extravagant party,

    in which flappers seek frenetic pleasure. Fitzgeralds novel The Great Gatsby is a parody of

    the American Dream, because in the experience of Jay Gatsby we have the corruption of the Dream itself-that is, the traditional devotions wasted on spiritual gumdrops and material trivialities.

     By telling the story of Jay Gatsby, a poor young American bedazzled with the allure of wealth regardless of the way he achieves it, Fitzgerald epitomizes the American Dream of early twentieth century-achievement as measured in possessions and position. For Gatsby, materialism is itself an ideal, a romantic dream of unnamed spiritual ecstasy, a perpetual expectation which somehow turns to ashes when the object is actually achieved. Gatsby is caught up in a self-destructive paradox-he attempts to make spiritual affirmations of material things, an in the process himself with neither the spiritual dimension nor the values of materialism itself. Gatsby attempts to make of his mansion and his dream of Daisy, an act of worship. It is this non- material materialism which sets up Gatsbys ultimate

    destruction. For the end of the dream, the paradox is one which lies at the very heart of American culture-in attempting to achieve a Golden Dream of Idealistic Beauty through the only means available to him, Gatsby represents a world in which means have become totally subordinate to ends, where the end itself-the Dream-is by this very fact reduced to parody of any purpose whatsoever. That Gatsbys dream is itself a pathetic illusion, is

    dramatized by the reaction of Daisy, who suddenly finds that her Fabled Lover, far from being above the sordid reality of the world, has spun his enchantment from the most vulgar element of the reality itself. And so Daisy withdraws from Gatsby, withdraws from the sudden smash of her romantic infatuation. Gatsbys whole life is devoted to the fulfillment

    of a romantic dream he creates at a very early age and by its very nature his dream requires an adolescent faith amounting to self-delusion to sustain it. His personal vision is based on


    the illusory belief that time can be fixed and the past can be repeated forever. The means by which this goal is to be attained is wealth, and so Gatsbys vision is like the American

    dream itself, the delusion that youth and beauty can be perpetually recaptured if only one can make enough money. Therefore, the essential tragedy of Gatsby is, in a profound sense, the tragedy of American Idealism itself-the wasted of enormous energies, even self-sacrifice, to self- illusion and the service of a meretricious beauty.

     3.2.2 The Cold Relationship between People

    After making a lot of money, Gatsby held big parties everyday. Howeverthe noisy

    emptying after the Partythe lonely waving and the clear-headed state ought to be of an outsider have all indicated his ineludible fate of being alone and helpless and dying a forlorn tragic death after the dropping off of the guests and the ending of the banquet. So we can see that Fitzgerald really has great originality in the portrait of characters development of plots and carefulness in structuresetc and expresses the subtlety tactfully

    and finely. At Gatsby’s funeral, his guests of former days did not make an appearance on his funeral except his old father and Nick who was left to organize Gatsby’s funeral, which

    formed a huge contrast compared with the luxurious party with hundreds of people attending. And Daisy even didn’t make any phone calls to lament, accompanying her husband to depart by far. All these have made Gatsby’s sacrifice a tragic jokeand in the

    endhe paid with his life for the beautiful dream of the past. This makes readers sigh more deeply for the tragic lifetime of Gatsby and further makes readers feel the interpersonal apathyselfishnessvacuity and falsehood of the Roaring twenties. Nick was so sympathetic

    towards Gatsby that he pertinently pointed out the false and the heartlessness of this society. ―They were careless people, Tom and Daisy-they smashed up things and creatures and then

    retreated back into their memory or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made.‖

    From this book we can see that the so-called feeling between man and man is just one level of interest. The Presence of relationship between man and man is maintained by money and wealth, even for the intimate husband and wife. The existence of materialism

    did not leave the communications between people for a while and at each party or meeting

    the senior status of material things was showedand the individual going into town by

    Gatsby and Nick and the final showdown-type meeting between them both presented the


    essence of worshiping materialism. Even when Nick was saying that Gatsby was his friendhis voice was so strained. It can be seen that the interpersonal relationship created in the book by the author focused on the materialist communicationswhile in the spiritno

    one could be a true friend of someone elsefor instancethe sisterly relation between Daisy

    so you can see that materialism and Jordan was not depicted plumply enough in the book

    had made the communications among people so simple and realistic which is just the doomed interpersonal relationship led to by the American dream.

    3.3 Life Tragedy of the ProtagonistGatsby

    The Great Gatsby mainly tells a disillusionment dream of the protagonist Gatsby. His

    tragedy experience can be, specifically told from the beginning of his dream. When he is still a mid-western boy, Gatsby’s dream begins to take shape. The next glimpse of the

    development of Gatsbys dream is his life on the Lake Superior, at which time Gatsby

    begins the remaking of himself, beginning with the change of his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby. Gatsby has the typical American belief that he is a Son of God and is destined to pursue the gaudiness of life. Then he meets Cody, an embodiment of success, who becomes a millionaire in the rushes of metal since the 1870s. Later Gatsby keeps Codys

    portrait on his wall. It is clear that Gatsby takes Cody as his model in his later struggle for rising in the world. Later, Gatsby, as a young officer, meets Daisy Fay in Louisville; Gatsbys dream takes in new meanings. To Gatsby, Daisy represents a way of lifeis

    characterized by wealth and high social position. Gatsby realizes that he has committed himself to following a grail. If Gatsby does not go to the war, the chance to get the hand of Daisy might be bigger, but the fact is that he does leave Daisy for the war. Daisy, after a period of depression, goes to a rich man (Tom Buchanans)’s arms. After the war, broken and hungry, Gatsby joins Wolfsheim in bootlegging and other illicit but profitable activities. Now Gatsby begins to make every possible effort towards his dream. He starts from nothing, but soon makes a lot of money. Obviously the American dream has deviated from its original way. More than a century ago, Benjamin Franklin achieves his success through hard work and persistence, so he wins both wealth and respect from others. In order to make himself known to the higher class and to attract Daisy to come, he holds grand parties every weekend in his large house. Here Gatsbys tragedy comes:

     3.3.1 Gatsby’s Re-meeting with Daisy


    Gatsby’s awakening from his dream begins when he, after five years, meets Daisy at Nicks house. He has been expecting the re- meeting with Daisy who has become a holy and almost unapproachable being. When he actually sees Daisy he becomes very embarrassed. Before long his embarrassment gradually turns into joy and later into bewilderment. He shows Daisy around his house, and Daisy is dazzled at the gaudiness of the house, the saloon, the music room, the library and almost everything. She marvels at the gold comb, and even sobs for the many fine shirts that she has never seen. The holy Daisy in his dream becomes a common woman now. It seems that Daisy fails to measure up Gatsbys fantasy. Gatsby is essentially an idealist. In his mind, Daisy should represent a world that is high above the commons and as perfect as it was five years ago. But he has created a place for Daisy in his dream for the future, and will not be content to have the gaping hole. One thing unchanged is Daisys charming voice-the deathless song. It is the

    unchanged voice that reassures Gatsbys determination. His innocence urges him to move

    on with the hope of restoring the perfect past. When Nick suggests that one can not repeat the past, Gatsby says, Why? Of course you can,‖―I am going to fix everything just the way

    it was before (F.Scott Fitzgerald, 1985168) But time will run out on Gatsby, just as it has

    on the American dream.

    .3.2 Gatsby’s Conflict and Struggle 3

    In the confrontation scene between Gatsby and Tom in the New York hotel room, Gatsbys ambition to break into the high class faces the severest attack from the member of that class, Tom. At first, Tom suspects Gatsbys identity as an Oxford man. After Gatsby

    explains it away, Tom turns to Gatsbys illicit business. When Tom reveals that his spies

    have learned that Gatsbys activities are bootlegging and something even worse, Gatsby appears to lose control and begins to talk excitedly and irrationally defending his name

    against accusations that had not been made(F.Scott Fitzgerald,1985204). Gatsby believes

    that he has approached his dream so near that he almost can touch it, but Tom’s hard malice suddenly breaks up his confidence. It occurs to him that he is blocked just at the gate of his dream.

     3.3.3 Gatsby Devoting His Life to Daisy after the Car Accident

    After Daisy accidentally kills Myrtle (another representative of the American dream) with Gatsbys car, she compromises with his husband and plots to put the blame on Gatsby


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