Question: We get to know a character through the relationships they have with others.
F.Scott.Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ deals with many relationships that allow the reader to better understand the characters of the novel. Through a character’s actions and dialogue, the reader can see the types of relationships between people. Therefore I strongly agree with the statement “We get to know a character through the relationships they have with others”.
Fitzgerald wrote his magnum opus in the 1920s - a decade widely known as the ‘roaring twenties’ or the ‘Jazz Age’. This was a period of economic prosperity and extravagance in which the upper classes indulged themselves in opulent properties and services. People believed in the ‘American Dream’ - bettering their lives and achieving their own version of ‘success’. It was this form of ‘success’, however, that became problematic and Fitzgerald intended to highlight this in his text.
The protagonist of the novel, Jay Gatsby, has transactional relationships with people. This can be seen at the beginning of his relationship with Nick Carraway - the narrator of the novel. Gatsby gets Nick to invite Daisy (a spoiled, rich lady of whom it appears Gatsby is madly in love with) over for tea. In return, he offers Nick a well paying job; “It wouldn’t take up much of your time and you might pick up a nice bit of money”. Fitzgerald writes this to show the reader the nature of Gatsby; he has no idea what a real relationship entails and thus he has no real friends - just people who use him. This adds to the timelessness of the novel since the reader is likely to be acquainted with someone of Gatsby’s nature, allowing them to connect with the ideas explored within the novel. Humans are better at understanding something when they can relate to it.
Through Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy, we can see that he is insecure about his “new money” wealth. His goal in life is to reach the pinnacle of the corrupted version of the American Dream - being apart of “old money” society. This is because from the age of 17 he views himself to be destined for better things. Since society was all about the perusal of wealth, Gastby viewed the elites of society as being his destiny. He worships Daisy and wants to attain her in order to fulfill his destiny of being a part of the “old money” society (since she is, indeed, of that ilk). His house is described by Nick as being “…a colossal affair by any standard - it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy with a tower on one side, spanking new…”. This metaphor compares Gatsby’s house to an European aristocratic mansion. Gatsby deliberately builds his house like this to convince Daisy he is from “old money” wealth or else he fears she will no longer be attracted to him. He goes to extreme lengths to grab her attention and display his alleged “old money” wealth to her. This shows the reader he is a very insecure character. When Daisy discovers how Gastby obtained his wealth, their relationship crumbles. Fitzgerald includes this relationship to teach the reader to be true to one’s self. A relationship built on lies is guaranteed to come to an end. As Shakespeare once said, “Above all else, this to thine own self be true”.
For Daisy, her relationship with Gatsby is useful. She uses him to get back at her own husband, Tom Buchanan, for his many affairs. “…she realised at last what she was doing…and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all.” This quote means that she had no intention of marrying Gatsby - he was merely a useful distraction. Just before Gatsby’s death, she discards him to the dust - a motif used throughout the novel symbolising the death of dreams. This is particularly seen when Nick Carraway rings to notify her of Gatsby’s death - she and Tom had gone on holiday. Nick also notes that “Daisy hadn’t sent a message or a flower.” This shows that her character is rotten, caring only for herself. It highlights one of Fitzgerald’s underlying themes of the ‘hollowness of the upper classes’ - elites who merely use people to get places and then destroy them on the trash heap of life, leaving their useless victims to bleed into the dust. Fitzgerald writes about Daisy and her relationship with Gatsby to show that one should never envy the wealthy as their pockets may be full but their spiritual souls may be bankrupt with their empty hearts.
Tom Buchanan is dissatisfied with his life, even though his possessions are many. His character is always pursuing things that give him short term pleasure and happiness. He wants to satisfy his emotions (which are fleeting) and thus he is always dissatisfied. This can be seen in the quote “Tom was hovering restlessly around the room”. Fitzgerald’s metaphorical imagery compares Tom to a fly that is not content. Tom always has affairs to fill his empty heart and since the pleasure he finds is not permanent, he keeps having affairs (a serial philanderer). At the birth of his daughter Daisy recalls that “Tom was god knows where…” and on their honeymoon Daisy was always asking where Tom had gone. Fitzgerald writes this to show Tom’s unhappy situation of never being satisfied with what he has. Tom represents the wealthy elites of our society and Fitzgerald wanted to warn his reader that with the perusal of wealth and possessions, comes dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Even though it appears the wealthy ooze luxury and extravagance their perusal of hollow things leads to a spiritual bankruptcy within.
In conclusion, I strongly agree with the statement that we get to know a character through the relationships they have with others. Whether that be with Tom and his multiple mistresses or Daisy and Gatsby, the reader is shown that the wealthy have enough troubles of their own. Fitzgerald tells his reader through this novel that one should not aspire to be wealthy but to have a meaningful and fulfilling life. As Fitzgerald observed in his younger years, a society that pursues wealth eventually disintegrates.