Hypothesis: ‘The Great Gatsby’ subtly criticizes society and those who surround us

Could I please get feedback on this essay, it is based on the Great Gatsby and the comparison of two reports written about it :slight_smile:

Hypothesis: ‘The Great Gatsby’ subtly criticizes society and those who surround us.

Having read and examined ‘The Great Gatsby’, I have realized that ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a novel that subtly criticizes society and those who surround us. My point of view is reinforced by bearing in mind the two divergent critical essays I examined.

Whilst one text was published in 2013 and the other in 2014, it becomes clear that with a little period difference within the publication times, the views and critics of the novel remained consistent. One of the essays was from California State University Bakersfield, while the other was written by Lovisa Lindberg.
The first of these texts, considered why Fitzgerald wrote the parallels in ‘The Great Gatsby’ the way he did and how it enabled him to criticize society and those who surrounded him. The second text centres more around the idea of how Fitzgerald portrays the characters within the novel, with a significant amount of social criticism.

The analytical essay from the California State University of Bakersfield mentioned why Fitzgerald wrote the parallels in the novel the way he did. Through this, he was able to criticize society and those who surrounded him. It considered why he constructed the life of the characters within the novel as to how and why they were represented. In the novel, we simply construct this image of the characters being selfish, restless, materialistic people, who only care about money, themselves and no one else. One way in which the essay suggests the novel reaffirms this is through Fitzgerald almost telling his own story via the characters’ lives.
Fitzgerald lived a life of challenges and struggles, facing the reality of being poor and because of this, he lacked respect within his materialistic society. Therefore once he obtained wealth he found that he was still not as respected as he wished to be. Fitzgerald linked this to Gatsby because he was the son of some poor North Dakota farmers. However, he had a very deep ambition and determination to be successful - wealthy. Gatsby struggled with notions of masculinity; as he was not entirely in control of the decisions women in his life made. This is relatable to the writer who couldn’t convince Ginevra, the love of his life, to marry him because he was poor. Once he became wealthy and married Zelda, he couldn’t stop her from facing affairs with another man. Therefore we see this similarity with Gatsby because once Gatsby enhanced wealth, Daisy still loved Tom more.
Eventually, we see similarities shared among Fitzgerald, Tom, Gatsby and some with Nick too. From the essay “…Once a reader researches Fitzgerald’s life, obvious connections can be made such as the attitudes and names that some of his characters share with people who made an impact in his life…” “…paying close attention to how people and events are represented in the novel, it seems as Fitzgerald’s purpose in creating such connections was to criticize the materialistic society and attitudes of the American society in the 1920s…”. The idea of Tom being linked to the author is based on the fact that he married Daisy. Tom was rich, he grew up with aristocratic wealth and therefore he lived a life of luxury filled with materialistic desires. Linking to the hypothesis, this immediately highlights Fitzgerald’s criticism of his surroundings. We see this through several characters within the novel, but most of all through Gatsby - who is deprived of his American Dream. Underlined through the country’s growing obsession with materialism and the dream of the culmination of wealth.

Gatsby’s American Dream is Daisy, not just materialism or wealth, just Daisy. Gatsby has made up this image in his mind of Daisy being a “Goddess” like, eventually having expectations of her which are not realistic… being based on fantasy, which not realistic. Daisy then continued to have an affair with Gatsby, this being completely understandable because of Tom’s infidelity, but not forgivable as she has lowered herself to his level in doing so. This could eventually mean that Gatsby has merely another affair in a long string of affairs, with Daisy having no intentions of leaving Tom for him. Gatsby doesn’t realize this… he made Daisy a part of his dreams so that he could only achieve his ambitions if he was wed to her. She is the missing piece of the puzzle - not as a person but as a symbol of his dream. At last, Daisy finds that through Tom and Gatsby’s confrontation, she is perceived as less of a person and more of a prize.
Eventually, Daisy rejects Gatsby, through this we see the true Daisy - rotten and empty beneath a beautiful surface. Who in the end could’ve chosen to leave both of them,​ Tom and Gatsby - as one of them had unrealistic expectations? However, Tom was having affair after affair. The reality of Daisy choosing Tom, was because they were both the same type of people “…they were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then treated back into their money on their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made…”
Gatsby’s death is almost an afterthought - Fitzgerald does this deliberately because he wants to emphasize that Gatsby’s dream has given his life meaning, and without the dream, there would be no reason to live. Gatsby built his dream and his entire life around the “following a holy grail” - an unrealistic dream that could never be attained but this didn’t prepare him psychologically for the failure of his dream. Gatsby’s judgment regarding his dream is extremely relatable to society as a whole, he cannot achieve his dream and therefore he links his identity to his dream - triggering his emotions.

In a similar opinion, the critical essay written by Lovisa Lindberg takes into consideration how deeply Fitzgerald portrays the characters with an extreme amount of social criticism. It draws attention to Gatsby and Myrtle being similar characters, as what they’re going through is similar, struggling to fulfil their American Dream. Because of the growing advertisement business in America; society believed that happiness depended on the amount of financial success. With the massive economic boom in the 1920s, the adverts bombard society with information encouraging them to buy any sort of goods…even if unnecessary. Especially shown through Gatsby’s behaviour, from his purchases of large mansions, silk shirts and expensive cars - to all the appearances being components of the happiness of a person. He simply highlights the undying hope and idealism being fundamental parts of the American Dream. I agree with Lindberg, who states that “Gatsby is corrupted by the values and attitudes that he holds in common with the society that destroys him…”, this situation simply applies to society as a whole and is also used as a way of criticizing Gatsby’s undying dream of obtaining something unattainable.

Lindberg highlights Myrtle and her contrasting pursuit of happiness through her affair with Tom, eventually signifying her desired American Dream. Myrtle’s impression of happiness is the possession of materialistic things, which her husband George Wilson couldn’t provide for her, as he was a poor garage owner. Through this, Myrtle’s idea of having an affair sparked, in search for a male who could fulfil her materialistic emptiness. Fitzgerald’s criticism towards Myrtle is recognizable through her characterization of her habits towards materialism as being bold and ostentatious, exhibiting her ideas of a “successful life”. Fitzgerald shows Myrtle’s eagerness to spend money as a representation of the consumer hysteria - which was very relevant in American society. She simply believes that by achieving materialistic possession and wealth, she will attain a successful life - in reality, the American Dream.
Lindberg also closely explores how Daisy is portrayed as a similar character to Myrtle, both in search of fulfilment. Daisy is reflected as being criticized through a capitalist society, her sense of disloyalty and abandonment, highlights the idea that money cannot buy happiness. She grew up wealthy and married a wealthy man - her life was already made and established for her. This could be symbolic of her fanciful and deceptive personality and her ability to run away from embarrassment due to her wealth. Daisy’s character is perceived as someone unhappy, which is symbolic as it’s caused by her lack of personal, cognitive and abstract self. She seems as though she can’t express herself, therefore she is also unable to meet Gatsby’s unrealistic emotional expectations. From this, her happiness and emotional indifference are an ambiguous result of the wealthy lifestyle she has been submerged in.

Personally, although I can understand the point of view taken by the essay written by Lovisa Lindberg, I find that my ideas of how ‘The Great Gatsby’ criticizes society go alongside the essay from the California State University of Bakersfield. The points in the second essay do align with my hypothesis too, but there’s a missing piece which we see in the first essay shown by Fitzgerald aligning his life to it, by associating the characters within the novel to people he met in his life and therefore being able to deeply criticize these. I feel as though the second essay highlights more the idea of how Daisy and Myrtle are very similar characters, despite being in different social classes - this doesn’t interfere with the idea that they are both in search of fulfilment. Myrtle is in search of wealth and materialism and Daisy is in search of emotional fulfillment.

Whereas the first essay makes links between more than two characters and the author, therefore actually shows how Fitzgerald can criticize these. I agree that by linking his personal life and the people he met within the novel, he can look at the characters and feel the same way he did towards the people in his life and therefore judge them with a heavier meaning as to why they behave certain ways. The essay from the California State University of Bakersfield first explores the fact that Tom has many similarities with Fitzgerald, as they cannot control women in his life. Once Fitzgerald was poor, he couldn’t convince the love of his life to marry him but once he became rich and married someone else - he couldn’t stop her from having affairs with other men. Similar to Tom, he was already rich and married to the love of his life, although even on his honeymoon he was already having affairs with other women…”Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time…”. Tom was shown to be emotionally stressed, as the novel progressed he found out his “goddess” like wife was also having an affair with Gatsby, eventually finding out that his mistress was leaving him too. Maybe this sort of power Tom feels as though he needs to have comes along with his wealth and therefore he cannot take control of those who surround him, thus becoming vulnerable. Criticizing how Tom is in control of the situation, thus can determine his fate. Therefore when we observe Daisy telling Gatsby she loves Tom more, Gatsby spiralled - because suddenly the fate he desired with Daisy had abruptly disappeared. I agree that through this idea the characters feeling the need to be validated eventually leads to consequences caused by the desire for control. Through this Fitzgerald is criticizing how the desired American Dream leads to the need to feel in control - we see this especially in men. In the 1920s, women were not allowed to speak up for themselves as much as we see it happening nowadays. Back then, most of the time women just obeyed to do and say whatever their husbands desired, they stayed at home, cooked, cleaned and looked after their kids.

To conclude, my hypothesis which stated that ‘The Great Gatsby’ subtly criticizes society and those who surround us, is one that I completely concur with after reading and examining the novel, as well as both of the similar critical essays. Whilst the second essay acknowledges more the idea of Daisy and Myrtle being very similar characters, despite their difference regarding wealth. I feel as though these two characters are not being judged well with enough criticism, to link to society nowadays or/and reflect on the psychology behind their behaviour.
Because of the points raised in the first essay and how in some way, all the characters are linked, this made me reflect on how empty and needy society can be. The fact that Gatsby and Tom feel the need to be in constant control of women and their surroundings, makes me wonder what happens once they are not powerful enough to be in control of these. Another very important point was how these two characters view Daisy. I can say it is very common how society upholds unrealistic expectations of people, this is greatly highlighted by how Daisy is perceived as - a ‘Goddess’. This is unrealistic as a ‘Goddess’ is meant to have passion, purpose and inspiration…when in reality Daisy is the opposite. She doesn’t know what she is doing with her life, she has no purpose and finds it boring. Despite being very wealthy and for some thinking materialistic wealth is the road to fulfilment - she represents the opposite. She has affairs and is unfaithful. ‘The Great Gatsby’ criticizing society contributed to the time in which it was written, as the roaring twenties was centred around the search for fulfilment through unrealistic expectations. This search for fulfilment is significant to the American dream, searching for this approval and acceptance of America’s higher class. Society mirrors this, nowadays we are in constant search for acceptance and validation, this is because of doubting our self-worth and therefore needing someone else to reassure us that we are good enough. This hugely plays a part in Gatsby’s personality, as we see through his constant search for approval, his insecurities and low-self worth.

Hi April

Unfortunately the Studyit forums were not open at the time of this post, but we have now opened for the year. Would you still like some feedback on this essay or is it no longer required?