In The Great Gatsby, the story concerns a mysterious character named Jay Gatsby. He is exceptionally wealthy, hosting parties at his manor attended by many people, “few [of whom were] actually invited” (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 45). No one seems to know how he came to be that rich, and his guests offer theories that he could be a bootlegger, or “a nephew to von Hindenburg” (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 66). However, from his first appearance, the reader knows that his wealth is not enough to make him happy when the protagonist sees him stare longingly at a green light the bay (Fitzgerald, 1925). This light comes to symbolize his dream and desire for something.
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As the reader comes to know more about Gatsby’s past, he or she comes to understand that he comes from a poor family and only became rich recently. His lavish parties and generosity are a way to ingratiate himself into New York’s high society. Furthermore, he bought his house specifically because it is near to that of his former lover, Daisy Buchanan’s, and her husband, Tom’s. Thus, his dream is to restore his relationship with her. Moreover, the narrator describes expands this dream to reliving the past when he describes Gatsby as “want[ing] to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy” (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 118). The green light he was staring at in the beginning of the novel is the light at Buchanans’ house’s dock.
The three sides of Gatsby’s dream — relationship with Daisy, joining the high society, and reliving the past — become intertwined. In a critical confrontation with her husband, Tom, he puts the dream to words: “she only married [Tom] because [Gatsby] was poor” (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 139). When Tom learns of the affair, it does not seem to concern him as much as the fact that his wife is having it with “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere” (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 138). The conflict in this scene escalates as Tom compares the divide between rich and the poor to one between races (Fitzgerald, 1925). The thought of crossing either divide seems impossible and appalling to him, and Gatsby’s attempts to do so ridiculously: “I suppose you’ve got to make your house into a pigsty in order to have any friends” (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 139). Thus, he explains that the class divide is not merely a matter of wealth, but of attitude, a certain quality that Jay lacks.
The novel proceeds to explore the necessary attitude, through Daisy’s actions. While driving with Gatsby, she runs over and kills her husband’s mistress. Although Gatsby intends to take the blame for the act since it was his car, which makes him the likely suspect, Daisy is ready to “retreat back into [her] money or [her] vast carelessness” (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 191). Thus, the carelessness that comes with a wealthy upbringing seems to be the quality that defines the class divide that separates Gatsby from his would-be peers. His position, conversely, comes from a lack of carelessness: this quality would prevent him from becoming wealthy from bootlegging or maintaining his rich persona. Therefore, by pursuing entry into the wealthy elite of New York — and restoring his relationship with Daisy — he eradicated the very quality separating these elites from the rest. His dream was impossible because following it only pushed him away from what he wanted to become.
Fitzgerald, F. S. (1925). The Great Gatsby. Web.
- “He’s a bootlegger”: who is Jay Gatsby?
- “Want[ing] to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps”: Gatsby dreams of Daisy and high society.
- “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere”: Daisy’s husband denies him entry to New York’s elites.
- “Careless people”: why Gatsby’s dream is impossible.