Interpretation and Significance The Great Gatsby can be viewed in one of three ways: • A veiled autobiographical account of Fitzgerald’s life • A bitter criticism of the American Dream • An allegory teaching the sinfulness of greed
Interpretation 1: Autobiographical “To Zelda, As Always”
“Rich girls don’t marry poor boys” Fitzgerald • Military experience • Zelda is muse and destruction. • Initially rejected because he was too poor and unsuccessful. • Wins her back with “This Side of Paradise” and affluence • Her shallow need for wealth and status ruin Fitzgerald and force him to compromise his values. • Fitzgerald drinks himself into oblivion. Gatsby • Military experience • Daisy is muse and destruction. • Left behind for money and popularity. • Wins her back with his beautiful mansion. • Her shallow need for security and her stupidity drive her back to Tom • Gatsby is killed by powers he cannot control.
Both men are haunted by women they could never fully have, women whose greed destroyed them.
Interpretation 2: Criticism of American Dream “Gatsby had committed himself to the following of a grail.”
American Dream as “Grail.” • Grail is an unattainable, elusive mythical object. • Desire for the grail has driven countless men to ruin and death. • Fitzgerald uses the search for the grail as a metaphor for the pursuit of the American dream. It is elusive, unattainable, and mythical.
False Hope • Tom has all the money he could ever want and a beautiful bride, but throws it away for a cheap affair. • Daisy has a huge house, a beautiful baby, and a wonderful life, but throws it away for nostalgia. • Jordan is a succesful, beautiful golf player, but cheats and loses her esteem. • Gatsby has worked his way up “from rags to riches,” but is senselessly murdered in his foolish attempt to realize his dream.
A Morality Tale • Allegory: a story meant to convey a moral lesson (like a parable of sorts). • Fitzgerald, like Nick, had an unpleasant taste of upper-class life. • We are meant to share in Nick’s “unaffected scorn” for the world he sees. • God watches us all, and judges us for our immorality. • The sinful are punished (Gatsby, Tom, Myrtle, Daisy) while the just are spared (Nick).
Symbolism • Great Gatsby is most commonly discussed in terms of its inventive use of symbolism.
Key Symbols in the Text • Eyes of T. J. Eckleburg • God’s judging, disapproving perspective on humanity. • The Green Light • Longing and desire for those things which are most elusive. • The Valley of Ashes • Empty, lifeless valley becomes a symbol for the empty, soulless people who traverse it. • Gatsby’s Rolls Royce • How appropriate that a symbol of Gatsby’s wealth becomes an instrument of death. • Pearl Necklace/Dog Collar • Tom gives Myrtle a dog collar as a gift, but a pearl necklace to Daisy. Myrtle is nothing but a pet to him; a plaything that he can mistreat. It emphasizes his greed; people are like possessions to him.
Some Key Quotations in the Text • “Gatsby paid a high price for living too long with a single dream.“ • “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” • “I am one of the few honest people I have ever met.” • “[her voice] is full of money.” • “You see, I think everything’s terrible anyhow…I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything…sophisticated, God, I’m sophisticated!” • “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can!” • Gatsby “had committed himself to the following of a grail.” • “They’re a rotten crowd…you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”