Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1921 is the tale of Jay Gatsby, told from the perspective of his neighbour. Gatsby is a much loved man locally, possessing and extraordinary amount of wealth, throwing lavish parties and a past which no one is sure of and has already become mythologized. Gatsby befriends the narrator, his new neighbour who moved from the American Midwest to New York in pursuit of a job in the lucrative bonds market.
It turns out that years ago Gatsby was in love with Nick Carraway’s, cousin, Daisy, who lives in East Egg, they live in West Egg, and has been searching for her ever since he came back from the Great War. After a meeting between them is arranged by Nick, at Gatsby’s request, Gatsby gets involved in an affair with his former lover. This cannot be kept secret for long however, and in a confrontation in New York Gatsby gets Daisy to tell her husband, Tom Buchanan, that she never loved him. The argument, however, is turned onto Gatsby’s past and his financial dealings. On the drive back, a car which it later turns out is being driven by Daisy, with Gatsby in the passenger seat, hits and kills Tom’s lover, whose husband, in turn, comes after Gatsby and kills him.
Daisy and Tom’s life continues as normal, Nick Carraway soon moves back East to the Midwestern States that he, Daisy, and Gatsby, all came from.
Gatsby decides that what he would do, with unlimited wealth and unlimited opportunities, is to get back his former lover. He refuses to allow for the developments in either of their lives since then, and sees no change, feels no change, in that relationship. His tragedy is that he tries to live in the past, which he never can. Although there are no direct parallels, the character of Gatsby is a Faustian figure. Seemingly endless luxury and wealth but at the same time always looking beyond that. The adulation of those around him is something Faust enjoys, his mythical status among his friends and peers. His aspirations and desires lead to his downfall. Daisy is both a Gretchen and Helen like figure, his ideal past, and his ideal present who suffers for him.
The ideal past, and promise, also reflects the American Dream and its decline throughout the 20th Century, as it became a superpower. The questionable morality of the affairs and the freedom of sexuality are all apparent. The American dream itself I see as quite Faustian, the ability to make yourself into anything you want, and the inevitable failure of most of these dreams. The aim of the guests at Gatsby’s party is hedonistic exploitation of the host; none of them, apart from Nick and Owl Eyes attend his funeral. Those in West Egg that have made their own fortune are placed opposite the American aristocracy represented by West Egg (sparknotes). Gatsby’s social rise, like Faust’s, is from humble beginnings, and takes it as far away as he can, but ultimately Gatsby is always from the Midwest and a self made man.
“Gatsby is a Faustian man who has found nothing in his experience to match his longings...Can anything in the human experience live up to human hopes and human imagination? Are any of us, with our dreams, really very different from Gatsby?” (Understanding the Great Gatsby; Dalton Gross)
“I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” Page 24
Daisy says this after giving birth to her daughter. In terms of social standing, if she is beautiful, she will be desired by men of a higher social station, but if she is a fool she won’t realise she’s being used for her looks, or she will be happier with her lot.
“He’s just a man named Gatsby” page 55
In the same way that Faust is just a man and cannot change the existing order, so is Gatsby and this is the root cause of their failure.
It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people – with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe page 80
This refers to Wolfshiem’s fixing of the 1919 World Series, and relates to the selfish nature of these ideas which take hold of someone, like Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy, or Faust’s pursuit of Gretchen.
After his embarrassment and his unreasoning joy he was consumed with wonder at her presence. He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at an inconceivable pitch of intensity. Now, in the reaction, he was running down like an overwound clock. page 99
The sheer joy of Gatsby at meeting Daisy again has a childish quality of joy about it which relates to Marlowe’s Faustus’ eagerness to start talking with Mephistopheles.
It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart. Page 103
In the same way, the reality can never live up to the dream. Faustus feels he doesn’t get a fair deal, but he should have considered what Satan would let him know, and the limits of the deal.
I was thirty. Before me stretched the portentous menacing road of a new decade...her wan face fell lazily against my coat’s shoulder and the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand. So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight. Page 142
Both the incessant nature of time and the comfort of the present are represented in this quote.
I felt I had something to tell him, something to warn him about, and morning would be too late. Page 153
Like the Old Man in Dr Faustus, Nick tries to help Gatsby, but it is a hopeless situation in both cases.
It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy – it increased her value in his eyes He felt their presence all about the house pervading the air with the shades and echoes of still vibrant emotions. Page 154
Faustus’ passion for Helen is rooted in his love and knowledge of the classics. It makes logical sense that she must be one of the most beautiful women ever if two civilisations went into a ten year war for her. Daisy, in Gatsby’s eyes, is of the same level of perfection as Helen is to Faustus. Also, in both cases, they play the role of Paris in this analogy, not the husband, but the lover.
She was feeling the pressure of the world outside, and she wanted to see him and feel his presence beside her and be reassured she was doing the right thing after all. Page 157
Like Gretchen, Daisy, before her marriage to Tom, craved the protection of her lover who is now conspicuously absent. In Gatsby’s case he is in Europe, at Oxford after the war. In both cases they succumb to society’s expectations of them.
“God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!” page 166
Wilson said this to his wife, shortly before she was killed. He carries out his own divine retribution later, but it also reflects the difficulty of outwitting an omniscient God.
Gatsby shouldered the mattress and started for the pool. Once he stopped and shifted it a little, and the chauffeur asked him if he needed help, but he shook his head and in a moment disappeared among the yellowing trees...I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world. Paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. Page 167-8
Gatsby is made into an explicitly Christ-like figure shortly before his death, a parallel which comes up many times in Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, especially when he signs the deal with the Devil. Another parallel is that both Faustus and Gatsby are heavily punished for their desires.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eludes us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms out further. Page 188
The never ending human capacity for desiring more, something just out of reach; a commendable ideal but one that, in the case of Gatsby and Faust is the cause of their downfall, and is beautifully expressed by Fitzgerald here.
Fitzgerarld, F. Scott; The Great Gatsby; Penguin; London; 1974.