“What techniques does Fitzgerald use to convey the central ideas of The Great Gatsby?”
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is primarily a social commentary on the state of American society during the post-war period of unprecedented affluence and prosperity. Fitzgerald depicts 1920’s America as an age of decline in traditional social and moral values; primarily evidenced by the cynicism, greed and the relentless yet empty pursuit of prosperity and pleasure that various characters in The Great Gatsby exhibit. He presents a society in which uninhibited consumerism, materialism and an all-pervading desire for wealth have perverted the previously righteous qualities of the American Dream, corrupting it in the process. This decay of the American Dream is the central theme of the novel and is conveyed by a plethora of effective techniques, most notably Fitzgerald’s utilization of symbolic characters and geographical locations to represent various aspects and facets of American society.
Over the course of the novel, Fitzgerald conveys his observation that American society, particularly on the East Coast where the novel is set, is largely under the false illusion that wealth and happiness are interchangeable. Thus central principle of the American Dream; that every American is entitled to the “pursuit of happiness” has evolved during this period of prosperity, abundance and social change that was occurring during the ‘Roaring Twenties’, into the unrelenting pursuit of wealth. Upper class East Eggers give the outward illusion of culture, moral superiority and respectability, contentment and happiness that seemingly stems from their wealth. But over the course of the novel, Fitzgerald, partly through Nick’s observations, but primarily through the characterisation of the violent, racist bigot Tom Buchanan, the dishonest and irresponsible Jordan Baker, but in particular through the character of Daisy, exposes this illusion to be radically false, exposing a society that has disposed of all the righteous qualities that the American Dream encompassed, and replaced them with destructive and immoral tendencies that stem from the possession of wealth.
Ever since returning from the War, Jay Gatsby moulded his vision of Daisy Buchanan to become the embodiment of all of his aspirations, and in this way she is the paragon of his own ‘American Dream’. Fitzgerald has engineered Daisy’s character to outwardly represent the opulent wealth, aristocratic values, refinement and sophistication that Gatsby has dreamt of and craved since he was a poor, mid-western child, qualities and status that he himself could attain if he was able to rekindle their love, a task to which he devotes his every effort. In this sense, although there is little doubt that Gatsby genuinely loves Daisy, there is a suggestion that he has objectified her as a distant yet obtainable item that can lever him into the highest echelon of American society. Initially, the reader is prematurely encouraged to view Daisy in the same light as Gatsby, that is; as an innocent and righteous character, which is primarily achieved by her association with the colour white; a colour that would conventionally represent pure, angelic qualities. However as is often the case in The Great Gatsby, the symbolism is inverted, and initial appearances belie deeper realities which become increasingly apparent as the novel progresses.
Daisy and the society that she, along with her husband, symbolize, is largely an illusion. The realities of Daisy’s personality are revealed through progressive characterisation during the course of the novel, which Fitzgerald conveys through the close proximity of the narrator; Nick, and his observations. Although superficially Daisy embodies the grace, purity and superiority of the aristocratic classes, achieved through descriptions of her beauty, her instantly attractive “low, thrilling voice”, which Gatsby describes as being “full of money”...