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Analysis of Symbolism in Macbeth and The Great Gatsby

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My chosen media for analysis and comparison to Macbeth is “The Great Gatsby” - a 2013 romantic drama film based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel of the same name “The Great Gatsby”. Both follow the story of Jay Gatsby, a man who builds his life and does whatever it takes to be united with Daisy Buchanan, the love he lost five years earlier when they first met. Gatsby's quest leads him from poverty to wealth and into the arms of his beloved and later all those events lead Gatsby to his death. On the other hand, William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” follows Macbeth, a Scottish general and Thane to King Duncan. He is overcome by ambition and greed after hearing a prophecy that he will become king. After being subjected to the prophecy and his wife’s provocative behaviour and encouragement, Macbeth kills King Duncan and takes the throne. Towards the end of the play, Macbeth’s guilt and paranoia lead him to commit even more murders to secure his power. His confidence in the prophecies eventually leads to his death.

These two texts seem to have little to nothing in common at first glance, however, there are many overlapping themes and similar character traits in these texts. The main theme in both texts is Ambition. The protagonists, Jay Gatsby and Macbeth, are driven by ambition and do whatever it takes to reach their goals. Jay Gatsby’s goal is to achieve the American Dream, which is symbolized for him by winning the love of Daisy Buchanan. The readers can see that all the success in Gatsby’s life can be attributed to his need to win Daisy’s love. On the other hand, Macbeth is already successful at the beginning of the place and is known as a victorious thane who has vanquished anyone who rebelled against the king. Macbeth is driven by an ambition to be the king of Scotland and that can be concluded from his response after the witches’ prophecy. His response hinted that he has considered that destiny before.

Both authors use symbolism throughout their texts which in The Great Gatsby is the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. It is a symbol of Gatsby’s hopes and dreams. It represents everything that haunts and beckons Gatsby: the physical and emotional distance between him and Daisy, the gap between the past and the present, the promises of the future. William Shakespeare uses blood as a symbol for guilt in Macbeth. Death and killing happen in an instant, but blood remains, and stains. At the times when both Macbeth and his wife feel most guilty, they despair that they will never be able to wash the blood off their hands.

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Gatsby and Macbeth are both seen as impatient characters that are willing to do anything to achieve their goals quickly. In Gatsby’s situation, this can be seen from the five years he spent acquiring his wealth relying on criminal activities to win Daisy’s heart faster. In the text, Gatsby was not well-established old money, so the source of his money was questioned and caused commotion in New York old-money circles. The social class theme in The Great Gatsby shows the developing class rivalry between 'old' and 'new' money in the struggle between Gatsby and Tom over Daisy. In Macbeth’s situation, he is well-liked and is a part of the higher class from the beginning. He also somewhat “upgrades” from the Thane of Glamis and becomes Thane of Cawdor at the beginning of the play. Despite all that Macbeth is not satisfied and is seeking more glory. After the prophecy, Macbeth realises that the fastest way for him to become king is to murder King Duncan and take the throne.

In both texts, the protagonists are motivated by something or someone. And the motivators in both texts are women that are very close to the protagonists. Lady Macbeth directly motivates Macbeth and Daisy indirectly motivates Gatsby to achieve their goals. Lady Macbeth talks Macbeth into killing the king. She is seen as powerful, manipulative and maybe even more ambitious than Macbeth at the beginning of the play. In the scene when Macbeth starts having second thoughts about his plan, Lady Macbeth calls him a coward and persuades him to do the deed. She wants her husband to succeed not only out of love but also for personal gain, she convinces Macbeth that the only way she will be happy with him is if he becomes the king. Despite being incredibly aggressive she gets crushed by guilt and ends up taking her own life towards the end of the play. Similarly, Daisy motivates Gatsby’s actions. She is first seen as a somewhat an opposite of Lady Macbeth. Daisy is described as weak and passive, however, Daisy also shares the trait of greed and selfishness with Lady Macbeth. When Daisy first met Gatsby he was a poor soldier and though she claimed she loved him back, Daisy would not marry him due to him not being able to offer anything of monetary value to her. Instead, she marries Tom Buchanan and keeps her high position in society and live a lavish lifestyle. She achieves her goals but is not happy afterwards so embarks on an affair with Gatsby. In the end, Tom reveals Gatsby’s criminal connections to her and after Daisy killed Myrtle in a car accident, Daisy is able to plan her escape with her daughter and husband.

Macbeth and Gatsby die at the ends of both stories. Macbeth dies consumed by his wickedness and Gatsby dies still clutching at some last hope that Daisy will call him. There is also some similarity in the way they were both blind to their goals. Gatsby was blinded by his love and did not see Daisy’s true nature. He didn’t realize that Daisy will quickly dismiss their relationship due to her careless nature and leave him. On the other hand, Macbeth’s blind trust in the witches leads to Macduff to killing him in the end. Ambition drove Gatsby and Macbeth to chase their goals, but these goals also blinded and killed them.

Macbeth and The Great Gatsby are both significant literary examples of the theme ambition. Both texts share similarities, such as the use of symbolism and character traits. Overall, both texts display the chosen themes in extremely effective ways that engage the audience in different ways.

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Analysis of Symbolism in Macbeth and The Great Gatsby. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 3, 2023, from
“Analysis of Symbolism in Macbeth and The Great Gatsby.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
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