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Main Themes, Characters And Symbolism In The Novel The Great Gatsby

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Table of contents

  1. Chapter 1: Setting
  2. Chapter 2: Character Development
  3. Chapter 3: Parties & Stylistic Devices
  4. Chapter 4: Gatsby’s Background
  5. Chapter 5: Daisy & Gatsby
  6. Chapter 6: Narrator’s Nature
  7. Chapter 7: Symbolism
  8. Chapter 8: Nick’s Attitudes
  9. Chapter 9: Themes

Chapter 1: Setting

“I graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father, and a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. Instead of being the warm center of the world the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe—so I decided to go east and learn the bond business. Everybody I knew was in the bond business so I supposed it could support one more single man. All my aunts and uncles talked it over as if they were choosing a prep-school for me and finally said, ‘Why—yees’ with very grave, hesitant faces. Father agreed to finance me for a year and after various delays I came east, permanently, I thought, in the spring of twenty-two. The practical thing was to find rooms in the city but it was a warm season and I had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees, so when a young man at the office suggested that we take a house together in a commuting town it sounded like a great idea. He found the house, a weather beaten cardboard bungalow at eighty a month, but at the last minute the firm ordered him to Washington and I went The Great Gatsby out to the country alone. I had a dog, at least I had him for a few days until he ran away, and an old Dodge and a Finnish woman who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove. It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man, more recently arrived than I, stopped me on the road. ‘How do you get to West Egg village?’ he asked helplessly.”

In the excerpt above the author uses two stylistic devices. The author's description of the Season as warm is an example of thermal imaging appealing to temperature heat or cold the usage of this element gave me the idea of the overall weather of the city. The author secondly describes the trees as friendly (personification) in contrast to his former residence in the country, this portrays an urban setting in my mind not filled with plenty of vegetation. The time period is also stated; post world war one and during the roaring 20's, a time period in America characterized by economic boom and a blunt change in social norms. The overall time period is distinguished by an economic rise in the stock market, more progressive thinking, and a ban on alcohol.

Chapter 2: Character Development

“The interior was unprosperous and bare; the only car visible was the dust-covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner. It had occurred to me that this shadow of a garage must be a blind and that sumptuous and romantic apartments were concealed overhead when the proprietor himself appeared in the door of an office, wiping his hands on a piece of waste. He was a blonde, spiritless man, anaemic, and faintly handsome. When he saw us a damp gleam of hope sprang into his light blue eyes. ‘Hello, Wilson, old man,’ said Tom, slapping him jovially on the shoulder. ‘How’s business?’ ‘I can’t complain,’ answered Wilson unconvincingly. ‘When are you going to sell me that car?’ ‘Next week; I’ve got my man working on it now.’ ‘Works pretty slow, don’t he?’ ‘No, he doesn’t,’ said Tom coldly. ‘And if you feel that way about it, maybe I’d better sell it somewhere else after all.’ ‘I don’t mean that,’ explained Wilson quickly. ‘I just meant——‘ His voice faded off and Tom glanced impatiently around the garage. Then I heard footsteps on a stairs and in a moment the thickish figure of a woman blocked out the light from the office door. She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering. She smiled slowly and walking through her husband as if he were a ghost shook hands with Tom, looking him flush in the eye. Then she wet her lips and without turning around spoke to her husband in a soft, coarse voice: ‘Get some chairs, why don’t you, so somebody can sit down.”

The author further develops Mr. Wilson's character by noting physical descriptions as well as the manner in which he reacts. Mr. Wilson is described as 'blond,' 'anaemic,' and only 'faintly handsome.' This description reveals that he looks bland and also broken down or feeble. This is description makes me look down Mr. Wilson and maybe even feel bad for him. He also said to have had a damp gleam of Hope when he saw on Nick and Tom Signifying that his business is going under and was so hopeful because you saw potential customers. He also seems like a pushover his wife and Tom take him for a fool and he fulfill that role. My overall reaction to Mr.Wilson is based on his description is not very positive or optimistic.

Chapter 3: Parties & Stylistic Devices

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city, between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants including an extra gardener toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before. Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour, if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb. At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d'oeuvres, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.”

The author, TJ Fitzgerald, first uses a simile to explain the size of the party comparing the men and girls travel to moths. Meaning the party was quite Grand and packed. He also describes Gatsby's vehicle as a 'scampering like a brisk yellow bus' meaning that he was in a constant haste, which makes me think everything was very fast-paced and hurried. The author's last statement about the eight servants toiling to repair the ravages of night before sent the message that this was an absolute absolute spree and people were intoxicated and reckless. Gatsby seems like he’s trying to fill a void, inviting thousands to his home in search of one.

Chapter 4: Gatsby’s Background

“A little overwhelmed, I began the generalized evasions which that question deserves. ‘Well, I’m going to tell you something about my life,’ he interrupted. ‘I don’t want you to get a wrong idea of me from all these stories you hear.’ So he was aware of the bizarre accusations that flavored conversation in his halls. ‘I’ll tell you God’s truth.’ His right hand suddenly ordered divine retribution to stand by. ‘I am the son of some wealthy people in the middle-west—all dead now. I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years. It is a family tradition.’ He looked at me sideways—and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying. He hurried the phrase ‘educated at Oxford,’ or swallowed it or choked on it as though it had bothered him before. And with this doubt his whole statement fell to pieces and I wondered if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him after all. ‘What part of the middle-west?’ I inquired casually. ‘San Francisco.’ ‘I see.’...Then came the war, old sport. It was a great relief and I tried very hard to die but I seemed to bear an enchanted life. I accepted a commission as first lieutenant when it began. In the Argonne Forest I took two machine-gun detachments so far forward that there was a half mile gap on either side of us where the infantry couldn’t advance. We stayed there two days and two nights, a hundred and thirty men with sixteen Lewis guns, and when the infantry came up at last they found the insignia of three German divisions among the piles of dead. I was promoted to be a major and every Allied government gave me a decoration—even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!’ Little Montenegro! He lifted up the words and nodded at them—with his smile. The smile comprehended Montenegro’s troubled history and sympathized with the brave struggles of the Montenegrin people. It appreciated fully the chain of national circumstances which had elicited this tribute from Montenegro’s warm little heart. My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines. He reached in his pocket and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm. ‘That’s the one from Montenegro.’ To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look. Orderi di Danilo, ran the circular legend, Montenegro, Nicolas Rex. ‘Turn it.’ Major Jay Gatsby, I read, For Valour Extraordinary. ‘Here’s another thing I always carry. A souvenir of Oxford days. It was taken in Trinity Quad—the man on my left is now the Earl of Dorcaster.’ It was a photograph of half a dozen young men in blazers loafing in an archway through which were visible a host of spires. There was Gatsby, looking a little, not much, younger—with a cricket bat in his hand. Then it was all true. I saw the skins of tigers flaming in his palace on the Grand Canal; I saw him opening a chest of rubies to ease, with their crimson-lighted depths, the gnawings of his broken heart. ‘I’m going to make a big request of you today,’ he said, pocketing his souvenirs with satisfaction, ‘so I thought you ought to know something about me. I didn’t want you to think I was just some nobody. You see, I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad thing that happened to me.”

The author uses to suspense to reveal Gatsby through the dialogue between him and Nick. It's very interesting however, the more the author reveals about Gatsby the more mysterious he becomes, certain information is strategically revealed and even more is held back arising curiosity. For example I am so intrigued to know what exactly what exactly is a sad thing that happened to him. My overall take on Gatsby that he is mysterious and that he holds back a lot not letting anyone get too close to him, which explains why he is circulated by so many rumors. He doesn't make many connections with people, he is a very lonely man even though most of the time he is surrounded by thousands. None of the people that flock into his house for parties really know him or care to and vice versa, Gatsby doesn't want them to. He only revealed certain information to Nick to give himself credibility so he could negotiate a favor. The fact that he had to pull out empirical evidence to support his claims is hilarious to me and also reveals a lot about his character. Perhaps he had to show Nick proof to back up his story not only because Nick wouldn't belive him- which he didn't at first, but because he himself is very skeptical and knows what it would take to get him to trust a story.

Chapter 5: Daisy & Gatsby

“While the rain continued it had seemed like the murmur of their voices, rising and swelling a little, now and the, with gusts of emotion. But in the new silence I felt that silence had fallen within the house too. I went in—after making every possible noise in the kitchen short of pushing over the stove—but I don’t believe they heard a sound. They were sitting at either end of the couch looking at each other as if some question had been asked or was in the air, and every vestige of embarrassment was gone. Daisy’s face was smeared with tears and when I came in she jumped up and began wiping at it with her handkerchief before a mirror. But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room. ‘Oh, hello, old sport,’ he said, as if he hadn’t seen me for years. I thought for a moment he was going to shake my hands. ‘It’s stopped raining.’ ‘Has it?’ When he realized what I was talking about, that there were twinkle-bells of sunshine in the room, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to Daisy. ‘What do you think of that? It’s stopped raining.’ ‘I’m glad, Jay.’ Her throat, full of aching, grieving beauty, told only of her unexpected joy. ‘I want you and Daisy to come over to my house,’ he said, ‘I’d like to show her around.’ ‘You’re sure you want me to come?’ ‘Absolutely, old sport.’ Daisy went upstairs to wash her face—too late I thought with humiliation of my towels—while Gatsby and I waited on the lawn. ‘My house looks well, doesn’t it?’ he demanded. ‘See how the whole front of it catches the light.’ I agreed that it was splendid. ‘Yes.’ His eyes went over it, every arched door and square tower. ‘It took me just three years to earn the money that bought it.’ ‘I thought you inherited your money.’”

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The author uses a lot of figurative language to develop the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby. He uses many accounts of simile, symbolism, and idioms to review how these to feel now reunited. He Compares Gatsby stop to that of a weatherman reporting good news, to an ecstatic patron of recurring light. The author describes Gatsby like never before contrasting Gatsby's usual firmness or sternness to his newly found bursting glow. Daisy reciprocates Gatsby's feelings and is now filled with 'unexpected joy.' The rain coming to a halt holds a great deal of symbolism. Perhaps this is a sign of new beginnings and sunshine following the tumultuous clouds. My view on their relationship due to this development is pessimistic. I feel as though now that their relationship is on such high of a pedestal they can only descend and crumble. Nevertheless their relationship right now seems like a fairytale and I'm intrigued to see what is to come.

Chapter 6: Narrator’s Nature

“He talked a lot about the past and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was… One autumn night, five years before, they had been walking down the street when the leaves were they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight. They stopped here and turned toward each other. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees—he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder. His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete. Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something—an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever.”

The narrator, Nick, has taken an overall realistic and practically oriented tone. The author suggests that the narrator is a bit self-centered as he dismisses Gatsby's 'appalling sentimentality' and continues further at an attempt to recover something he had almost remembered but was 'uncommunicative forever.' Similar to Gatsby's relentless search but opposing in that Gatsby is more of a mythical dreamer. This tone is conveyed through his monologue in the stated excerpt above. The narrator's purpose in this chapter is to inform and allow us (the reader) to get to know Gatsby as well as himself a bit more. In this chapter I got to see how deep Gatsby lets his delusions get the better of him he is incredibly naive and his interpretations of social clues is ridiculous. Gatsby is unrealistic and unfair as he expects Daisy to denounce her love for Tom and leave him and their child to pursue this fairy tale he's embedded in his mind he explains that that is his true desire. The fact that Gatsby still believes Daisy will come back to him show how in his head he is and unwilling to see things for what they are- his obsession with Daisy won’t let him. The narrator also portrays daisy, coming from the East Egg, as judgmental as he describes her misery at the party because she feels she is above everyone else there, all of West Egg.

Chapter 7: Symbolism

“‘What do you want money for, all of a sudden?’ ‘I’ve been here too long. I want to get away. My wife and I want to go west.’ ‘Your wife does!’ exclaimed Tom, startled. ‘She’s been talking about it for ten years.’ He rested for a moment against the pump, shading his eyes. ‘And now she’s going whether she wants to or not. I’m going to get her away.’ The coupé flashed by us with a flurry of dust and the flash of a waving hand. ‘What do I owe you?’ demanded Tom harshly. ‘I just got wised up to something funny the last two days,’ remarked Wilson. ‘That’s why I want to get away. That’s why I been bothering you about the car.’ ‘What do I owe you?’ ‘Dollar twenty.’ The relentless beating heat was beginning to confuse me and I had a bad moment there before I realized that so far his suspicions hadn’t alighted on Tom. He had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world and the shock had made him physically sick. I stared at him and then at Tom, who had made a parallel discovery less than an hour before—and it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well. Wilson was so sick that he looked guilty, unforgivably guilty—as if he had just got some poor girl with child. ‘I’ll let you have that car,’ said Tom. ‘I’ll send it over tomorrow afternoon.’ That locality was always vaguely disquieting, even in the broad glare of afternoon, and now I turned my head as though I had been warned of something behind. Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil but I perceived, after a moment, that other eyes were regarding us with peculiar intensity from less than twenty feet away. In one of the windows over the garage the curtains had been moved aside a little and Myrtle Wilson was peering down at the car. So engrossed was she that she had no consciousness of being observed and one emotion after another crept into her face like objects into a slowly developing picture. Her expression was curiously familiar—it was an expression I had often seen on women’s faces but on Myrtle Wilson’s face it seemed purposeless and inexplicable until I realized that her eyes, wide with jealous terror, were fixed not on Tom, but on Jordan Baker, whom she took to be his wife.”

The ashheaps symbolize failure, decay and corruption. The eyes of TJ eckleburg keeping vigil, relating to religious observance, symbolizes a higher power keeping watch over everyone in the valley of Ashes through all their destruction. The ashheaps also symbolize loss. Loss as in death but also a loss of hope and dreams- the American dream. Everyone in this region is barely getting by and are living deplorable lives. For example Wilson's business, his livelihood, was going under and he was doing nothing about it, and Myrtle was committing adultery. The religious presence gives the overall story hope of justice. God or a higher power is looking down on all the chaos so there might be a bigger plan for everything to be set right and Justice to be served.

Chapter 8: Nick’s Attitudes

“I’m going to drain the pool today, Mr. Gatsby. Leaves’ll start falling pretty soon and then there’s always trouble with the pipes.’ ‘Don’t do it today,’ Gatsby answered. He turned to me apologetically. ‘You know, old sport, I’ve never used that pool all summer?’ I looked at my watch and stood up. ‘Twelve minutes to my train.’ I didn’t want to go to the city. I wasn’t worth a decent stroke of work but it was more than that—I didn’t want to leave Gatsby. I missed that train, and then another, before I could get myself away. ‘I’ll call you up,’ I said finally. ‘Do, old sport.’ ‘I’ll call you about noon.’ We walked slowly down the steps. ‘I suppose Daisy’ll call too.’ He looked at me anxiously as if he hoped I’d corroborate this. ‘I suppose so.’ ‘Well—goodbye.’ We shook hands and I started away. Just before I reached the hedge I remembered something and turned around. ‘They’re a rotten crowd,’ I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’ I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time. His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption—and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them goodbye. I thanked him for his hospitality. We were always thanking him for that—I and the others.”

The author reveals how negatively and low Nick thinks of the people of East egg. The author uses in the dialogue between Nick and Gatsby to reveal how Nick perceive East egg in its inhabitants. By stating Gatsby's past and how he had to work for his wealth unlike some others and East egg the author explains what led to this point, the point where Nick has had enough of the people of East egg and sympathizes with Gatsby. I agree with Nick. As pathetic and naive Gatsby is he always meant well. He was one of the majority of people in this novel blinded by the 'American Dream' and love. Everything he did was to end up with Daisy and give her everything she ever wanted. Daisy along with almost everyone else took advantage of him.

Chapter 9: Themes

“‘Hello!’ I interrupted breathlessly. ‘Look here—this isn’t Mr. Gatsby. Mr. Gatsby’s dead.’ There was a long silence on the other end of the wire, followed by an exclamation … then a quick squawk as the connection was broken. I think it was on the third day that a telegram signed Henry C. Gatz arrived from a town in Minnesota. It said only that the sender was leaving immediately and to postpone the funeral until he came. It was Gatsby’s father, a solemn old man very helpless and dismayed, bundled up in a long cheap ulster against the warm September day. His eyes leaked continuously with excitement and when I took the bag and umbrella from his hands he began to pull so incessantly at his sparse grey beard that I had difficulty in getting off his coat. He was on the point of collapse so I took him into the music room and made him sit down while I sent for something to eat. But he wouldn’t eat and the glass of milk spilled from his trembling hand. ‘I saw it in the Chicago newspaper,’ he said. ‘It was all in the Chicago newspaper. I started right away.’ ‘I didn’t know how to reach you.’ His eyes, seeing nothing, moved ceaselessly about the room. ‘It was a mad man,’ he said. ‘He must have been mad.’ ‘Wouldn’t you like some coffee?’ I urged him. ‘I don’t want anything. I’m all right now, Mr.——‘ ‘Carraway.’ ‘Well, I’m all right now. Where have they got Jimmy?’ I took him into the drawing-room, where his son lay, and left him there. Some little boys had come up on the steps and were looking into the hall; when I told them who had arrived they went reluctantly away. After a little while Mr. Gatz opened the door and came out, his mouth ajar, his face flushed slightly, his eyes leaking isolated and unpunctual tears. He had reached an age where death no longer has the quality of ghastly surprise, and when he looked around him now for the first time and saw the height and splendor of the hall and the great rooms opening out from it into other rooms his grief began to be mixed with an awed pride. I helped him to a bedroom upstairs; while he took off his coat and vest I told him that all arrangements had been deferred until he came.”

One of the most prominent themes in this novel was loyalty and family. After Gatsby's death men and girls were no longer flocking to his house like moths. None of his so called friends, other than Nick, were selfless enough to even show up to his funeral. Even though thousands spent a large span of time around him none of their Loyalties was with him. His father was the only one to show up and actually see him- not to help engage rumors but genuinely to say goodbye to his son. As twisted as Tom and Daisy are they too stuck by their family. Not once did Daisy have intentions of leaving Tom to try to rekindle what she and Gatsby had, Tom was aware of that fact and therefore never showed signs of insecurity towards the whole situation. Daisy's loyalties were never to Gatsby but always with Tom.Gatsby was barely alone his whole life but when he died incredibly lonely.


  1. Wulick, Anna. “Everything You Need to Know: The Great Gatsby Era.,”4 Nov. 2018
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