Identity can be defined as the way you think about yourself, the way you view the world and the characteristics that define you. It is a typical feature for authors to create unique identities for their characters which shapes the rest of the book. Both novels explore the ambitions, dreams and personality of their protagonists in order to portray their sense of identity. Firstly, both Gatsby in ‘The Great Gatsby’ and Baba in ‘The Kite Runner’ attempt to create an personal identity for themselves through wealth. Gatsby is an epithet of wealth which is seen through his lavish parties and his bright yellow Rolls Royce. Through Nick’s narrations we find out that Gatsby hasn’t been wealthy his whole life and was quite poor in his childhood in which he begins to create this dream of the perfect life which then forms his identity. Also, Baba has worked endlessly for his wealth in Afghanistan which has landed him a high rank in the Afghan society thus forming his identity. Secondly, both Gatsby and Baba’s create a national identities are also shaped through the community around them. Baba is well respected in Afghanistan which has caused people to have a particular perception of him which he is ultimately forced to live up to. Likewise, Gatsby has two communities that build his identity; one is a temporary community which are the people at his parties that do not recognize him whereas the other is the characters he interacts verbally with such as Nick, Daisy, Tom and Jordan which makes them his inner community. The authors both create a question of whether these factors of identity enables them to live successfully and fulfill the American dream for Gatsby and national identity for Amir and Baba. Therefore, the exploration of identity is essential for establishing whether the protagonists live successfully.
The first question both authors raise is how wealth shapes the identities of characters. This is explored through the amount of power and influence the main protagonists gain as a result of their riches. Wealth in ‘The Great Gatsby’ allows the reader to see the influence of money on Gatsby’s life and how it enables him to attract Daisy which is his end goal. At the beginning of the novel, Gatsby is living at the high point of his American dream by having these lavish parties with “coloured lights” which shows his dream required having an enormous amount of wealth in which he could show off in these extraordinary parties. Fitzgerald creates a motif for Gatsby’s wealth as the unique “green light” that gleams from Daisy’s house. The colour green is a symbol of wealth. Gatsby associates the colour green with Daisy because he believes that he needs to earn money in order to make Daisy interested in him again, showing how green also represents Gatsby’s ambitions and hopes. Furthermore, this green light is reiterated when Gatsby shows his wealth to Daisy where he mentions “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock” but Daisy shows little reaction to this which makes him doubtful as the “significance of that light had now vanished forever”. He realises the great distance between his dream and reality which is shown by the gap between Daisy’s and Gatsby’s homes. Fitzgerald’s use of colour demonstrates how Gatsby’s wealth shapes his identity because it is what attracts people to him. For example the attention of Daisy as she has a lust for money. Gatsby makes her cry over his wealth as her voice becomes “muffed in the thick folds” as such had never seen “such beautiful shirts before”. This implies Gatsby uses his wealth for recognition as when he was alone with Daisy, he was inept to express himself and is unable to develop his relationship with her. As soon as he began to speak about his wealth, Daisy suddenly felt emotional and had more interest in him which shows her obession with money. As the critic Thomas Flanagan said “Gatsby is somewhat vague. The reader’s eyes can never quite focus upon him” which shows that the reader can only view Gatsby in terms of his wealth because nothing else is said about his identity. Therefore, Fitzgerald shows, Gatsby uses his wealth to socialise and make relationships with people as the first thing they notice is his wealth but not him as a person making wealth a significant part of his identity or else he is “Mr nobody from Nowhere”.
Likewise, in ‘The Kite Runner,’ wealth is a vital part of Afghanistan which makes Baba and his family unique from others in the Afghan society. Before the people’s democratic party of Afghanistan violently took power in 197.8 people were able to live substantial lives. This meant that they were able to live …….. It was after this when people began to live in poverty. This is seen in the novel as Baba was able to enjoy his wealth until he had to leave Afghanistan due to the violence. Prior to this Baba obtained his riches through having a “wildly successful carpet-exporting business, two pharmacies and a restaurant” in Kabul. Hosseini establishes that wealth is more important for Baba than for Amir because Amir thinks that it causes a rift between him and other children in Kabul. This is highlighted as Hosseini creates a narrative voice through Amir where everything is told through his perspective as he exaggerates his father as having “hands that looked capable of uprooting a willow tree” implying that Baba is a harsh, unremorseful person. Also the natural imagery in the “willow tree” coudl imply that he is down to earth However, this is ironic because he uses his wealth for good by building an orphanage due to his love for children. Therefore, Baba is not selfish and is a worthy man which the reader would not expect due to Amir’s negative perceptions of his father. Wealth creates a charitable identity for Baba as he uses it to benefit others as well as himself. Also, he uses his money for pleasure as he often held “extravagant parties” which shows how wealth has opened doors for Baba since everyone in Kabul would not be able to achieve the same lifestyle as him. This has made everyone in the society interested and updated on their lives as his “father was rich, and everyone knew him” showing how people associate money to Baba and Amir. Baba’s wealth kept his pride therefore the migration to America had a huge impact on him which reflects how the invasion of Soviets in 1979 heavily impacted the lives of Afghans. Hosseini centralises the theme of wealth in Baba in order to show how before the Soviet’s ruined Afghanistan people were able to live happy wealthy lives if they worked hard but this was no longer possible due to the constant fighting. In America Baba worked at a gas station and ultimately, he lost a huge part of his identity as he was no longer able to live the rich lifestyle he had previously. In addition, Wealth gave Baba his personality and motivation for life as it gave him power as people in Kabul looked up to him and respected him. This is shown when Amir describes how he “could never tell Baba from the Bear “implying Baba’s broad nature through associating his strict, “black and white” characteristics with a bear. Bears hold great power in their society so Hosseini using the bear as a symbol of Baba portrays the amount of influence he has gained due to his wealth. Hosseini shows how wealth is important for identity as it led to Baba’s downfall as without this in America, he is essentially nobody and loses his privileges that he gained in Afghanistan, degrading his life. Overall both authors explore identity through wealth as it was everything to Baba and Gatsby without this both novels would be fickle, and it would be difficult for them to achieve their dreams and build a community.
Another question both authors raise is how individuals’ identities are shaped by the community that surrounds them. At first, Gatsby seems highly sociable because of the flamboyant parties he conducts. However, the people who attend these parties “were not invited” and therefore use Gatsby’s wealth and resources for their own pleasure and make no impact on him and his identity as they don’t even recognise him. Gatsby allows himself to be exploited; “Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all” which is unusual as normally people greet the host of a party. They exploit Gatsby’s setting to make their own connections. Fitzgerald does this to give the reader an insight into the emptiness of his life and his struggle in trying to build a community. Wealth makes it difficult to make genuine connections as his community is only temporary at the parties but when they leave he is left with only Nick. However to an extent they add to the achievement of his dream because the reader can assume that having an eventful lifestyle like this is part of Gatsby’s dream or he wouldn’t conduct parties as great as these. The parties allow him to climb up the social ladder and be a part of Daisy’s community of the elite in society as she’s the wife of Tom who is a key member of the elite. These parties are used to attract Daisy and ultimately bring his inner friends to him as they are attracted to the parties as with everyone else. This highlights Gatsby’s attempt to extend his community to include Daisy which ultimately fails because she “hasn’t sent a message or a flower” to show her admiration towards Gatsby leaving him desolate. This could reflect Fitzgerald’s struggle to marry Zelda Sayre while stationed at Camp Sheridan in Alabama as she wanted him to be rich before she would marry himer. This shows like Zelda, Daisy has high standards in order for Gatsby to earn her approval which he does not gain through her lack of sympathy of Gatsby’s death. Nick “had been actually invited” which showed he was a key figure in Gatsby’s life as he even earned the nickname “old sport”. Fitzgerald shows Gatsby’s many struggles to form an identity in New York by making him attempt to create a genuine community who he could relate with and who could support him through his journey of being successful in America.
Likewise, Afghanistan is a highly collectivist culture where everyone in the community is interconnected in one way. Through the characterisation of Baba Hosseini presents Baba as a key figure of the Afghan community as everyone respects him due to his affluence making him a mediator of the community. This is seen through the opening ceremony of the orphanage Baba built which received an uplifting response from the community as everyone “stood up and cheered”. Through this we see how the community has influenced Baba’s identity as he has a social responsibility and having a figure of a leader is naturally part of him. Hosseini may be reflecting on his childhood as his father was also a key figure of the Afghan community as diplomat in the Foreign Ministry of the Afghan government which like Baba’s position made him viewed in a certain way. This could lead to the interpretation that Baba is forced to live up to this identity of being reputable in the community because of his title like Hosseini’s father. Additionally, Baba held up the community by reflecting his morals upon them such as “there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft”. The broken-up nature of this sentence through the use of commas and full stops implies how Baba is passionate about this concept and how he maintains this principle no matter the circumstance. Furthermore, Hosseini implies that there are cracks in the community as “despite Baba’s successes people were always doubtful of him” showing that the community may not have stored as much faith in him as initially thought. This symbolises the uncertainties of Baba like his lack of faith in Amir. Baba’s authoritarian nature towards Amir may have derived from the pressures of being a leader in the Afghan community. Hosseini deliberately uses Kabul’s community perception of Baba in order to demonstrate the importance of an individual’s community in creating an identity and making someone who they are.
Both Fitzgerald and Hosseini explore how the two main factors of identity wealth and community enable their main protagonists to live successful dreams. Gatsby’s dream was living through the “unreality of reality” where he can create the world out of his imagination. Critic Byung Woo Yoon claimed that the failure of the ‘American dream’ is a “corrupt materialism fatally inherent in the American dream” meaning that wealth destroys one’s ability to achieve the dream where this is in fact the opposite. This applies to GGatsby as he became very powerful through his wealth and status which enabled him to attract his inner community, especially Daisy, as she is shown to be materialistic, especially when described as “her voice is full of money”. Through these factors, Fitzgerald establishes what the dream meant to Gatsby and shows how Gatsby literally imagined himself in a certain lifestyle and made it a reality to an extent. Fitzgerald shows that dreams require a change in an individual to be achieved, mentally you need to envision your life in a particular way and just make it happen. Dreams are not real, so you have to work for it is the message Fitzgerald is attempting to portray to the reader. He shows through Gatsby that you have to “run faster, stretch out our arms farther” in order to achieve the American dream. The metaphor used here embodies what the American dream meant, as in the 1920s/30s people aspired to live in a particular way of having a detached house, children and cars which shows how you have to imagine how life would be life in order to make your dreams exist like Gatsby. However, these factors fail to satisfy Gatsby’s needs. Daisy is a huge part of his dream and this goal outweighs wealth and community. The reason Gatsby becomes rich and builds a community around him is for Daisy who is the part missing from his identity making his American dream incomplete. Therefore, Fitzgerald shows these two big parts of his identity are unable to fulfill his desires and ultimately mean nothing at the end of the novel as he was unable to get the love of his life and died a lonely man with no one turning up to his funeral.
Likewise, Hosseini shows how Baba and Amir hold importance to their national identity in order to maintain their already disturbed dream. Amelia Hills claims that The Kite Runner is a “rich and soul-searching narrative” which is shown through Amir’s development in America as he becomes his own person, but this is not applicable to his father who already has his perfect life in Afghanistan. Both Amir and Baba had great lives in Afghanistan at the beginning of the novel where they were in the mist of their Afghan dream where Baba was rich and well respected in his community. However, when the Soviet took over this dream changed, and it was moving to America to get away from the violence. Hosseini making Amir and his father move to America is significant as it was an attractive place especially in the 80s where getting visas to America was highly competitive as it was reduced only to fifty thousand a year. Also, at this time the American dream was about making a good amount of money and living life to the fullest, it provided many opportunities to live a happier life. Without Baba’s wealth and his reputation made through his community he would not have been able to escape the violence as only those who were affluent had the opportunity to leave Afghanistan. Amir and Baba used this opportunity to leave their disturbing past behind to start afresh which reflects what the American dream was to immigrants. This was to improve their lives and enable their children to have a prosperous future. Ffor example, how Amir finished his education and became a writer. For Amir specifically, the move to America was “a place to bury [his] memories” of Hassan and form an identity as he felt that due to his privileged upbringing, he never felt truly Afghan. The change of the meaning of dream is shown through the narrative structure. The novel is told chronologically up to the point of Hassan’s rape where this event led to Amir being reminiscent of the past by telling past stories. The novel fluctuates from the past and present which could represent the change in their goals (dreams). Which Baba still considered Afghan values while still in America which connected him to his past and maintained part of his identity as American was a “place to mourn”. Therefore, Hosseini portrays identity as an important part of dreams because in order to successfully achieve your dream you need to establish your community in order to relate with them. Baba was already in his dream in Afghanistan however for Amir this was just the beginning when they moved to America. This shows how wealth may not be valid as a factor of identity because without wealth Baba and Amir built a stronger relationship which was part of their ambition thus showing how “dreams wilt before they bud” as Amelia smith claims.
Overall, Fitzgerald and Hosseini explore identities by focusing on their wealth and community aspects of their lives. They then portray whether being rich and having a strong influence in society either improves or degrades their individual dreams. Fitzgerald shows through making delusions a reality in order to show how dreams are meant to be aspirational in order for one to achieve them if Gatsby didn’t imagine himself he would not have achieved his American dream. Hosseini shows how Amir wanted to be free of the shadow of his father in order to achieve his dream however his father lost himself in the immigration to America showing that his dream was ultimately taken away from him. The Great Gatsby was written in 1925 whilst the Kite Runner was written in 2003 and are culturally different however they both display the same concepts showing how the idea of having a “dream” like the American and Afghan dream is still popular and shows how people still strive to live life to the fullest.