A theme analysis of The Great Gatsby.
Humans have gradually become the most superficial species on Earth, concerned with how they appear to each other as much as they are concerned with their own survival. Everyone has at one point tried to cover up their own reality and replace it with something they want to appear as. F. Scott Fitzgerald writes plainly about this human characteristic in his novel The Great Gatsby from the Jazz Age. In it, he discusses the theme of appearance vs. reality using the relationships between Jay Gatsby and his guests, between Tom Buchanan and his wife Daisy and his mistress Myrtle Wilson, and also through Gatsby’s library of unread books.
Education is one of society’s most respected qualities, and during the 20th century, one of the best ways to display this was by showing how well read one is. The best way of displaying this is a library, and many people would purchase fake, cheap, cardboard books in order to appear like they own a wide variety of novels. Gatsby, on the other hand, has the money to buy legitimate books, and therefore buys enough to fill an entire room in his house. During one of Gatsby’s massive parties, Nick and Jordan stumble upon this room, along with a drunk man who is amazed at the collection of literature. The drunk man, or Owl-Eyes, as he is referred to throughout the rest of the novel, is stunned at the sight of the books, exclaiming “Absolutely real-have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Pages and- Here! Lemme show you” (Fitzgerald 45), at which point he grabs one from the bookcases to show to Jordan and Nick. As the trio inspects the book, Owl-Eyes points out “Knew when to stop, too-didn’t cut the pages” (Fitzgerald 46), meaning that the books had never actually been read. This leads to the theme of appearance vs. reality, depicted through Gatsby owning a large amount of books to appear well read, but in reality he has not read any of them. This is Fitzgerald’s first visible example of how society cares much more about how they appear to others than being honest about themselves.
Relationships between characters represent the second method that Fitzgerald uses to communicate the theme of appearance vs. reality, the primary instance being between Tom Buchanan and his wife Daisy and also between him and his mistress Myrtle Wilson. Tom is torn between the two values of love and commitment, and cannot provide both at the same time. After falling for Daisy, the two of them seem to be in a perfect relationship of commitment and love. Contrary to appearance, Tom is also seeing another woman, Myrtle, who he also believes he loves. Throughout the story, Daisy and Tom grow apart due to Tom’s inability to commit himself entirely to Daisy and to be satisfied with what he has. Despite the infighting, they are able to make it seem like they are a perfect couple, and Tom hides his affair with Myrtle quite well. Underneath an apparently perfect relationship lies a man who cannot commit himself to his wife, and in reality loves another woman.
Gatsby has the largest parties in all of West Egg, he holds them every weekend, and everyone in the city shows up to the gatherings. Everyone at the party appears to generally accept Gatsby as a good friend, and that is exactly where the deceit lies. Gatsby uses his parties in order to make it seem like everyone in the entire city is his friend. This guise works quite well up until George Wilson kills Gatsby, at which point the reality becomes clear, and Gatsby’s true social life is revealed. Nick attempts to get people to come, including discussion with Gatsby’s own father and also his old friend Klipspringer. Klipspringer, although at first making it seem like he will attend the funeral, slowly gets around to saying “What I called up about was a pair of shoes I left there. I wonder if it’d be too much trouble to have the butler send them on. You see, they’re tennis shoes, and I’m sort of helpless without them” (Fitzgerald 169), at which point Nick hangs up in disgust. After fruitless attempts at recruiting funeral attendees, very few people show up at Gatsby’s funeral. Not even Daisy, his claimed lover and possible wife, attends his funeral, nor so much as takes notice of his death. Gatsby originally appears to be close friends with everyone, but after his death it is clear that he was close with almost no one.
Superficiality has become the most prominent flaw in the human character and everyone cares about how they look to other people. Because of this, many people go to extreme ends to appear as if they are greater than they truly are. Fitzgerald depicts this blatantly through Tom’s relationships with Daisy and Myrtle, though Gatsby’s relationship with his guests, and through Gatsby’s real but unread books. Through these mediums, the superficiality of the human race is exposed, and it is easy to see how it can affect a person’s life.