t gatsbyThe 1920’s in the united States was a time of economic growth in which people lived frivolous lives by believing their money would make them happy. It was a time of alcoholic prohibition and a time of emancipation for women. Thus, it was a time of parties, drinking and wild women for those who could afford it. Those who were at the bottom of society were constantly striving for the top of the economic ladder.
This time era, in Long Island, is the basis of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby. It has become one of the great classics in American literature and is well known for its commentary on social status. Through the introduction of many “status” oriented characters, Fitzgerald comments on the social lives of those living in the twenties. But does it go beyond the social status issues it addresses, and focus on something deeper? Yes, the characters may focus on their constant climb to economic well being, but more importantly they reveal a theme of The Great Gatsby: in the midst of man’s heart is loneliness and the need to be needed, which is surrounded by the greed of money. “Gatsby offers a detailed social picture of the stresses of an advanced capitalist culture in the early 1920s” (Fitter), “Fitzgerald discloses in these people a meanness of spirit, carelessness and absence of loyalties. He cannot hate them, for they are dumb in their insensate selfishness, and only to be pitied.” (Clark).
The plot, or general development of the story, is carefully designed to grow as the reader gets to know the characters. It isn’t until the last few chapters that the actual
events of the story add to the theme. Even then, the character’s reactions to these events are what strengthen the theme of loneliness.
The narrator, Nick Carraway, presents his own view of himself at the beginning of the story. By being the narrator, he only allows the reader to know what he wants them to know about him. He gives the impression that he is an upright human being that “reserves all judgments” (p.1). However, by the end of the story, he has come to the conclusion that everyone he has come into contact with is shallow and self-absorbed. Although he might give the impression that he is content with life, a small glimpse of loneliness can be seen in him. He shows this to the reader as he thinks, “Thirtythe promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning briefcase of enthusiasm, thinning hair” (p. 136). He also reveals his need to be loved by someone, even if it is just another girl: “I had no girl . . . so I drew up the girl beside me, tightening my arms” (p.81).
Another instance that supports this theme is when Nick relates to the loneliness that accompanies Gatsby’s death: “. . . it grew upon me that I was responsible, because no one else was interestedinterested, I mean, with that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end . . . I wanted to get somebody for him. I wanted to go into the room where he lay and reassure him: I’ll get somebody for you Gatsby, don’t worry, just trust me and I’ll get somebody for you” (p.165). In some way,
if he could get someone for Gatsby, it would cure his own desperate need for a person to love in his life.
Daisy Buchanan, the object of Gatsby’s desire, is Nick’s cousin, and it is through him that she is reunited with Gatsby after so many years. Though she has money and a dashing, young husband, she too is struck with loneliness. When one looks past her
beauty and the ringing of money in her voice, the loneliness can be seen. The fact that her husband does not love her any longer, and rather ironically shows his love by having a very public affair, adds to her solitude. The loneliness comes from the fact that she knows of the affair, and yet, she doesn’t have the strength to step away from her money and do something about it. The money and sarcasm that she is able to run to are security blankets and cover-ups for the lonely feelings that overwhelm her.
Through a conversation Daisy has with Nick, Fitzgerald reveals the sadness and the cynical view this character has on life, due to her husband: “Her face was sad and lovely” (p.9) . . . I saw that turbulent emotions possessed her . . . [She said,] Well, I’ve had a very bad time Nick, and I’m pretty cynical about everything.’ Evidently she had reason to be” (p.17). In this conversation, she recalls her daughter’s birth. She remembers bursting into tears and making this comment: “All right . . . I’m glad it’s a girl, and I hope she’ll be a foolthat’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (p.17). She obviously wants to spare her daughter the pain through which she has gone through because of the men that have been in her life, and the only way to achieve that is to be a “beautiful little fool”.
Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, is the male equivalent of his wife. Despite his domineering attitude and macho outward appearance, when it comes down to it Tom is just as lonely as the rest. When his mistress, a lower class women known as Mildred
Wilson is killed and when his wife is considering leaving him, his facade quickly crumbles away to reveal yet another person afraid of being alone. In a heated discussion with Gatsby, words of defense and panic flow from his lips. He sees past his money and to a place where he stands alone: “. . . he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization (p.130) . . . She does [love me] though. The trouble is that sometimes she gets foolish ideas in her head and doesn’t know what she’s doing . . . Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time” (p.132). He knows the right words to say to keep her from leaving him. Protection from loneliness is what brings him back to Daisy; whereas it is the money that brings her back to him.
Though all of these characters portray some kind of solitude in their life, Gatsby is the epitome of loneliness nestled in a blanket of money. The events that transpire throughout his life until the day he is brutally killed support this theme completely. The Jay Gatsby that the reader is primarily faced with is a man with money and of mystery, who throws elegant and extreme parties for a living and a little bit of bootlegging on the side. “People were not invitedthey went there . . . Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all” (p.41). This is the first glimpse that can be seen of Gatsby’s loneliness. Gatsby throws gigantic parties in which no one seems to care if he is there or not. They come and leave and they don’t really seem to care about him.
Nick meets Gatsby at the first party he attends. Throughout the evening, he observes the chaos and ever growing intoxication of the party. However, somewhere in the midst of the gayety Nick notices Gatsby: “. . . my eyes fell on Gatsby, standing alone
on the marble steps and looking from one group to another . . . but no one swooned backward on Gatsby, and no French bob touched Gatsby’s shoulder, and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby’s head for one link” (p.50). Even in the midst of a thousand laughing happy people, Gatsby is still separate from them; he is still alone.
In order to understand the intense and ever present loneliness that Gatsby feels during his life and to understand why his death is so depression, one must understand the relationship that he and Daisy had once shared. They had been intense lovers split by World War I. During this separation, Gatsby creates a “perfect Daisy” in his mind, and desperately tries to win her back from the man that she eventually marries. He spends his whole life being alone and making money, with the intent of being reunited with the woman he believes will always love only him. His dream finally comes true and at first Daisy leads Gatsby to believe that she will leave Tom for him, but before she takes the initiative, Gatsby is killed.
The finality of Gatsby’s loneliness is seen at the funeral, when the “love of his life” fails to even send flowers. While she is off wallowing in the comfort of her money, Gatsby is alone in the grave with only his father and Nick taking a moment to remember him. Of all the people in Gatsby’s lifetime who took advantage of his house, cars, money, and parties, none of them cared enough to even pay their respects. His life started out lonely; he “had never really accepted . . . his parents” (p.99), so he became a
lonely wanderer. Even when he found his one true love, he is stripped away from her and dumped alone once more. Then, as he dedicates his life to be reunited with the illusion
he creates; he comes to the realization that it is all a lie. He was born lonely, lived lonely, and died alone.
Loneliness, money, heartbreak and greed are bound together in the pages of The Great Gatsby through Fitzgerald’s characters. Their thoughts and actions show that they all need someone to love them, however money always seems to get in the way. Fitzgerald makes an amazing statement and not only on the time in which he lived, but also on mankind as a whole. He makes is apparent that money does not bring happiness, but rather leaves a gap of loneliness that can only be filled with sincere love.
Clark, Edwin. Scott Fitzgerald Looks Into Middle Age. New York Times, April 19,
Fitter, Chris. From the Dream to the Womb: Visionary Impulse and Political
Ambivalence in The Great Gatsby. Journal x Autumn 1998 Vol. 3, No. 1
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953.