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The Great Gatsby – An Analysis of Love
“If love is only the will to possess, it is not love.” America in the 1920s was a country where moral values were collapsing. Every American had one goal to achieve: success.
Francis Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, presents a realistic picture of American life in the 1920s. His characters, like many people of the period, care only about money; their main goal is to become rich. As a result, their relationships, no longer based on love, fail.
All relationships in the novel are failed because they are not based on love, but on materialism.
One example of a failed relationship in The Great Gatsby is the adulterous affair between Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson. This affair is based on mutual exploitation. Tom uses Myrtle for sex; Myrtle receives gifts and money in return. Tom Buchanan, a resident of East Egg, is “old money”, so he looks down on anyone who is not of his class. So he treats Myrtle like she’s trash. Myrtle Wilson, wife of poor George Wilson, is disillusioned with her 12-year marriage because of her husband’s failure. Her desire for a better life is evident when she recounts her first meeting with Tom:
“It was in two small seats facing each other that were always the last ones left on the train. I was going to New York to see my sister and spend the night. He had a suit and patent leather shoes, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him, but every time would look at me, I had to pretend that I was looking at an advertisement above his head. When we entered the station, he was next to me, and his white shirt was smoothed by the front of my arm, so I told him that I would have to call the police, but he knew I was lying. I was so excited that when I got into the cab with him, I hardly knew I wasn’t getting on a subway train. All I kept thinking, over and over again, was ‘You can’t live forever; you can’t live forever” (Fitzgerald 42).
Myrtle even believes that Tom will leave Daisy and marry her. In reality, Tom doesn’t even see Myrtle as a person but as a sex object. This is shown in his degrading treatment of Myrtle at the party, especially when he breaks her nose for daring to mention his wife’s name:
” ‘Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!’ shouted Mrs. Wilson. ‘I’ll say it whenever I want! Daisy! Dai – ‘ Making a short skilful movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open fist” (Fitzgerald 43).
The pathetic nature of their relationship is reinforced when she dies. After an argument with George Wilson, Myrtle runs towards a gold car she thinks is Tom’s. The gold color of the car symbolizes money, the wealth that Myrtle wants so much. Apparently, the car is driven by Daisy, another symbol of materialism, and what is happening has a symbol of significance:
A moment later [Myrtle] dashed out into the dusk, waving her arms and shouting … the ‘Wagon of Death’ as the newspapers called it, did not stop … Myrtle Wilson, whose life had been violently snuffed out, knelt on the road and mixed her thick dark blood with the dust.. .The mouth was wide open and a little parted at the corners, as if she had choked a little, giving up the immense vitality she had kept for so long (Fitzgerald 143-44).
The nature of the relationship between Tom and Myrtle is best symbolized by the expensive dog leash that Tom bought for Myrtle’s puppy. This reflects the fact that Tom is the master, the one who controls his “pet” with money. As master, Tom is free to do as he pleases. As a “dog”, Myrtle receives gifts for correct behavior. Tom and Myrtle’s unequal status reflects the failure of their relationship, which, given its adulterous nature, was doomed from the start.
The Buchanan marriage is also a complete failure. It is the war that separated Daisy and Gatsby, and his absence is one of the reasons why she married Tom. However, the most important things to him were money and status. Tom is from a rich family. He can give Daisy anything she wants. The wedding ceremony proved it:
In July [Daisy] married Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville had ever seen before. He came with about a hundred people in four private cars, rented an entire floor of the Muhlbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding he presented her with a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars (Fitzgerald 82).
That the marriage is for convenience – not love – is evident on several occasions in the novel. For example, while Daisy was giving birth to their only child, “Tom was God knows where” (Fitzgerald 23). Furthermore, Tom’s philanthropy starts only after 3 months of marriage. A newspaper account of Tom’s accident mentions that he was a maid with a broken arm. Of course, Daisy knows Tom too well; she even offers him her “little gold pen” to get the number of a “pretty but plain” girl he’s interested in at Gatsby’s party, though Tom pretends he wants to switch tables for another reason. The fact is that their marriage is based on wealth and power; it is what keeps them together and what reveals how fruitless the marriage is.
It is Gatsby who tries to separate Tom and Daisy. Gatsby’s dream is to reunite with Daisy, go back in time and marry Daisy. This is his incorruptible dream, as Gatsby tells Nick, “You can’t repeat the past?” [Gatsby] he shouted in disbelief. ‘Of course you can!'” (Fitzgerald 117).
After reuniting with Daisy, Gatsby begins an affair made possible by his extreme wealth; Daisy is a materialist who can be lured by money. When they first meet again, Daisy shows little genuine emotion. It is only when he shows her his huge mansion and expensive possessions that Daisy shows strong emotions. For example, how Gatsby shows her his expensive clothes from England; “Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy buried her head in her shirts and began to weep violently” (Fitzgerald 99).
When the affair between Gatsby and Daisy is discovered, Tom and Gatsby clash over Daisy. In this pivotal event, Daisy reveals her true view of her relationship with Gatsby – that it was simply a way to fill her empty days, a party. It is also revenge for Tom’s many adulterous affairs. Deep in her heart, she is not determined: “Oh, you want too much!” [Daisy] cried Gatsby. ‘I love you now – isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s gone.’ She started sobbing helplessly. ‘I loved him once—but I loved you too'” (Fitzgerald 139).
Having already betrayed Gatsby twice, Daisy now betrays him one last time – not wanting to face the consequences of Myrtle’s death, Daisy and Tom conspire to bring Gatsby down. Gatsby is then killed by George Wilson, as Tom has led him to believe that he is Gatsby and Myrtle’s lover and murderer.
In the end, this relationship fails because Daisy values nothing but materialism; he doesn’t even send a flower to Gatsby’s funeral.
Love is essential in a relationship. However, materialism is essential to the relationship depicted in The Great Gatsby. These relationships are failures because they are based on the physical, not the spiritual. Fitzgerald shows that all relationships based on materialism will eventually fail.
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