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Jay Gatsby and American Values

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Jay Gatsby is one of the main characters In The Great Gatsby. Many themes of the novel revolve around the mysterious character of Gatsby. In a book magazine, a panel of literary experts was asked to name the top 100 fictional characters since 1900. The panel concluded that the number one fictional character was Jay Gatsby. (Cohen, Jay Gatsby is a man for our times) Gatsby was named number one because he represents American values. Gatsby implemented a strict daily schedule at a young age so that he could achieve success, representing America’s determination to succeed. Gatsby obtained his wealth through illegal methods, representing the drive for wealth at all costs in America. Lastly, Gatsby’s motivation for wealth was pure and for a good cause, representing America’s reasoning for obtaining wealth. Jay Gatsby, one of the main characters for The Great Gatsby, represented the “American dream” and American values in that he worked towards self-improvement, demonstrated though his discipline as a youth and his thirst for wealth.
During Jay Gatsby’s funeral, Nick Carraway, the narrator, meets Gatsby’s father, Henry C. Gatz. Upon meeting Nick, Mr. Gatz takes out a book and opens it to the back cover to reveal a schedule Gatsby created in his youth. The schedule revealed a set of daily activities such as exercising, studying electricity and needed inventions, sports, practicing poise, and work. In addition to the schedule, there was also a list of general resolves that included improved hygiene, better usage of time, no usage of tobacco products, reading more often, being better to parents, and saving money. The schedule and list of general resolves shows that from a young age Gatsby was determined to get ahead. He decided that he was going to be a standout in society and prepared for it. As literary critic Adam Cohen stated, “Gatsby was a fervent believer in the gospel of self-improvement.” (Cohen, Jay Gatsby is a man for our times) Mr. Gatz concluded that “Jimmy was bound to get ahead.” (Gatsby, 173) Gatsby was willing to sacrifice simple joys at the time for future success.
Jay Gatsby would eventually fulfill his dreams of becoming rich, but through questionable methods. Early on in The Great Gatsby, Nick takes note of the speculation surrounding Gatsby and how he obtained his wealth. Nick mentions rumors such as Gatsby being a spy for the Germans during the war and being the nephew of Kaiser Wilhelm. Fitzgerald continues to allude to Gatsby’s profession being illegal when he introduces Meyer Wolfshiem, the business partner of Gatsby who allegedly fixed the 1919 World Series. Meyer Wolfshiem comes across to Nick as a questionable character who may be involved in shady business based on his reputation of fixing events. At this point, Nick starts to really question how Gatsby obtained his wealth. The last clue is when Nick attempts to phone Gatsby’s friends to let him know of Gatsby’s death, but hears a message suggesting shady corporate business. Obviously, Gatsby is resorting to some illegal means as a source of income. (Pauly, Gatsby as Gangster)
In a sense, Gatsby became obsessed with becoming rich. Gatsby mentions to Nick that after meeting Dan Cody and spending time on his yacht, he made it his goal to become rich. What makes Gatsby appeal to readers is his incessant determination to become rich and capitalize on the idea of self-improvement. Gatsby went to all lengths to become wealthy and improve his social standard, reminding us of America’s drive for wealth. (Pidgeon, The Great Gatsby)
The average American might conclude at this point that Gatsby is not an admirable person based upon his involvement in illegal activities to obtain wealth. However, what makes Gatsby appealing is not his method for obtaining wealth, but his reasoning. Gatsby made it his ambition to become rich because he felt that it was the only way he could win back the love of his life Daisy. Literary critic William Voegeli explained that “there is a connection between the erotic desire of lovers and the idealistic preoccupation with grandeur.” (William Voegeli, Gatsby and the pursuit of happiness) Daisy is described as a person who concerned with money and allows it to dictate her life. She is married to Tom Buchanan. It is inferred that their marriage is not primarily based on love because Tom consistently cheats on her with Myrtle Wilson. The fact that Daisy’s relationship with her husband is not strong suggests that Daisy married Tom for his money. Gatsby plays the role of a man chasing a woman who is currently married to an unlikable man, Tom Buchanan. When Daisy eventually chooses Tom over Gatsby, there is a sense of sympathy for Gatsby. That sense of sympathy is reinforced when Gatsby is killed by Wilson after failing to win over the love of his life. Gatsby represents the idea that “the end justifies the means” by doing whatever it takes to win over Daisy; his persistence is admirable.
From a young age, Jay Gatsby decided that he was going to get ahead in life. He created a strict daily schedule to propel him to success. Gatsby showed his determination to succeed by getting involved in illegal enterprises and accumulating wealth. He justified his criminal life by explaining that wealth was necessary to win back Daisy from Tom Buchanan. Through his discipline and determination for success, drive for wealth, and justification for his methods of obtaining wealth, Jay Gatsby is a valid representation of American Values.





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