Though modernity brought about scientific and technological progress, it was revolutionary in the sense that it threw and seeped away the old-established moral values and social relations. The American society at that time was characterized by fragmentation, estrangement and dehumanization.
Among the factors that had a great influence on America’s national identity and the individual’s psychological make-up during the modern times are: the First World War, materialism, the spiritual crisis, individualism, and social discrimination. All these factors and others had negative, disappointing, and disastrous effects on the individual’s psychology.
The twentieth century witnessed the beginning of a new age in the American history. The American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald sums up the main features and changes that occurred at this period as follows: ‘It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire’ (‘Echoes’ 2). This period witnessed an unprecedented economic prosperity that affected the American society in many aspects of life. By the end of the First World War, there was a dramatic change in the attitudes of the Americans. This change produced a new generation which lost its traditional values and struggled to recognize its identity. During this era, a group of American thinkers and writers, known as the Lost Generation, searched for the meaning of life in this new fragmented world. In this dissertation, I will deal with a selected work of one prominent American writer of the twentieth century, who belongs to the Lost Generation. I have chosen to work on Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, which exposes through many ways the issues of identity in the modern American society.
My choice to write about identity in The Great Gatsby aims to find out how modernity affected the American identity during the 1920s, and to what extent the main characters of this novel satisfied their desires in the national context. In addition, my work demonstrates whether or not they have succeeded to shape a full identity through their national and individual experiences; if yes, the work will evince if it is a partial or a whole satisfaction by analyzing how and to which extent they have shaped their national and individual identity. Besides, this work also seeks to explain the motives behind the characters’ own feelings and behaviors. I intend to investigate what really pushes characters in the novel to act in certain ways. In other words, the work demonstrates if their feelings and actions are a result of their own choices, or rather inevitable because of some necessities. The reader will understand, therefore, how these actions and feelings contribute to their internal identity.
Answering the questions above sheds more light on the dramatic shift in the perceptions of national and individual identity of Americans during the modern times. Additionally, this work provides the reader with an interpretation of the characters’ psyches to understand their behaviors and their relationships with others. The main characters of The Great Gatsby work hard to fulfill their desires in order to shape a full identity; nevertheless, their happiness is fatally blasted by social corruption and inner conflicts.
Despite the fact that the United States of America grew very wealthy and prosperous during the1920s, the American generation of this period can be described as desperate. This aimless generation, that lost hope and faith in themselves as well as their country, suffered from a serious identity crisis. People started to think who they are and to where they belong. This struggle for a social and an individual identity in modern America was well-depicted in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The issue of identity is presented through the main characters and the settings of the novel.
This dissertation aspires to have a detailed analysis of more than one type of identity. It makes the reader observe the struggles of the main characters to form a complete social and internal identity. Accordingly, the approach I have used in this dissertation is psychoanalytical criticism, to analyze the interactions of the characters’ personal and interpersonal experience. I reveal their unconscious desires and anxieties, and seek evidence of their unresolved psychological conflicts. This critical analysis is concerned mainly with the emotions and the attitudes of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.
To deal with the dissertation’s main concern, I relied on very important materials that are written by literary critics, historians, and psychologists. In his book entitled Writing Jazzs, Nicholas M. Evans tries to tackle the issue of identity in the modern era, making a reference to Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. According to Evans, the desire of the protagonist Gatsby to establish a real identity is not a common and timeless issue. Seeking a national and individual identity was a major concern in the twentieth century. This is mainly because of the psychological trauma that appeared after the First World War.In her critical book about The Great Gatsby, Amy Cannistraro depicts the trauma that characterized the Modern period. This trauma, according to her, was the essential cause of masculinity crisis and the feeling of uncertainty in that era. Moreover, in his article ‘Repetition, Race, and Desire in The Great Gatsby’, Adam Meehan interprets the novel from a psychoanalytical perspective, employingSigmund Freud’s idea of repetition compulsion in his literary analysis of the characters’ psyches. These mentioned critical works serve as an opening salvo for my consideration of the problem of identity in Fitzgerald’s novel.
To cover all the points in my work, I have chosen the following structure in which I divided my research work into three chapters. The first chapter is entitled ‘Identity in Modern American Literature’. In this chapter, I tackle two points. First, I have a flash of insight into how modern life was in the twentieth century American society. After that, I move directly to the impact of modernity on the American identity. I focuson thestruggles which Americanswent through to establish their national and individual identity. The second point in this chapter discusses Modernism in America, providing a brief history of its emergence in America, and its major characteristics. Then, my work skims over the theme of identity in the most important Modernist works in American literature.
The second chapter deals directly with Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. This chapter, entitled ‘Social Fluidity in the Great Gatsby: Casting Doubt upon National identity’,has a look at the dual portrait of the American Dream in the novel; more specifically, it deals with the corruption of the American Dream in the novel. In addition to this, itdemonstrates the illusion and the reality of the American Dream in relation to the novel’s protagonist. The chapter, also, discusses the issue of racismand the objection to the white supremacy in the novel. Moreover, it depicts the split of social classes and its effect on the national identity of the characters.
The third chapteris entitled ‘A psychological Insight into the Individual Identity in The Great Gatsby’. This chapter analyzes, from a Freudian perspective, the role of gender in the object choice, which shapes the love between Gatsby and Daisy. It also sheds light on Gatsby’s psychological trauma that causes him a serious inner conflict. Another concern of this chapter is the psychological problems that follow the characters’ feeling of intimacy. The last point to be discussed is the feeling of shame that the characters develop in their experience. This point will demonstrate how the characters behave as a reaction to such feeling and how all their psychological problems lead to a constant feeling of unhappiness in their lives.
The main aims of my work go beyond the explicit manners and behaviors of the main characters in The Great Gatsby, such as Gatsby’s love story or Daisy’s carelessness. They rather include some deep interpretations of the characters’ behaviors, revealing their real inner intentions and motivations to feel and act in such ways. My work ends with a general conclusion that sums up the main findings of my work.
Identity in Modern American Literature
The United States, in the period of the 1920s, witnessed unprecedented changes on both economic and political scales. These new changes had dramatic effects on the social life of Americans. The modern American society, consequently, started to adopt some new values, rejecting those traditional conservative ones. Dealing with these previously mentioned changes, this chapter aims to explain how the American society was influence by the new developments that the modern era brought. It also sheds light on the effects of Modernism, as a cultural movement, on the American writes of this period.
The twenties century marked the beginning of a dynamic age; it was a time of a huge change across the world and more specifically, in the United States. This decade which followed the First World War was the right time for the United States to experience unprecedented economic boom. It witnessed a rapid increase in city population and industrialization, in addition to a profound technological advancement which formed urban cities. Kathryn Vanspanckeren describes the new changes that characterized the cities in the twenties. She states:
The typical urban American home glowed with electric lights and boasted a radio that connected the house with the outside world, and perhaps a telephone, a camera, a typewriter, or a sewing machine. Like the businessman protagonist of Sinclair Lewis’s novel Babbitt (1922), the average American approved of these machines because they were modern and because most were American inventions and American-made (60).
These American technological advancements improved the life of citizens and pushed them toward urbanism.
Furthermore, the end of First World War brought a lot of changes on the political scale; there were considerable advances especially when it comes to women’s freedoms during this period. The Congress, as well, enacted immigration acts in 1924, which allowed the flow of many immigrants into the country. The political change, in addition to the bloom in industry, the flourish in business, and the rapid urbanization clearly confirmed that a new modern era started to shape the American history.
Americans of the twenties faced a dramatic change in their social life. A new feeling of freedom and carelessness was widely rife during this era. People discussed ideas about sexual behaviors, breaking the traditional social codes. In fact, sexual promiscuity becomes a common phenomenon. Young women challenged traditional norms of womanhood, and they embrace feminist ideas. There was, in fact, a dramatic change of women’s position in the 1920s American society. During the First World War, working class women were obliged to work outside, especially in factories, and after the end of the war, they were joined by other middle class women who started to believe that their job should be more than just looking after their families, and spending time on housework. Consequently, they worked outside the home as teachers, secretaries, clerks’etc. Earning the right to vote with the coming of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, women took a significant step towards their equality and independence. Accordingly, a new sort of young women that was called ‘flappers’ appeared. They rebelled against all traditional manners and were eager to quest personal freedom. Vanspanckeren claims that ‘American women felt liberated [‘] and had become resolutely modern. They cut their hair short (“bobbed”), wore short “flapper” dresses, and gloried in the right to vote […] They boldly spoke their mind and took public roles in society’ (60). Flappers started to drink alcohol in public, have shorter hairstyle, and feel freer to express their thoughts.
Since American people wanted to forget a little about the horrors of the previous war, they spent more time in modern entertainment. New popular types of entertainment had emerged in that period, including movies, radios, sports matches, and the Jazz music. Benjamin Franklin also describes this concern. He writes:
The 1920 census showed that some fifty-four million Americans’more than half of the population’lived and worked in cities, where the forty eight hour workweek became standard. With their greater leisure time Americans played mah-jongg and flocked to sporting events and to the movies that were soon transformed by color and sound. Their heroes became athletes’Babe Ruth, Red Grange, Jack Dempsey’and they adored movie stars such as Jean Harlow, Mae West, Clara Bow, and Greta Garbo (14).
Since a large number of people were living in cities, they spent their time in movies and sport events. Wild music and dance modes became national crazes in America.
During this period, a new legislation was imposed by the U.S. Government, after the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution by the U.S. Congress. Being encouraged by conservative activists in the country who considered alcohol as the main cause of people’s problems, this legislation restricted the manufacture and distribution of liquor on a national level. Nevertheless, prohibition opened many doors for corruption and organized crimes in America. New illegal outlets for drinking opened all over the country, while underworld industry, Bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution flourished in many big cities. The American lawyer, Thomas Streissguth claims that big amounts of money were made only by smuggling and selling alcohol; sometimes they were made by those who belong to lower social classes, particularly sons of immigrants (Streissguth xi). Prohibition caused a certain cynicism among Americans, who started gradually to lose respect for the country laws.
After the end of the Second World War, ‘[m]any Americans wanted to be left alone, to cling to the nineteenth century and its values’ (Franklin 3). Although the war contributed to the rise of nationalism ideals in the selves of Americans, it made them distrust the international politics and focus more on domestic affairs. It is true that the war played a major role in the American unity, through directing people to seek the best for their country; nevertheless, this nationalism changed to a ‘civic’ one. In other words, it became much more related to the sense of belonging to the American values, such as democracy and tolerance rather than an inherited ethnic nationality. Gary Gerstle gives us an idea of what American civic nationalism is. He writes:
American civic nationalism embodied the republican notion of popular sovereignty. The people would rule; they would determine the course taken by the governments, local, state, and federal, that had some role in their lives. America’s civic nationalist tradition also promised a society free of discrimination’ethnic, religious, racial, or sexual. It portrayed America as a place where all individuals could pursue opportunity, economic and cultural, and secure their liberty and property. It called on America to open itself to foreigners willing to work hard, obey the law, and pledge allegiance to its democratic institutions (34).
American civic nationalism was based, therefore, on one’s freedom to pursue his national identity including his liberty, property, and faith. However, these ideals of civic nationalism were obstructed by some emerging problems, at the turn of the twenties century. The major problem that emerged during this period was nativism. After the devastating war, the majority of Americans came to realize that the Progressive Era reforms had been useless. The old values of the American society had been terribly challenged due to those modern rapid changes, while constitute a real threat to the Americans. The increased flow of immigrants, coming with foreign radical ideas to big cities, caused a fear to the American society.
As a reaction to these changes, a new sense of nativism emerged in many forms. Protecting the interests of native-born Americans while rejecting other non-American lifestyles, and shutting the doors on immigration were perhaps the famous practices that describe this emerging nativism. Even on trial, an upsurge in nativism was brought to light through the cause of the two Italian born anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti who were arrested and executed for robbery and murder. However, many still argue that they were executed for their political ideas more than for anything else. This trial’s fear increased with the help of the new scientific racist ideas of men like the anthropologist Madison Grant. The latter is the leader of the eugenics movement that reached the United States in the twenties. It was based on ‘a social philosophy which advocates the improvement of human hereditary of traits through various forms of individual breeding’ (Evans 122). Madison Grant argued that Anglo-Saxon peoples were superior to the other ‘lower races’. He claimed that ‘the American racial stock was being diluted by the influx of new immigrants from the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and the Polish ghettos’ (qtd. in Pula 64-65). Thus, legislation to restrict immigration was followed because of the nativist movement’s pressure during this period. The U. S. Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which limited the inflow of immigrants coming into the United States. This act was followed by the Immigration Act of 1924 that reduced the number of immigrants to only 2% of the people living in the United States.
Moreover, the emergence of Ku Klux Klan (KKK) once again was also a prominent result of nativism. ‘The Klan’ represents the name of three movements in the United States that have advocated, through violence, white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration in order to ‘purify’ the American society:
The revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, with its particularly ugly brand of national exclusiveness, was another manifestation of the Anglo-Saxon tradition translated into a self-conscious white Protestant ascendancy. Immigration restriction rather than immigrant amelioration was a consequence of this mood in the period of disillusionment that followed World War I. It is ironic that a generation later, in the aftermath of another world war, the followers of Senator Joseph McCarthy, many of them from ethnic backgrounds that could not meet the test of Americanism in the past, led a nationalist assault on the loyalty of the older elite (‘Nationalism’ para. 3).
In short, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan was another form of national racism that symbolized the decade of the 1920s. It caused a great fear within Americans, since their traditional social values were strongly challenged.
The definition of the American Dream itself has changed dramatically during the modern era. The American Dream can be traced to the early days of settlements in America, and it was marked in the Declaration of Independence by the Founding Fathers, who advocated Americans’ rights of life, liberty, and happiness. The American historian James Truslow Adams defines the American dream as a ‘dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement’ (114). At first, the American Dream was simply a promise for a better life in which people have equal opportunities to work hard, relying on their own abilities and efforts to achieve great things. This led Immigrants to run away from the restrictions of their countries to the United States in the hope of gaining freedoms. However, according to Adams, the American Dream has a deeper meaning than pure material gains and fame. He writes:
It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of their birth (114 – 15).
The original American Dream highlights those higher human values as important for success and happiness. Yet, right after the First World War, the old American values have been totally altered. This sudden change in the perspective of Americans started to create make life materialistic and to create a huge consumer society. Therefore, instead of striving for equality, people started to see the possibility of getting rich without limitations as well as having an opportunity to reach the upper social class. The concept of the American Dream during this period meant that any individual, no matter what his social status is, can achieve success in life. This success was mainly associated with materialistic possessions. Roland Marchand tries to provide us with a definition of the typical American individual who is pursing the American Dream during the 1920s. He writes: ‘Not only did he flourish in the fast-paced, modern urban milieu of skyscrapers, taxicabs, and pleasure-seeking crowds, but he proclaimed himself an expert on the latest crazes in fashion, contemporary lingo, and popular pastimes’ (1). From the preceding statement, one can notice how the American Dream in the modern era changed to become related to consumerism and materialism. Snyder also sheds light on the change of the American Dream. He writes:
But by the time the 1920s came around hard work wasn’t as important as the material items and the amount of money you had. Advertising was also changing and becoming more about materialism just as many of the people were. Material items became a huge selling point as well as defining the amount of money you had and as the new model of the American Dream was starting to form, material items defined who you were and the amount of your success (3-4).
Money became the main aspect that characterized the American Dream during the modern era. One’s success was measured by the amount of money that he possesses rather than his commitment to his work. Times have changed, and so do the American ideals and values. Therefore, it is not surprising that the new kind of “American Dream” which was shifted to include the materialistic aspects failed several times and division of classes and corruption have taken root in the American society.
Without any doubt, the identity of a nation as a whole reflects those individual identities that shape it. During the 1920s, the issue of identity for Americans became more important than ever before. Identity was deeply altered by the effect of modernity that was marked at the beginning of the twenties century. People tried to establish identity not on those traditional values of society, but rather on new modern ones. They started to reject mythical, religious, and spiritual methods as a means to seek the truth, and they focused on science and experimentation. Karen Armstrong explains more this idea. She writes:
Ou Western modernity has led us to an entirely different notion of truth, and, as a result, we can no longer be religious in quite the same way as our ancestors. Our scientifically oriented society has lost the sense of the symbolic, which lay at the heart of all pre-modern faith. In the perspectives of tradition, where every earthly reality was a replica of its celestial archetype, the symbol was inseparable from the transcendent reality to which it directed our attention (Oldmeadow74).
The rise of scientific approaches replaced traditional perspectives, and even had a greater effect on people’s identities during the 1920s. Materialism increasingly became the primary standard of living. In addition, the notion of ‘having’ had become the most important principle to define one’s identity within the new secular culture. In other words, quantities become more important than qualities.
Equally important, the rapid spread of the means of communication and transportation also had an important effect on the national identity of Americans. Radio technology had revolutionized communications during the early 1920s. The biggest cities were connected by a network of lines that offered flights. The production of the automobile marked the beginning of a shift from public to private transportation. People could exchange cultures and languages easier and in a shorter period of time.
Generally speaking, Modernism is a revolutionary and innovative movement that concerned art, literature, music, architecture, and other applied arts. It emerged at the first half of the twenties century. Daniel Joseph Singal suggests that ‘Modernism should properly be seen as a culture-a constellation of related ideas, beliefs, values, and modes of perception-that came into existence during the mid to late nineteenth century, and that has had a powerful influence on art and thought on both sides of the Atlantic since roughly 1900’ (7). It is, therefore, a modern philosophy, or a new style of thinking that came to existence at the end of the ninetieth and the beginning of the twentieth. This movement marked a sudden break with the styles of the past, looking instead for new forms of expression to fit the necessities of the modern age.
American Modernism, being a version of Modernism, is also a philosophy that asserts the power of human improvement of his environment through modern modes of expression like science and practical experimentation. Breaking the artistic traditional principles, American Modernism marked the creation of American art as separate and independent from European experience. In the beginning of the 20th century, artists preferred to find their own visions and ways in expressing the American spirit through their productions. Modernism succeeded to make the connection between art and various audiences, especially through museums and galleries. Calling to mind the sense of challenge, these modern arts helped tremendously the self-consciousness of American people. New Modernist paintings, for instance, highlighted both the spiritual and the psychical condition of people, evincing the modern American identity. The French naturalized American painter, Marcel Duchamp, when interviewed in September 1915, promoted the sense of distinction in the American Modernist art. Duchamp says: ‘If only America would realize that the art of Europe is finished – dead – and that America is the country of the art of the future, instead of trying to base everything she does on European traditions!’ (qtd. in Woods 3). Georgia O’Keeffe also has been one of the famous painters who went beyond the fixed principles of arts in her paintings of landscapes, in addition to the famous African American painter Aaron Douglas, who included the African American heritage in his works.
Likewise, photography became one form of fine art, and one of the most significant cultural products in the United States. Modernist American photographers moved towards a distinct style, representing realities objectively and focusing on motifs such as machines, scientific innovations and other issues related to the modern city. Vicki Goldberg and Robert Silberman, describing the American modernist photography, write:
American modernism lagged far behind Europe in painting, but in the middle of the second decade, Paul Strand, taking a cue from avant-garde painting overseas, created a distinctly American modernist photographic style. Less involved in experimentation than Europe was. Strand and others like him in this country directly confronted the geometry of modern forms, the modern city, the lost and alienated modern citizen (1).
American modernist photography had a distinguished style from that of the European photography, since it did not focus on experimentation.
By the same token, throughout this period, a new kind of wild music called ‘Jazz’ had emerged. Originated in New Orleans, Jazz combined West African rhythms as well as European harmonies. It is developed by African Americans and had roots in ragtime. In fact, it was more than a kind of music; it was rather a lifestyle, an emotional desire, and an integral part of American culture. Jazz was definitely modern in terms of sound and mode. According to Lawrence Levine, ‘Jazz was, or at least seemed to be, the new product of a new age; Culture was, or at least seemed to be, traditional-the creation of centuries. Jazz was raucous, discordant’ (7). It reflected, therefore, the culture and the new spirit of the modern age. Louis Armstrong was one of the musicians who became the most influential figures in jazz music, in addition to many others including Jelly Roll Morton and Bessie Smith. Jazz Players were inspired most by street talks in Harlem. The latter turned to be, throughout the modernist time period, the centre of one of the most significant intellectual movements in the African American history. Performing military services during the war, African Americans had been given a sense of freedom so that a large number of them migrated from the South to settle in Harlem. The latter is a neighborhood on the Westside of New York City. This gathering led to what is known as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’. Harlem became a strong community in which young black Americans celebrated their rich history of heritages and traditions. One of their traditions that they brought with them was jazz music. Harlem certainly played a major role in bringing Jazz and other artistic works to Americans’ attention. This is mainly because it was a home to activities, musicians, singers, writers and scholars, who sought to cheer the rebirth of African American culture through their own ideas and activities.
As has been noted, the 1920s American society knew ideological discussions that aspire for more diverse and tolerant lifestyles especially by young people, who were unsatisfied and disillusioned with the war and the values of older generation. These youths felt cut off of the old social conventions, and they were much more open to a new secular culture. There was a growing number of them entering high schools and colleges significantly during the early twenties of the century. Accordingly, more social connections were created by this young generation, with a less control over their behaviors. This led to a radical change in the opinions of these young people, especially when it comes to morals and religious beliefs. Fitzgerald depicts this secularization that affected the younger generation. He writes:
Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revelry of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken (This Side 240).
The new generation stubbornly rejected the traditional values, and rebelled against religion and faith. This generation believed only in success. This radical change in beliefs was enhanced with the arrival of some intellectuals who led an influential rebellion against established religious, sexual, and social conventions. They raised, instead, a big question on morality. One might venture to say that intellectuals were the first to show the way for this revolution against the traditional morals in America.
Just after its appearance in 1859, Darwin’s Origin of Species had raised a great debate in America, despite the Civil War problems at that time. In the middle of this debate, evolutionary biology became accepted and widespread through the country, especially in urban regions. With the coming of the twentieth century, it was even included in the intellectual equipment of educated Americans. The belief in evolution logically opposes the belief of biblical literalism; consequently, some American authorities and scientists tried to bring together evolution and the existence of spirit in man, without a real success, since the religious principles of American youth had been destabilized (Braeman332).
American intellectual contributions during this era had also influenced by the theories of the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud who made a revolution in the ideas of the western world about the human behavior and mind. Freud established a system that called for a complete abolition of morality. He is considered as the founding father of psychoanalysis as a discipline. Freud was the first European to develop the concept of the ‘unconscious’ by using some techniques such as dream interpretation and free association. Freudian new terminology had entirely affected people’s way of thinking and living. The influence of his ideas and theories in the twentieth century spread throughout all the Western culture including the American one. Feudalism with its notions of sexuality, identity, and memory could be observed in different sorts of art and literature. In fact, ‘Freudian psychology was a much more titillating subject than Darwinian evolution, and borrowings from it were soon evident in motion pictures and popular literature, as well as in the works of the critically acclaimed writers’ (Braeman 335). Freudian theories reshaped the morals of the young Americans, creating a freer society with less restrictive rules over sexual behaviors. The fact of considering sex as a taboo came to an end, and sexuality turned out to be a subject of free discussion among people.
The emergence of the theories of psychoanalysis enhanced the examination of people’s psychological responses to the terrors that characterized the modern era. The anxieties that were incited by the rise of individualism and selfhood in modern culture put the self in a centre of attention. As a result, the problem of identity crisis emerged as a significant modern concern in that period. The term ‘identity crisis’, which was coined by the American psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, refers to the state ‘when the person’s sense of identity is experienced as being at risk through we need to change, leading him or her to question his or her own identity in some fundamental aspect’ (Rusbridger 136). Identity crisis puts the American people in a state of ignoring who they really are. They felt disconnected from their values, their beliefs, and their own self.
Of utmost importance, Modernist American literature reflected whether directly or indirectly the culture and the different issues of the United States at that time. Franklin maintains: ‘For some authors, of course, the direct revelation of the experience of living within their culture is their main purpose for writing’ (4). Literature in general mirrors the personal and social experiences. Accordingly, literary works which were produced in the years between the two World Wars deal with the themes of destruction, fragmentation, loss, isolation, and exile. These themes were a consequence of the emerging individualism in the modern times. Modernist writers invented new forms and styles of writing that would suit the requirements of the modern age. They are seen especially in urbanism and national identity. Richard Ruland and Malcolm Bradbury point out that these changes ‘forced the American writer toward the subjects, languages and themes of the Depression and war years’ (318). Pursuing more individualistic forms of writing, writers of the period developed modern techniques in writing, such as nonlinearity of plot, voices, and stream of consciousness. These new techniques came up to emergence as a reaction to the innovative insights brought by newly established disciplines such as psychoanalysis.
In addition, most American writers rejected the old literary forms and got eager to create something completely new; yet, many of them preferred the use of literary tradition, including allusions to canonical works of the past. Silvie Pal”kov” states: ‘The American authors started to experiment with Symbolism, Surrealism and Dadaism, but first and foremost, they were involved in Modernism. Modernist authors are innovative in many ways. They are not afraid of mixing those levels which used to be separate so far’ (17). Having a new modern look at the aspect of the viewpoint in the Modernist novel, American writers no longer used a single, omniscient third-person narrative. It is mainly because authority turned to be a matter of a single perspective, and because the belief of an absolute truth was replaced by a sense of relativity and multiplicity. The importance of the way the story was told turned out to be the same as the story itself. Many American Modernist novelists and poets like T.S. Eliot, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner used multiple narrators in their writings. In Faulkner’s novel, The Sound and the Fury, for instance, the narration is divided into four sections; each of them provides the viewpoint of a particular character, including a mentally retarded boy. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, as well, presents multiple speakers that reflect the variation of truth and the diversities of reality.
In order to analyze poetry and fiction of the modern era, the school of New Criticism came up in the United States. New critics examined a literary work, insisting on its intrinsic significance, and focusing more on ‘the individual work alone as an independent unit of meaning’ (Augustyn 252). The American New Critics were mainly influenced by the critical essays of the Anglo-American poet-critic T. S. Eliot. As an instance, ‘[i]n The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1920) [‘] Eliot discusses the work of Algernon Swinburne, William Blake, Dante, Philip Massinger, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare, and defines terms and concepts that have entered into critical discourse’ (Franklin 22). Eliot, in these essays, highlighted the poem’s separation from the poet’s personality. He believes that the work of art should be objective and impersonal.
During that period, a group of American writers gained fame for being known as ‘The Lost Generation’, a term which was coined by Gertrude Stein, and used to describe the people of the 1920’s who rejected Bourgeois values (Jumonville 306). The generation was ‘lost’, in the sense that its traditional values like patriotism, courage, and war were not important anymore. People who witnessed the Modernist period felt fragmented and alienated. This is because of the horrors that the war left in their memories.
The meaning of the ‘Lost Generation’ developed to be applied to American writers, most of whom emigrated to Europe and lived there during the 1920s. They left the United States because of their displeasure, and according to Kate O’Connor ‘[s]ome wished to live cheaply; some sought an audience for their work; some fled what they saw as a prudish and narrow minded nation’ (113). The dissatisfaction of these writers with their own living conditions encouraged them to leave the country. The four most prominent writers among ‘The Lost Generation’ were Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and T. S. Eliot. Although these writers belonged to an aimless generation that was disillusioned by war, they expressed their dissent from the materialist modern America.
Concerning American literary works, the writers of ‘The Lost Generation’ used specific common themes. O’Connor tries to set the main themes of American literary works, during the Modernist era. One of those major themes is decadence. According to O’Connor, the extravagance of Gatsby’s parties in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, or the pointless traveling and parties among the expatriates in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and in A Moveable Feast were deeply related to the dissolutions of ideals after the war. This led, consequently, to the characters’ pleasure-seeking (Para. 6).
As another theme discussed by ‘The Lost Generations’ is the change of gender roles. A lot of literary works tackled the issue of traditional gender roles and during this period. In The Sun Also Rises, for instance, Ernest Hemingway depicts the weakness of the narrator Jake because of a war wound, and instead it is his love Brett who acts the man’s role. Another example of the crisis of masculinity can be found in T. S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in which the main personae Prufrock’s fails to give his lover a romantic declaration of love.
Another third major theme that can be found in the writings of ‘Lost Generation’ is the idealization of the past. Instead of facing the horrors of the war, many writers tried to form a shiny image of the past that never exists in reality. The best example of this theme is Gatsby’s idealization of his past in Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby.
Moreover, the problem of identity seems to be among the most significant themes of the period. Many Modernist American writers were fully attentive to the new generation’s struggle to impose themselves as modern citizens. In addition, they noticed this generation’s refusal of the old set of rules and their longing for materialism and commercialization. Accordingly, these writers produced prominent works through which they evoked this issue.
The famous American writer William Faulkner, for instance, exposed in his fiction a terrible sense of man’s failure to achieve any real ideals in life. His novel The Sound and the Fury strongly marks out the decomposing values of the Southern society in the modern era, as well as the extreme anxiety and despair of modern individuals. In this novel, the character Quentin Compson’s obsession with the past is considered to be a failure to form her personality; this logically explains her suicide after that.
In his two well-known novels, The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920), the famous British modernist writer D.H. Lawrence tackled the illusion of modern civilization and the dreadful outcomes of industrialization upon the human self.
Like Lawrence, the poet T. S. Eliot, another famous American member of ‘The Lost Generation’, drew in his masterpiece The Waste Land (1922) which expressed the sickness of modern civilization. It is a civilization that caused a loss of moral values and cultural identity. Moral life conditions, as the poem shows, result in a real existential crisis.
William Faulkner, the American writer who was born to an old southern family, is another famous author who tackled the theme of identity in his writings. He discusses some important issues as gender and racial problems in the American South. Faulkner went further to imply that these problems eventually emerge from the conflicts within the individual’s psyche, and not from his society. This is seen particularly in his novel Light in August, in which the characters seek identity and seem to be isolated and fragmented. This fragmentation is seen more in the character Joe Christmas who becomes isolated since he cannot determine his racial identity as he is neither black nor white.
Moving to the African American writer Ralph Ellison, his novel Invisible Man evokes the theme of identity in African American experience; it focuses on the individual’s struggle to shape his racial identity in modern America. Ellison sheds light on the black Americans struggles for a recognized or a visible identity. Through the Invisible Man, the author stresses blacks’ invisibility, using an unnamed protagonist. He tries, therefore, to convey the idea that seeking a real identity cannot be possible without accepting one’s state of invisibility first, then starting to shape a new definition based on good behaviors and manners.
Last and not least, the American Modernist writer F. Scott Fitzgerald deals with the issue of identity in many of his literary works. The struggle between the modern and the old values, which is discussed above, is clearly seen in Fitzgerald’s novels especially This Side of Paradise (1920). This is mainly through the experience of the protagonist Amory Blaine who makes huge efforts to avoid neglecting his identity and his feelings of purposelessness. The Beautiful and Damned (1922) is another novel of Fitzgerald that evokes the theme of identity. Fitzgerald depicts the psychological alters of the protagonist, Amory Blaine, throughout his life. Accordingly, he describes the fragmented self, which results from the unbalanced feelings and the sexual illusions that Blaine has. Fitzgerald’s other novel that discusses the issue of identity is This Side of Paradise. According to Pelzer, This Side of Paradise is ‘a novel about disillusionment and loss’ (44). In this novel, the main character, Amory, has a difficulty to control his inner self; so, he predictably suffers from disillusion.
The Great Gatsby (1925), which represents the core of this dissertation, is also one of Fitzgerald’s most remarkable novels of the period; it brings to light much about the complexity of such issue. In other words, it stresses the idea of how identity can be affected by materialism and the illusions of wealth. The life of the protagonist Jay Gatsby seems to be full of illusions about his love to Daisy, and his dream of winning her for the second time. Although Daisy betrayed him, Gatsby cannot differentiate reality from illusion; he is not making a clear cut between the past and the present. Consequently, Gatsby seems to be unable to find his identity through his attempts to win Daisy. Jay Gatsby’s love for the careless, stonehearted Daisy Buchanan refers to a psychologically damage in his identity. This damage is not simply caused by a desire to belong to a higher social class, but to regain a woman who is not perfect as he imagines. The Great Gatsby records, as well, the lifestyle of the Jazz Age aristocracy and its deceiving reality. Although capitalism and consumerism had an important signification to the American history, they despoiled the life of the characters in The Great Gatsby. Huskey claims that ‘[n]ot only have their values and desires become strictly material, but morality has become almost nonexistent as it has become overshadowed by material gain and desire’ (17). The Great Gatsby’s main characters suffer from a crisis of identity. This mainly results from a lack of knowledge about their true selves and their true Americanism.
To summarize, the 1920s was the decade of change in the history of the United States. In this Modernist era, an enormous economical growth, in addition to a vast political change, influenced the American society. This influence is manifested in so many ways. The growing urban population and the rise of consumerism were perhaps the major aspects of the American economical change. Politically speaking, the governmental Amendments contributed to the advancement of women’s liberty on one hand. Yet, on the other hand, they raised a ‘cultural civil war’ in the country, giving a rebirth to racial issues. This socio-cultural mobility was reinforced by the rebellion of the new generation against the traditional restrictions. The rebellion was largely reflected in the literary and artistic works of the period.
Social Fluidity in TheGreat Gatsby: Casting Doubt upon National identity
Throughout the modernist time period, national identity in the United State has not been only a subject of political debates; it has also seen a theme of many literary works, including Fitzgerald’s novels. This chapter deals straightforwardly with Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. Tackling the social problems that affected the main characters, the novel mirrors the social fluid identity of Americans during the modernist era. Thus, the chief aim of this chapter is to discover whether The Great Gatsby’s characters really satisfy their desires is such society, or their efforts are in vein.
During the 1920s, the true meaning of the American Dream had totally changed, since people started to think that fortune is the best way to achieve happiness in the modern times. Tim Wise argues that the American Dream that was once associated with ‘the ideal of a more equitable national community [‘] was being damaged greatly by rampant individualism and materialism’ (26). James Adams discuses how the American Dream took another direction. He writes: ‘throughout our history, the pure gold of this vision has been heavily alloyed with the dross of materialistic aims [‘] the making of money and the enjoying of what money could buy too often became our ideal of a full and satisfying life’ (qtd. in Churchwell para.4).
F. Scott Fitzgerald like many other authors of the period tried to depict the American Dream and its demise in his works. In fact, ‘Fitzgerald saw the American Dream as the pursuit of happiness. The redefined American Dream transformed to value [‘] money and laid back social values. In other words, money and pleasure became the new God’ (Oiknine, Thomson 5-6). Fitzgerald, therefore, intends through his works, to shed light on the fluidity that characterized the American national identity during the Jazz Age. John F Callahan states that he ’embodied in his tissues and nervous system the fluid polarities of American experience: success and failure, illusion and disillusion, dream and nightmare’ (374).
This dual depiction is mostly seen in his novel The Great Gatsby which represents more than a story of an ambitious man, working hard to achieve success and self improvement. It represents, furthermore, the story of the United States in the modernist era. The dream of the main protagonist Jay Gatsby signifies, in fact, the pure version of the American Dream. This latter is precisely described in the novel by the narrator, Nick Caraway, who praises Gatsby for his ‘extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again’ (Fitzgerald 4). Moreover, most of the characters in the novel are full of hopes and goals which each of them is striving to achieve. Yet, despite the fact that the characters’ hopes seem to be partially fulfilled throughout the novel’s events, their struggle to fulfill them ends in an utter failure. Linda Pelzer proclaims that ‘[t]he promise of a dream lies at the heart of Fitzgerald’s American classic, but it is a dream corrupted by money and betrayed by carelessness’ (1). Pelzer sees that although the characters of the Great Gatsby succeeded in terms of working hard to achieve their dream, this pursuit was ruined by corruption and carelessness. The characters’ successes and failures according to her could be said to portray America’s successes and failures (1).
Incidentally, the reader of the novel notices Jay Gatsby’s evolution from a poor child to a totally new adult with a widespread fame, then to a millionaire who owns a splendid castle, throws sumptuous parties, and drives expensive cars. Gatsby’s wild ambition and self-made success entails that he really recognizes the American Dream, creating his own identity from scratch and only through hard work. Gatsby, thus, typifies the idea of self-reliance in making fortune and reaching success. This idea is closely related to the definition of the 1920’s American Dream. Roland Marchand describes how a man perceived the American Dream during this period. He writes, ‘Not only did he flourish in the fast-paced, modern urban milieu of skyscrapers, taxicabs, and pleasure-seeking crowds, but he proclaimed himself an expert on the latest crazes in fashion, contemporary lingo, and popular pastimes'(1).
After years of hard work, Gatsby normally succeeds to realize his American Dream from a materialistic point of view. He has finally everything that can make all what he desires come true. Yet, just beyond this story of success, one can discover that this dream was not really built on a foundation of pure morality and honesty; rather, it was based on deception and was absolutely corrupted by excessive materialism, leading to its decline as a result. The long evolution from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby raises a lot of questions about his invented personal history, and makes one thinks that his entire personality was built on a series of lies. For instance, Gatsby changed his name because ‘[h]is parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people’his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all’ (Fitzgerald 105). This is why he left his parents with ‘the name ready for a long time’ (Fitzgerald 105), and wanted to become rich which was his dream. Gatsby’s confession to Nick about his parents’ position, in chapter four, is another lie added to his fabricated life story. He tells Nick: ‘I am the son of some wealthy people in the Mid West- all dead now’ (Fitzgerald 70). Here, Gatsby claims the fact of his father’s death which comes to be not true at the end of the novel. In addition, Gatsby’s great wealth is always suspicious in the novel. People keep spreading rumors about the ways he acquired his wealth. Some accuse him of bootlegging; some others see him as a criminal and even a German spy. In the second chapter of the novel, Myrtle discusses with her sister Gatsby’s truth. Catherine tells her about rumors she heard about him: ‘he’s a nephew or a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm’s,’ and ‘that’s where his money comes from’ that he has killed a man in cold blood; ‘he was a German spy during the war’ (48). Fitzgerald uses this shift in Gatsby’s personality to explore the shift in the nature of the American Dream itself, crafting his own criticism of the national identity during the 1920s America.
Gatsby’s wrong insights, that the more he had offered material things to Daisy the more she would have been fond of him, led dramatically to the devastation of his dreams. In the novel, Nick remarks: ‘he took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them one by one before [Daisy] […] green and lavender and faint orange’ (99). Through displaying a range of luxury shirts in different colors, Gatsby wants to impress Daisy with the wealth he owns; this act which aims to win Daisy’s heart makes him unfortunately materialistic. Fitzgerald, through the protagonist Gatsby, was sensitive enough to shed light on the deviation in the original pursuit of success and happiness which turned out to be a vulgar quest for wealth and material growth. This leads directly to the corruption of the Dream in the 1920s era. Pelzer, who confirms this view, argues that the American Dream’s original nature was a dream of self, freedom, and equal opportunities to Americans. However, that dream of self-improvement turned to be a dream of success through time. People’s aim ceased to be about self fulfillment; rather, it changed its direction to gathering money and seeking the economic success (Pelzer 7). Thus, The Great Gatsby depicts the shift towards materialism which devastated the American Dream’s pure nature. The Great Gatsby reveals the failure of the American Dream, the dream of the early settlers, and the selfsame dream that has pushed the frontier westward. It originally meant a desire for spiritual and material improvement; what happened was that the material aspect of the dream was so quickly achieved that it soon outpaced, may obliterated the spiritual one.
Tom and Daisy Buchanan who belong to ‘old money’ superficially represent the American Dream; their pursuit of happiness seems to fall into hands of money, resulting in a terrible lack of morals and principles. Nick, throughout the novel, notices Tom and Daisy’s ruthless and careless attitudes towards others. He says: ‘They were careless people [‘] they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together’ (191). Nick, in the preceding statement, explains that Tom and Daisy’s carelessness makes them escape all the mistakes they have made, simply into their money. Nick is entitled to a belief that wealth deprives Tom and Daisy from morality and conscience. So, though Nick is lured by the East, he opts for a return to the Midwest, with its rawness, ethical values, and tradition.
Tom himself is totally influenced by his growing up with money; his ‘arrogant eyes’, as described in the beginning of the novel ‘gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward’ (Fitzgerald 9). Muawia Mohamed Daffala describes Tom as being empty and aimless despite his wealth: ‘this vast wealth and superficial sophistication are accompanied by emptiness [‘] in Tom’s case’ (158). In the novel, Nick also notices what Tom announces, ‘I’ve got a nice place [‘] along the front vista, including a sunken Italian garden, a half acre of deep pungent’ (10). Obviously, Tom’s showing off his luxury possessions discloses his fascination with materials and appearances. Yet, despite his arrogance which resulted from his growing up with everything he wants, Tom often seems to be insecure throughout the novel. He is deeply controlled by a constant fear of losing Daisy, or rather losing one of his monetary properties. His dreams consequently look as if they do not skip the dread of losing what he has, including Daisy. Her loss could possibly symbolize a big threat to the existence of Tom’s dreams.
In addition to Tom, Daisy Buchanan, ‘the Golden Girl’, as described in the novel is also overconfident of ‘her membership in rather distinguished secret society’ (22). Like her husband, she lives for the moment, and does not care of what comes after. Nick describes Daisy as ‘careless’. Her behavior can be explained as a result of her birth in a rich family. Gatsby feels that ‘her voice is full of money’ (Fitzgerald 128). Daisy thinks she has everything she desires and dreams for, including money, success, and happiness which all shape the American dream ideals. However, she realizes after all that her dream was nothing more than an illusion. Tom and Daisy’s relationship is impotent. Tom notices that ‘the sun [love] is getting colder every year’ (125). Similarly, Daisy expresses her ennui: ‘what’ll do with ourselves this afternoon! [‘], and the day after that, and the next thirty years’ (126). From the beginning of the novel, Tom and Daisy’s are not happy with each other. Daisy knows that Tom was cheating on her. It is seen when Tom receives a call from a woman at dinner time; then, Jordan claims that: ‘[s]he might have the decency not to telephone him at dinner-time’ (18), as if she is hinting at Tom’s relationship with another woman. The roaring twenties in fact marked by prohibition, but the result was an excessive alcohol consumption and a sexual promiscuity.
Daisy’s materialistic hope for happiness led her to marry the wrong man; this fact is confirmed by Gatsby when he tells Tom: ‘She only married you because I was poor’ (139). Daisy’s choosing Tom’s wealth over Gatsby’s love proves her materialistic tendency which ultimately corrupts her. In this regard, Muawia Daffala describes Daisy’s behaviors, which seem to be full of materialism and carelessness. He states:
[Daisy] admires Gatsby’s possessions but cannot understand or share his spiritual experience. She is not ‘part’ of his commitment although she likes his tools to the degree of crying with joy when she ‘feels’ his majestic clothes in his wardrobe. She expresses delight when she sees an actress posing with a director in Gatsby’s palace but when they kiss each other she is offended […] when it came to choice in the confrontation scene between her husband and Gatsby, she chose her husband announcing our tragic hero clinically dead by putting an end to his scheme (158).
Materialism drives people ashore, and corrupts them morally. The green light, in the novel, refers to the greenness of the new world, but it is also the color of American Dollar bills. The name Daisy means a white flower stained by a yellow core, which stands for her materialism. However, the best example that shows Daisy’s corruption is the car accident she had, letting Gatsby take the charge. Gatsby describes to Nick how Daisy ‘turned away from the woman toward the other car [‘] and turned back […] Daisy stepped on it’ (154). Continuing to drive without giving any interest to the victim Myrtle proves Daisy’s careless behaviors. Materialism makes people treat each other as objects rather than subjects. Thus, it dehumanizes them.
Nick’s rejection of both Tom and Daisy throughout the novel certainly stresses Fitzgerald’s opinion about the changes in the perception of the American Dream during the Jazz Age. The American Dream came to be understood as a search for money. Dan Cody, in the novel, is continually roaming the continent looking for something lost, obviously the American Dream. He ultimately resorts to ‘Little Girl Bay’, a dangerous place, which stands for Daisy and her materialism. Fitzgerald criticizes, especially through Daisy and Tom, the tendency towards materialism which characterized the era and led dramatically to the corruption of the American Dream’s ideals. In this context, John F. Callahan states:
Fitzgerald used his conflicts to explore the origins and fate of the American dream and the related idea of the nation. The contradictions he experienced and put into fiction heighten the implications of the dream for individual lives: the promise and possibilities, violations and corruptions of those ideals of nationhood (Callahan 374).
The American Dream, therefore, can manifest in the individual experiences, in the sense that their violations of moral principles and their corruptions means the corruption of the national ideals.
Being a mistress of Tom Buchanan, Mrs. Myrtle Wilson’s real dream was to access the upper wealthy class. She deeply believes that her affair with Tom will enable her to reach such a dream. However, this attraction to wealth puts her marriage with George Wilson in trouble, leading unfortunately to her lack of happiness and her death later on. When Myrtle got married to George, she thought that her life would be better, but she discovered after that that she was wrong, as she claims early on in the novel: ‘I married him because I thought he was a gentleman, ‘she said finally. ‘I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe’ (38). Myrtle thinks that she made a mistake when she got married to a poor man. She says: ‘The only CRAZY I was was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake. He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in, and never told me about it’ (39). Hence, this statement reveals Myrtle’s materialistic tendency, since it shows her dislike of her husband only for not being able to buy a suit for his marriage. On the other hand, she considers Tom as the ideal image of her ‘American Dream’, a man who can satisfy her desire for a lavish life in the Eggs, instead of that poor atmosphere of the Valley of Ashes where she lives. Consequently, Myrtle tries to have Tom by all means, even by using her sexuality which proves more her corruption and moral degradation.
According to Chase Huskey, the ‘perversion’ of the American dream, presented by the main characters in The Great Gatsby endows one with the ability to recognize how much their national identities are corrupted. Huskey refers to a description of the true American national identity in an article titled ‘What is Americanism?’ He states:
The measurement of success of living, thus far, is the kind of people we are’not the kind of people that we all are, considering that whether we will or no we are collectively engaged in an adventure of realizing the potentialities of persons, and that these potentialities are realized in the highest degree, not in the most notable achievements of segregated personalities, but in the teamwork between persons which gives to each the most aid from all, and to all the most aid from each in the universal task of achieving higher human values (qtd. in Huskey 17).
From this quote, Huskey tries to figure out that morality as a privileged value should be put as a substantial principle of success instead of material achievements. The absence of the moral principle in the main characters of The Great Gatsby results in the corruption of their American Dream, or in other words the corruption of their national identity.
The portrait of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby was not characterized merely by corruption, merely. Its illusion and duality have provoked numerous analyses thus far. Fitzgerald described his young protagonist Gatsby as an ideal romantic dreamer for the best life. Since he was young, he has been distinguished by his ambition and his ‘extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as [Nick] have never found in any other person and which it is not likely [he will] ever find again’ (Fitzgerald 6). As Nick states, Gatsby believes himself to be ‘a son of God [‘] he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty’ (99).
Moreover, his love for Daisy Buchanan looks as if it is a true innocent love. Because of this love, Gatsby ‘did extraordinarily well in the war’ (Fitzgerald 160), becoming a captain and following the Argonne, a major given ‘command of the divisional machine guns’ (Fitzgerald 161). Though Daisy has got married five years ago, Gatsby is still waiting to gain her love again. He continually holds luxurious parties for all people of New York, hoping that she would come one day to one of them. This love even takes his whole life after the car accident in The Valley of Ashes; his decision to take responsibility for Myrtle’s death instead of Daisy reveals his nobility. Although she showed her hesitation to be with him, Gatsby waited hopefully and faithfully for Daisy’s coming back again till his last breath. These actions, added to many others, can prove Gatsby’s immaterial honest desire for her. Fitzgerald uses Gatsby as a personification of the American dream, as an ideal concept. The latter in its ideal sense can be realized through hard work and true pursuit of love and happiness, exactly as Gatsby does: ‘young James Gatz intended to achieve his success by hard work and self-reliance. He also was ready to seize any opportunity and to take advantage of luck. He recognized the importance of creating an image’ (Pelzer 6). Nonetheless, his Dream is idealized to an extent that contradicts the real world. Gatsby is portrayed to us in an ‘immature romanticism’ (”trba 56). Ivan ”trba asserts that:
[Gatsby’s] insecure grasp of social and human values, his lack of critical intelligence and self-knowledge, his blindness to the pitfalls that surround him in American society, his compulsive optimism, are realized in the text with rare assurance and understanding. And yet the very grounding of these deficiencies is Gatsby’s goodness and faith in life, his compelling desire to realize all the possibilities of existence (56).
Gatsby’s idealized dream clashes with reality. This Dream can never be split from the social reality that America was living at that time. Tragically, his excessive optimism and ideal romanticism entangled in the snares of the 1920s American society with all its materialism and immorality. Gatsby’s extreme ambition to gain Daisy, who symbolizes the American Dream itself, has ended with his tragic death. He ‘does not see [Daisy] as she is [‘] He sees her merely as beauty and innocence’ (27). Therefore, his beautiful idealistic image of Daisy is nothing more than a deceptive illusion.
Fitzgerald’s depiction of Gatsby’s desire draws out the Americans’ desire, longing for the idealized America as dreamed for by the first settlers, a land in which life ‘should be better [‘] and fuller life for everyone’ (Adams 214). Lois Tyson whose view colludes head on that of Adams, writes: ‘Perhaps more than any other work of American literature, F. Scot Fitzgerald’s best-known novel has elicited a critical response that reveals Americans’ desire to sustain their nostalgia for an idealized America ‘ and an idealized American ideology ‘ as an absolute positive value of pristine origin’ (Psychological Politics 40). Fitzgerald wants, through this novel, to highlight that longing for the pure American ideals.
When Nick sees Gatsby for the first time, he was gazing at a green light emanating from Daisy’s dock which is located in the East Egg; ‘he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward ‘ and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away’ (Fitzgerald 24). Described in the novel as ‘minute and far away’, the green light probably seems to be something unattainable for Gatsby, exactly as his desire for Daisy; ‘Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock […] his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him’ (Fitzgerald 193). As Nick explains in this previous quote, though Gatsby was all the time close to Daisy and had everything she desires, he never had the possibility to gain her. Accordingly, this green light is symbolic of the idealized dream of the early settlers of America that appears impossible to achieve in the corrupted materialistic society of the modern era. This is confirmed when Nick ties the light’s green color to the Dutch early explorers of America, saying: ‘I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes ‘ a fresh, green breast of the new world’ (192). Nick, in this passage, portrays the Dutch sailors as they took the risk of sailing in the dangerous ocean just because they hoped for a greener better world.
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald perceives the huge difference between the American Dream of the Dutch settlers in its green beautiful figure, and the illusionary corrupted Dream of the Jazz Age. Representing the values of the Jazz Age which includes wealth, entertainment, and consumerism, Daisy makes Gatsby’s dream illusionary and unattainable. Those modern values that characterized the 1920s are purely materialistic rather than spiritual; consequently, they show the way to an illusionary American Dream, which leads to a national identity crisis during this era. Huskey comments that ‘[w]hen the reader is exposed to Gatsby’s life story and his search for a place in the world [‘], he or she is introduced to a serious identity crisis that is not only individual, but also regional and national’ (19). This crisis, according to her, is a result of ‘the struggle between morality and materialism at least in the character of Jay Gatsby’ (18). So, the crisis emanate from the fact that the materialistic side triumphs over the ethical one. Characters, in the novel, fail to reconcile those two sides.
In the same vein, Tyson suggests that ‘the American Dream, like the character of the Great Gatsby with whom it is defined, represents something pure and true [‘] that has been corrupted over time by the influence of moral wasteland that continues to extent its borders farther into the core of the American society’ (Psychological Politics 40).On the other hand, Tyson adds that this corruption is neither linked to the American Dream, nor to the character of Jay Gatsby. It is rather connected to the environment that ‘victimizes’ Gatsby. This environment is defined, according to Tyson, with ‘Wolfshein exploitation, Daisy’s duplicity, Tom’s treachery’, and the immorality of Gatsby’s guests who come to his parties (Psychological Politics 40-41). Thus, the main fault probably lies in the ugly environment and the garbage of the modern times.
Froma psychoanalytical perspective, the American Dream signifies the developing nature of human desire. Through time as set before, the meaning of the American Dream which embraces equality developed into a self-reliant struggling for financial successes and material gains. This change in the American Dream itself echoes the social changes in modern America that recommended new desires for the American people. So far, in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the main characters’ failure to achieve their desires can be explained, in the light of the theories of the French psychoanalyst Jacque Lacan. Roger Frie explains that desire, for Lacan, ‘can never be fulfilled [‘] while needs can be satisfied, and demands can be responded to, desire remains insatiable’ (163). Edith Wyschogrod and David Crownfield, who try to explain desire in Lacan’s psychoanalytical school, point out: ‘the problem is not that the satisfaction of desire is incomplete, and it is not that desire is unmasterable power. The problem, according to Lacan, is that desire inherently illusory, an artifact of the barring of the subject’ (57). Lacanican theory advocates the idea that there is a continuous desire in the human psyche that can never be totally satisfied, since the human psyche, according to him, constantly builds illusions about one’s future. This can be seen in the illusory nature of the American Dream, as it is depicted in the novel through the protagonist Gatsby. His desire towards a promising future leads him to troubles, since the closer Gatsby gets to reach his dream, the further away his dream turns out to be. What Jay Gatsby undergoes strongly corresponds to Lacan’s theory of desire.
Gatsby has already recognized his ‘I’. Being aware of the modern American Dream, he passes through a long journey to become a self-made ambitious wealthy man. On the other hand, his desire to gain the love of Daisy Buchanan, who is supposed to make him happy, is never satisfied. Lacan in one of his seminars suggests that an infant, from six to eight months, passes through a stage in which it sees its own reflection in the mirror and identifies itself as a separate ‘I’. Lacan writes: ‘The mirror stage is a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency [‘] to the assumption of the armour of an alienating identity, which will mark with its rigid structure the infant’s entire mental development’ (Ecrit 97). The mirror stage is the period when the child recognizes his own independent self; he starts to fantasize about its future aptitude. Lacan refers to it as a ‘phantasy’, since it does not reflect its real image of one’s self. Being linked to the theme of American Dream in the novel, Gatsby fantasizes about a brighter and a better future than his present situation. This blind pursuit of his desire leads to his tragic ending. This interpretation finds an echo in one of Lacan’s seminars where he maintains that ‘from an analytical point of view, the only thing of which one can be guilty is of having given ground relative to one’s desire’ (The Ethics 319).Colin Leslie Dean, whose view colludes head on with that of Lacan, states: ‘[W]e see [‘] how right Lacan is when he notes that the pursuit of one’s desire has tragic consequences. It is tragic because the subject in accessing his desire dies a second, or symbolic death’ (11). It short, it is Gatsby’s pursuit of his desire, which signifies his American Dream and run over the reality of his society, that leads him to his tragic end.
Race is another pressing issue that shaped the American national identity during the 1920s. The vision of America as harmonious society in which different races melt together to form one American identity was present since long time ago. The Declaration of Independence which was adopted on July 4, 1776, announced that ‘all men are created equal’. However, racial discrimination still pervades all aspects of the American life. After the end of the First World War, that vision of a ‘melting polt’ society drastically altered. White Americans refuse to see other races as their equal; moreover, racist regimes against African Americans came into existence. In this regard, George M. Fredrickson states:
The climax of the history of racism came in the twentieth century in the rise and fall of what might be called overtly racist regimes [‘] Extreme racist propaganda [‘] served to rationalize the practice of lynching. A key feature of the racist regime maintained by state law in the South was a fear of sexual contamination through rape or intermarriage, which led to efforts to prevent the conjugal union of whites with those with any known or discernable African ancestry (para. 7).
In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgeraldincluded a range of discourses that implicitly refer to the debate between modernists who reject inherent superiority of races, and nativists who support the idea of a dominant white Nomadic race.Walter Benn Michaels is among the most recent critics who notice the novel’s concern with race and ethnicity. He argues for a connection between modernism’s vision of ‘material and self-sufficient’ ideals and nativism’s vision of identity as inherited, racial, and determinative of beliefs and practices. Michaels considers racial identity as a key issue in The Great Gatsby (qtd. in Benjamin 155).
Perhaps the most representative character of racism in The Great Gatsby is Tom Buchanan. Tom’s racism is evident from the very beginning of the novel. Tom’s privilege of belonging to the old money paved the way to his arrogance, and made him despise all who are less fortunate than him. Noticing Nick’s discussion with Tom, Daisy, and Jordan in their house, we can easily realize that Tom is overconfident and furthermore a racist. Tom, through this discussion, embarks upon the topic of civilization, confirming that: ‘Civilization’s going to pieces’ (15); he tries to bring Nick’s interest to Goddard’s book The Rise of the Coloured Empires. The book strongly advocates ‘racist, white-supremacist attitudes that Tom seems to find convincing’ (Spark Notes Editors 11).
Tom continues, claiming that Goddard’s theory in this book is scientifically proved: ‘The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be’will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved’ (16). His statement strongly reflects what was going in the United States that time, since ‘in the 1920s, racial science was in its heyday’ (Michaels para. 3). Tom believes that the white race is the most suitable race to control other races because of the privileges it has. He goes on to say: ‘It’s up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things’ (16). In chapter seven as well, Tom directly shows his fear from interracial marriage. He claims: ‘Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white’ (124), as if he is drawing an explicit similarity between Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy and interracial marriage. Establishing a similarity between Gatsby and blacks can be related to Gatsby’s association with illegal practices that were usually linked to immigrants in the 1920s. Jeffrey Louis Decker supports this analysis, He writes: ‘Gatsby’s association with immigrant crime, particularly in the form of bootlegging, jeopardizes both the purity of his white identity and the ethics of his entrepreneurial uplift’ (60). This association between Gatsby and blacks is also clue to the fact that blacks are always considered as primitive and uncivilized. Tom Buchanan, thus, has a nativist view in representing the American identity.
Daisy, in her turn, wants to be included in the mission of ‘the dominant race’ in controlling other races. It is noticed when she deliberately stops at the word ‘we’ that Tom used, referring to the Nomadic race. She says interrupting him: ‘What was that word we’ (18). Ronald Berman draws our attention to Daisy’s and Jordan’s acceptance of Tom’s racist ideas. He states that ‘Daisy and Jordan make fun of Tom, but they do not seriously challenge his ideas about civilization. In fact, when Daisy reveals her own ideas, she says something of their sources’ (23). Nick notices Daisy’s intention to show her belonging to that distinguished group of people. He says: ‘In a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged’ (21).
Some critics went further, in their analysis of the novel’s relation with racial issues, to suggest that Fitzgerald himself was a nativist, as many others after the Great War. Karl Ortegon argues, for instance, that ‘Fitzgerald was a nativist, and he was certainly not the only one of his time. After the Great War, Americans feared the influx of immigrants into the United States. Suddenly, everyone began to worry about national identity and how it might change with foreigners infiltrating their neighborhoods’ (para. 8). Fitzgerald might have fears about the changes that might influent the American national identity with the flow of immigrants after the war. These fears could justify his nativist tendency. Ortegon adds, saying that ‘ the idea that Nordic racial types were superior and that Nordic settlers were the true discoverers of America, [‘] was the popular belief by many members of academia, including, notably, Fitzgerald’ (para. 8). Accordingly, we can deduce that Fitzgerald’s idealization of the Dutch settlers in the novel and his longing for their time is partially related to the fact of their belonging to the Nordic race.
Fitzgerald’s nativism is conveyed through the omniscient voice Nick Caraway. The image of racism can be clearly seen in his descriptions of Wolfsheim. Nick describes his ‘[a]small flat-nosed Jew raised his large head and regarded me with two fine growths of hair which luxuriated in either nostril’ (75). This description shows an immense hatred for Jews which proves a profound level of racism in Nick’s self. In the same article, Ortegon also states: ‘Only those of Nordic descent are capable of being truly American in the eyes of Nordicists’ (para. 12). In the same vein, Decker also remarks Fitzgerald’s nativism through the character Nick. He writes: ‘Nick’s stereotypical description of Wolfsheim is colored by racial nativism to the extent that it carries with it traces of degeneracy associated with Semites’ (61). In short, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in many ways mirrors nativist beliefs in the 1920s, which result from the American’s fear of a national identity crisis.
Actually, the issue of social class in The Great Gatsby is very significant since it depicts through many characters how the American people, belonging to different social status, behave with each other, and how their positions affect their national identity. The characters’ social positions in the novel are represented through four different settings which define the 1920s’ national identity of the United States. The two lavish peninsulas West Egg and East Egg symbolize the wealthy society; yet, they are ‘divided [‘] even they might look alike, [They] are different in behavior and values’ (Huskey 16). East Egg, referred to as ‘old money’, mirrors high class society with an inherent wealth, a society that Tom and Daisy Buchanan belong to. People of East Egg are socially separated from West Egg. The latter is referred to as ‘new money’ in the novel. Although inhabitants of West Egg are rich, their fortunes are newly made.
In the second chapter of the novel, Fitzgerald presents to us the ‘Valley of Ashes’, a train route between Eggs and New York City, where the poorest people of the U.S live. This location is considered as ‘a byproduct of the Eggs and the actions of the people who live within them’ (Huskey 16). Through his descriptive language of the settings, Fitzgerald depicts the huge split between social classes in the roaring twenties America. The inhabitants of each setting are different from each other in terms of their whole identities. Despite the lavishness which was established in East Egg, West Egg, and New York City, their inhabitants are highly affected by the rise of capitalism. As a result, they suffer from a serious moral crisis.
The residents of West Egg are self-made wealthy people who recently gathered their fortunes. Being one of them, Gatsby’s dream of being accepted among the upper class society pushes him to work hard and in order to change the context of his childhood. Passing through harsh experiences, Gatsby could reach out for a lot of great things as wealth and fame. He says to Nick: ‘My family all died and I came into a good deal of money’ (Fitzgerald 71).
However, this ambition, unfortunately, ends up in a big failure. Gatsby, in order to access the upper class society, invents a new identity. He tells Nick that he inherited his fortune from his wealthy family. Nick, speaking to Gatsby, wonders: ‘I thought you inherited your money’, Gatsby lies: ‘I did, old sport’ (96). In addition to that, Gatsby is frequently drawing attention to Oxford in his past, telling Jordan Baker and Nick that he studied there. He also shows Nick pictures of his souvenirs in this university. The real motive behind Gatsby’s emphasizing Oxford in his stories is that it participates to a great extent in his desire to fit in the upper social class. Oxford is ‘one of the most famous colleges in the world’, as described by Wolfshiem in the novel (78). So, it is unconsciously linked in Gatsby’s mind to people of higher class. This probably makes him lie about studying there. Even when Gatsby repeats to Nick the story of his meeting Daisy for the first time; he confesses that he purported in front of her to belong to a higher class rank.
Many critics consider that Gatsby’s dream is not related to Daisy herself; it rather stands for something deeper and further. Gatsby, in other words, thinks that having Daisy in his life will offer him the easy access to the upper class society. Marius Bewley maintains that ‘ the true question is not what Gatsby sees in Daisy, but the direction he takes from her, what he sees beyond her; and that has, despite the immaturity intrinsic in Gatsby’s vision, an element of grandeur in it’ (46). This is what makes his pursuit of Daisy last till his last breath, although it seems to be unattainable. Jonathan Schiff observes that ‘those who are ethnic, racial, or economic outsiders, such as Gatsby, struggle to receive acceptance’ (101). Therefore, lacking a social heritage, Gatsby always suffers from a crisis of identity. He struggles to make those who belong to a higher social level accept him among them. Fitzgerald gives us the impression that class identity has its power, even in the urban modern society of the1920s.
Living in East Egg, Tom and Daisy Buchanan are from another rich classy world. As they represent old money, they do not show any interest in others’ existence. ‘What the old aristocracy possesses in taste, however, it seems to lack in heart, as the East Eggers prove themselves careless’ (SparkNotes Editors 9). In other words, they treat others in an inhuman way.
Tom Buchanan is very proud of his possessions, and he considers himself to be superior because of his family’s social position. Nick expresses his superiority, saying: ‘Now don’t think my opinion on these matters is final, he seemed to say, just because I’m stronger and more of a man than you are’ (9-10). Tom, having social privileges, even allows himself to look into Gatsby’s life and affairs; he questions him exactly as how a policeman does with someone against the law. Tom says to Gatsby: ‘Who are you, anyhow? [‘] ‘You’re one of that bunch that hangs around with Meyer Wolfshiem’that much I happen to know. I’ve made a little investigation into your affairs’and I’ll carry it further tomorrow’ (142-143). Tom tries to accuse Gatsby, linking the latter’s affairs to the Jewish Wolfshiem. This shows Tom’s contempt for the other races and social ranks, which are different from his.
Gatsby and Daisy agreed to confront Tom with their feeling to each other; then, they were supposed to leave away in order to be together again. However, after the confrontation, Tom does do seem to be stressed at all, even when Daisy left the house with Gatsby. Nick describes how Tom behaved after Daisy and Gatsby had gone: ‘They [Gatsby and Daisy] were gone, without a word […] After a moment Tom got up and began wrapping the unopened bottle of whiskey in the towel’ (144). Then, he asked Nick and Jordan if they want some drink, as if nothing had happened a few minutes earlier. Tom does not have any angst, since he is certain that Daisy would never choose Gatsby instead of him after he has revealed to her his truth as a bootlegger. Now, she knows that Gatsby does not belong to any aristocrat family from which he should have inherited his money. Tom directly says, referring to Gatsby: ‘I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife’ (Fitzgerald 130). Walter Benn Michaels who concurs with this view states: ‘[T]he fact that Gatsby has made [‘] money isn’t quite enough to win Daisy Buchanan back. Rich as he has become, he’s still ‘Mr. Nobody from Nowhere,’ not Jay Gatsby but Jimmy Gatz. The change of name is what matters’ (para. 2).
On the other hand, both East Eggers Tom and Daisy belong to the upper class society, with inherited wealth. Sharing the same social background, they seem to have stronger ties that keep them together whatever happens. These ties are purely related to social class rather than love. This can be deduced from Tom’s words against Gatsby, when the latter pushes Daisy to tell her husband she has never loved him. Tom says to him that ‘there’s things between Daisy and me that you’ll never know, things that neither of us can forget’ (Fitzgerald 139). Tom’s statement, ‘neither of us can forget’, represents something about their past; so, it can possibly refer to the shared social heritage and the history of their wealthy families.
The Valley of Ashes or the working class area, being very different form the three other locations, consists of desperate inhabitants who seem to be in a constant circle of poverty, despite their morality and hard work. They are described in the novel as ‘ash-gray men’ who ‘swarm up with leaden spades’ (26). Using the word ‘gray’, Fitzgerald intends to convey to the reader the unhappiness of the workers who are unable to access the prosperity of the 1920s despite their hard work. They are not only denigrated by the upper class society, but also exploited by its members as Lois Tyson writes: ‘The only way to survive [the valley of Ashes] [‘] is to let someone like Tom Buchanan exploit you, as George does when he tolerates Tom’s humiliating benter in the hope of getting a good price on Tom’s car and as Myrtle does when she accepts Tom’s mistreatment in the hope of getting out the valley of ashes for good’ (70).
Nick’s description of Myrtle’s apartment, given to her by Tom, makes us realize that high class society is difficult to reach: ‘The living room was crowded to the doors with a set of [‘] furniture entirely too large for it’ (Fitzgerald 32). From this description, we notice that although Myrtle has luxurious furnishings, she does not know how to coordinates them as high class people do.
From what precedes, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby powerfully mirrors the huge split between the different classes of the American society during the 1920s. It depicts the split among the ‘old-moneyed’ families and the “nouveau riches’ ones, and furthermore between those people of the upper social class and those who belong to the lower ranks of society. Huskey claims: ‘Within the novel, the lack of a common social heritage drives the characters to erase and reinvent their identities and their pasts’ (17). This split among social classes widened, during the modernist period, to such a way that caused a serious crisis in the American national identity.
To conclude with, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby undoubtedly reacts to the issue of national identity in the modernist era. The corruption of the American Dream, in addition to the problem of social classes and racism are mainly expressed through the plot and the characters of the novel. These social problems prevent the characters from achieving their desires. They destroy their happiness and create deep psychological frustrations. The characters’ failure to achieve their dreams is linked principally to an ideological shift in their moral ideals. The Great Gatsby, anyway, does not only express the issue of national identity; the characters’ psychological struggle is also a very important issue in the novel.
A psychoanalytical Insight into the Individual Identity in The Great Gatsby
Undeniably, the issue that can be widely explored in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby concerns the psychological behaviors of the main characters in the novel and the real motives behind them. By applying a psychoanalytical approach, this chapter deals directly with the inner psyche of the characters. It reveals, thus, Gatsby and Daisy’s struggle with their romantic love in the novel. In addition to that, the chapter discloses the psychological problems in the characters’ feelings and behaviors which extensively affect their identity.
According to the Freudian theory, in Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, Gatsby fails to gain Daisy despite his great love and sacrifices for her; this mainly happened because of the gender difference between Gatsby and Daisy, regarding their type of object choice.
Sigmund Freud believes that females develop a great deal of narcissism and self-centeredness inside, as a result of an injury in their ego when they discover ‘the boys’ far superior equipment’ (Freud et. al 126). This psychic wound, according to Freud, increasingly creates vanity and self-doubt in females ‘so that to be loved is stronger need for them than to love’ (Freud et. al 132). These characteristics concern females rather than males, since they are a ‘compensation for [the] original [feminine] sexual inferiority’ (Freud et. al 132). Freud, thus, states that women love only themselves with a great passion, similar to that of men towards them. Daisy in The Great Gatsby bit-by-bit reveals her selfishness, as the story continues. Daisy seems pleased at Gatsby’s full devotion to her love; nevertheless, she chooses her unfaithful husband Tom over him, only because Tom is an East Egger wealthy man. Apparently, she is a selfish self-centered woman who enjoys only receiving benefits from others without giving them any interest in return. Daisy perfectly represents Freud’s attitude towards women, since he states that the woman’s need does not ‘lie in the direction of loving, but of being loved’ (Freud et. al 89).
Freud’s idea of female’s self-doubt is depicted in the novel when Gatsby and Daisy get through the garden, during one of Gatsby’s lavish parties. They discuss together the possibility of Daisy’s leaving her husband, and Gatsby notices that she hesitates to agree with him. In fact, she does not really know what she wants. Daisy’s self-doubt becomes even more obvious during the confrontation at the plaza, when Gatsby tries to make Daisy declare that she never loved Tom. Daisy, however, seems uncertain about this, and she tells Gatsby: “I did love him once ‘ but I loved you too” (142). This statement clearly reveals Daisy’s self-doubt, since till now she does not know whom she is really in love with. In addition, Daisy during the confrontation tries to back out of her earlier deal with Gatsby to be with him; she cried: ‘Oh, you want too much!” (141). She considers her declaration of loving only Gatsby as being too much to ask for. It is too much, even for someone who devoted five years of his life to loving her, for someone who is so ready to do anything for her that he is willing to take the blame for her crime later or in the novel. Even after the car accident, she knows well that Gatsby is the one to be accused of this crime; yet, she leaves all this and retreats back into her ‘vast carelessness’. Daisy likes the fact that she is blindly loved by Gatsby; however, loving him the way he loves her is something ‘too much’ for her. This discloses the great deal of narcissism in Daisy’s psyche, and consequently proves Freud’s idea of woman’s self-centeredness to compensate for her original sexual inferiority.
On the other hand, men, as Freud suggests, always display total love with a sexual overvaluation of the object. Andrew P. Morrison explains this idea to which Freud refers in one of his discussions. Morrison states that the male shows a sexual overvaluation of the love object which ‘is derived from the child’s original narcissism to the sexual object and thus corresponds to a transference of that narcissism to the sexual object’ (31). This means that man expresses less egoism than a woman does, since he over valuates the love object. This justifies Jay Gatsby’s overvaluation of his beloved woman. She takes all his thoughts and distracts him from other interests. Gatsby’s love for Daisy seems so consuming that he makes his fortune and buys that castle, only to take her again from her husband Tom. In the novel, Jordan opens a conversation with Nick about both Gatsby and Daisy; he tells him that ‘Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay’ (85). Throughout the novel, Nick hints many times to Gatsby’s overstated idealization of Daisy. He wonders for instance: ‘There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams [‘] because of the colossal vitality of his illusion’ (103). This idealization of Daisy can be explained though Freud’s theory of love which suggests that: ‘When we are in love [‘] the object serves as a substitute for some unattained ego ideal of our own. We love it on account of the perfections which we have striven to reach for our own ego, and which we should nolike to procure in this roundabout way as a means of satisfying our narcissism (Freud, Strachey, and Alexander 74).
Gatsby, in relation to what precedes, sees through Daisy the perfections that he was struggling to reach a long time ago, mainly to satisfy his own ego. Daisy’s love serves for Gatsby as an alternative of his unattained ego ideal. Inside, he wants to become a significant man in the society and Daisy, belonging to a wealthy bourgeois family, serves as a substitute for his pressure towards sublimation. Nick observes Gatsby’s way of talking and states: ‘He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy'(118). This statement vindicates Freud’s claim since it demonstrates Gatsby’s desire to replace his unattained ego ideal or that some idea of himself, as Nick describes it. That idea goes into the love object for Daisy.
Freud further claims that if sexual over-estimation and being in love develop further, the man’s ego turns out to be more and more modest while the love object itself increasingly becomes valuable. The love object gets more precious until it possesses the full self-love of the ego, at the end. This state is logically followed by self-sacrifice since the object has consumed the ego; the object, therefore, puts the ego in a state of humbleness, reducing its narcissism (Freud, Strachey, and Alexander 74-75). Reflecting on this claim, Gatsby keeps devoting himself to Daisy’s love throughout the novel until he takes the blame for Myrtle’s death instead of her later on. Identifying himself as the driver of the car in the accident, he takes the risk of being accused of killing. Thus, this reveals his total sacrifice to the woman he loves.
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby can be interpreted in the light of what is known in psychology as overwhelming trauma. The latter is mostly represented in the character of Jay Gatsby. Traumatization, according to Bessel A. van der Kolk, arises when ‘both internal and external resources are inadequate to cope with external threat’ (393). It means that trauma eradicates the ability to deal with other external challenges, since the victim’s ego is believed to be completely overwhelmed. Freud points out: ‘The patient [consequently] cannot remember the whole of what is repressed in him, and what he cannot remember may be precisely the essential part of it’ (Freud, Hubback 18). Trauma may possibly result in the loss of the person’s earlier identity, connected with a loss of self-assurance and self-esteem.
Drawing from the Freudian theory, one can argue that Gatsby is traumatized because of his experience with his beloved woman. Gatsby experienced the biggest and first trauma in his life when he lost Daisy. Once he got wholly fascinated by Daisy ‘the first ‘nice’ girl he had ever known’ (158), she unfortunately ‘vanished into her rich house, into her rich, full life, leaving Gatsby’nothing’ (159). After his loss, Gatsby is depicted as someone with an overwhelmed fragmented ego, unable to deal with external challenges. In the novel, Nick notices that the traumatized protagonist’s words reflect ‘something’an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I [Nick] had heard somewhere along time ago’ (119). He sees that ‘Jay Gatsby had broken up like glass’ (Fitzgerald 158). It is very clear from the sentences above that Gatsby’s personality becomes very weak to challenge things and situations. In fact, his identity becomes fragmented.
Since Gatsby has lost Daisy, he lives in an imaginative world which he is unconscious neither of its time frame, nor of the changes that occur to it day after day. Gatsby gets himself isolated from the outside world, living alone with his fantasies and hoping to meet Daisy again. Nick becomes aware of his separation from the world early on in the novel; he comments: ‘[h]e [Gatsby] was content to be alone’ (24). Even when launching those lavish parties in his house, Gatsby gazes at the guests ‘standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes’ (Fitzgerald 55). Nick’s description of Gatsby’s attitudes during his parties makes us feel that he belongs to a different world. This is exactly what Marius Bewley opines: ‘Gatsby’s vision maintains its gigantic unreal stature. It imposes a rhythm on his guests which they accept in terms of their own tawdry illusions, having no conception of the compulsion that drives him to offer them the hospitality of his fabulous wealth'(42). Freud’s description of ‘overwhelming trauma’ enables one to understand Gatsby’s case. He maintains:
It may happen, too, a person is brought so completely to a stop by a traumatic event which shatters the foundation of his life that he abandons all interest in the present and future and remains permanently absorbed in mental concentration upon the past. A ‘shattered self’, i.e., disorganized personality, is a different theoretical formulation than symptoms based on ubiquitous unconscious conflict (qtd. in Knafo 20).
The traumatized person does not only lose the ability to distinguish between the past, the present, and the future, but he is also, mentally, a prisoner of the past. He suffers, accordingly, from a shattered damaged personality, and thus a serious crisis of identity. All of these symptoms perfectly apply to Jay Gatsby. Time for Gatsby has stopped at a certain point in his past when he became traumatized. He is reliving his life since then, because it is the only possibility for him to stir all his memories. Gatsby, thus, represents the traumatized person who ‘cannot resume the normal course of [his] lives’ (Herman 37). They feel, according to the psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman, ‘as if time stops at the moment of trauma. The traumatic moment becomes encoded in [‘] [a] form of memory’ (37).
Gatsby’s obsession with his past life memories can be clearly perceived through his conversation with Nick in the novel. When Nick reminds him of the impossibility of repeating the past, Gatsby replies: ‘Why of course you can!’ (118). His way of looking around, according to Nick, is as wild ‘as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his [Gatsby’s] hand’ (118). The fact that people cannot live the past again or ‘can’t help what’s past’ (Fitzgerald 141) is represented by the defunct broken clock. During his first meeting with Daisy after five years of their separation, Gatsby’s head ‘leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock, and from this position his [‘] eyes stared down at Daisy’ (92). Gatsby mumbled after that: ‘We’ve met before’ (92). At this moment the clock ’tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place’ (93). Fitzgerald deliberately included the defunct clock within the meeting’s events, referring to the past time that Gatsby determines to return to. The dangerous tilt of the clock itself entails the danger of reliving the past. Dwelling on the past leads to dramatic consequences at the end of the novel. This shatters Gatsby’s identity and ruins his present as well as his future.
Gatsby’s determination to return to the past can probably aim to repeat what he has already done. The protagonist wants to go back in time five years ago, when Daisy ‘used to be able to understand [him]’ (Fitzgerald 118). That is actually why he ‘talked a lot about the past’ (Fitzgerald 118); Gatsby wants to experience these moments again, hoping ‘to recover something, some idea of himself, perhaps that had gone into loving Daisy’ (Fitzgerald 118). Besides, he wants to change the painful traumatic event that made ‘his life [‘] distorted since then’ (Fitzgerald 118). In her discussions of Gatsby’s psychological state, Judith Herman suggests the following interpretation: ‘Sometimes people reenact the traumatic moment with a fantasy of changing the outcome of the dangerous encounter. In their attempts to undo the traumatic moment, survivors may even put themselves at risk of further harm’ (39). Survivors relive the moment of the trauma in their minds again and again, with illusions about the ability to change that traumatic event. Nick’s description of Gatsby’s feeling about Daisy in the novel perfectly reflects this idea. He says: ‘He [Gatsby] felt married to her, that was all’ (159). This statement reveals Gatsby’s illusion about changing the past which is Daisy’s marriage to Tom, and instead he imagines himself to be her husband. Being fixated on the trauma, survivors suffer from an identity crisis, since they refuse to deal with other challenges. Traumatized people accordingly are meant only, according to Freud, to ‘repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience instead [‘] [of] remembering it as something belonging to the past’ (Freud, Hubback 18). Freud named this psychological phenomenon in which a person repeats a traumatic event or its outcomes over and over again the ‘repetition compulsion’. The trauma can be repeated either through memories or through actions.
When we long for the past, going over it again and again in our minds, we can fall short of realizing that the past event cannot be necessarily the same as that which we have restored in our memory. Herman contends: ‘Just as traumatic memories are unlike ordinary memories have a number of unusual qualities’ (37). In Traumatic memories, ‘the experience may lose its quality of ordinary reality. The person may feel as through the event is not happening [at all]’ (43), or may even go through just fragments of the traumatic event itself, accompanied sometimes with a little imaginative expansion (Herman 39). In fact, what one remembers from the traumatic event is not always what actually happened. Although Daisy proved to be imperfect in the novel, Gatsby keeps seeing and describing her as an idealized and ethereal woman. The illusion of Daisy that he created in his mind for years does not represent her in reality. Nick comments later on in the novel:
There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of [Gatsby’s] dreams’not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart (103).
Gatsby spends the present time recollecting memories of those ‘perfect’ past moments with Daisy, at least as he imagines. However, these memories have such an intense brightness that they blind him to see what is real and what is not. This distortion of real memories mainly acts as a protector for him from the pain that his trauma caused.
Last and not least, Gatsby’s trauma can be analyzed by comparing it to that of Freud, whose half-brother, Emanuel, was killed during Austria’s war. This caused Freud an immense grief, since they were always together since their earliest childhood (Chauvel 3). As a result, Freud entered the year 1915 with an overwhelming trauma. Trevor Lubbe quotes from Freud’s letter to Abraham in which he writes: ‘At present I am as in a polar night and am waitingfor the sun to rise’ (qtd. in Lubbe 102). Here, we notice that Freud refers to his trauma, as ‘a polar night’. This reminds us, in a way or another, of Nick’s description of Gatsby: ‘[h]e [Gatsby] stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way’ (24). Both of ‘dark water’ and ‘polar night’ share the notion of ‘darkness’, which can possibly be associated with traumatized persons.
The other significant psychological problem which put the main characters of The Great Gatsby in trouble, destructing their identity, is grounded in their fear of intimacy. Relationships are essential in people’s life. The more relationships are closer and deeper, the more they are said to be the crucial source of people’s happiness. Robert W. firestone and Joyce Catlett note: ‘Our basic sense of self is formed originally in a relationship constellation that predisposes our attitudes toward ourselves, others, and the world at large. Our feelings about life are developed in the context of a close attachment with parents, parent, or other significant people in the early years’ (13). Close attachments create a sense of wholeness in people’s identity, offering them security and life happiness. Since love relationships ‘are just as likely to foster pain and grief as joy and happiness’ (Firestone, Catlett 15), they largely contribute in deciding self-happiness in The Great Gatsby. Throughout the novel, one can see how the characters’ failure in their relationships is caused by their unconscious fear of intimacy, leading accordingly to a total failure in their pursuit of happiness.
Psychologically speaking, as ‘fear of intimacy may originate in one’s childhood’ (Fife, Weeks 6). However, as it may originate in someone’s early stages of life; fear of intimacy ‘can also arise from painful experiences in adulthood’ (Fife, Weeks 7). People’s painful experiences of being rejected by those whom they love create inside of them a sense of distrust and fear and of new relationships. They, consequently, shut down and avoid being in a deep relationship especially with those who are close to them. They may even accept to live in fantasies’ satisfaction, but they are often against fulfilling actual interactions in reality. Accordingly, the romantic love story between Gatsby and Daisy is not about its noticeable exceptionality, but rather in how it reflects the ‘less appealing relationships’ described in the novel (Tyson 34). It is to a great extent about the characters’ psychological behaviors which reveal a fear of intimacy.
Analyzing Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s relationship in the novel, one can deduce that Tom’s affairs with other women are so representative of his fear of intimacy. In the first chapter, while he leaves Nick, Jordan, and Daisy to answer a phone call, Jordan explains to Nick: ‘Tom’s got some woman in New York’ (18). Nick confirms Tom’s cheating on Daisy in the second chapter of the novel. He states: ‘I first met Tom Buchanan’s mistress. The fact that he had one was insisted upon wherever he was known’ (27). Tom Buchanan’s relationship with two women at the same time indicates his lack of intimacy towards both of them. Lois Tyson believes that Tom’s ‘dividing his time, effort, and energy between two women protects him from real intimacy with either’ (35). This view is evident in the second chapter when Tom, Nick, and Myrtle go to Myrtle’s apartment. While they enjoy a party there, Nick and Myrtle’s sister, Catherine are gossiping about Gatsby. Catherine tells Nick that Tom in fact wants to leave Daisy, but he is unable to do so because of his wife’s religion, which is Catholicism. Catherin says ‘She [Daisy]’s a Catholic and they don’t believe in divorce’ (37).
Likewise, Tom lacks emotional intimacy with Myrtle and it is clearly noticed when Myrtle utters Daisy’s name in front of Tom; they both go into dispute because of her. Myrtle shouts: ‘Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!’; Myrtle adds: “I’ll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai ‘”. At this moment, Tom breaks ‘her nose with his open hand’ (41).Tyson suggests that:
Tom’s relationships with women, including his wife, reveal his desire for ego gratification rather than for emotional intimacy. For Tom, Daisy represents social superiority: she’s not the kind of woman who can be acquired by [‘] [t]he unknown Jay Gatsby. Tom’s possession of Myrtle Wilson whom Nick describes as a [‘] [vital] woman [who] reinforces Tom’s sense of his own masculine power’ In fact, Tom’s interest in other women is so routine that Daisy has come to expect it (35).
Tom, actually, keeps his relationship with Daisy and myrtle, as superficial as possible, since his real motive behind his relationship with both lies not in romantic love. It lies, rather, in his egoism. Tom’s psychological fear of insecurity makes him behave towards Daisy and Myrtle in such a way.
Very much like Tom, Daisy’s relationships are deeply motivated by her unconscious fear of intimacy. Daisy got married to Tom only to avoid intimacy with the penniless Gatsby. Her psychological fear of loneliness and insecurity made her marry the wealthy aristocrat Tom Buchanan, despite the fact that she didn’t like him. Speaking with Nick when he visited the Buchanans in their house, Daisy declares: ‘I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything’, after her marriage. Nick comments on her saying: ‘Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s, and she laughed with thrilling scorn. ‘Sophisticated’God, I’m sophisticated!’ ‘ (20). Nick describes what Daisy says in such an uneasy way that makes the reader aware of the main cause behind her marriage to Tom, which is his belonging to the upper social class. Contrariwise, Tyson points out that Daisy’s fear of intimacy is not so evident, since in some points within the novel, we may assume that she ‘desires emotional intimacy with her husband’ (39). Daisy’s longing for intimacy with her husband can be discovered from Jordan’s description her behaviors after her honeymoon:
I’d never seen a girl so mad about her husband. If he left the room for a minute she’d look around uneasily and say ‘Where’s Tom gone?’ and wear the most abstracted expression until she saw him coming in the door. She used to sit on the sand with his head in her lap by the hour rubbing her fingers over his eyes and looking at him with unfathomable delight. (Fitzgerald 83)
Daisy’s real motive behind her ‘delight’ in her husband is not because of her deep love for him, as it seems to be. If we support that she is in love with Tom, as Jordan observes, she should not have behaved in a desperate way when she received a letter from Gatsby just before her weeding. She is, actually, trying ‘to keep herself away from loving Gatsby’. She desires a whole mental detachment from Gatsby’s previous relationship, so that she avoids pain of that experience (Tyson 35-36).
Daisy’s fear of intimacy is related to a low self-esteem. She avoids close relations with those who are around her, including Nick and Jordan. For example, in chapter one when Jordan goes to bed, she wants Daisy to wake her up at eight, but Daisy answers: ‘if you’ll get up’ (22). This may possibly indicate Daisy’s carelessness about Jordan. Moreover, Jordan is used to go regularly to Gatsby’s parties early, but she has never thought of taking Daisy with her, which suggests that they are not intimate friends. She, like Tom, does not even devote some of her time to look after her daughter. She, instead, lets this responsibility to the nurse. Nick in the novel describes how Daisy speaks to Pammy: ”Bles-sed pre-cious,’ she [Daisy] crooned, holding out her arms. ‘Come to your own mother that loves you’ ‘ (124).We can deduce from this statement that Daisy’s treatment of her daughter is probably superficial. Daisy’s behaviors imply her unconscious fear of intimacy, which is related to her feeling of insecurity and low self-esteem. Gholipour and Sanahmadi borrow from the psychotherapist Alfred Adler who discusses the term “feeling of inferiority”. He states that it indicates ‘a group of representations and affects that reflect an individual’s self-devaluation in relation to others that it can have a positive or negative impact on self-esteem’ (51). Some external factions can affect negatively one’s self- evaluation, so that it may harm his/her self-esteem. Daisy Buchanan’s bewildered and confusing personality is nothing more than a consequence relationship with her rude and careless husband. Although she is not happy with him, Daisy does not make an effort to change her sorrowful circumstances. She is, rather, getting more involved in this situation due to a constant inferiority complex; this leads to her fear of intimacy with others. Similarly, Tyson also believes that ‘Daisy’s low self-esteem, like her fear of intimacy, is indicated in large part by her relationship with Tom. Falling so much in love with a man who was openly unfaithful to her suggests an unconscious belief that she doesn’t deserve better’ (37). The fact that Daisy is in love with someone who is continuously cheating on her indicates her inner low self-esteem.
Correspondingly, Gatsby seems to fall blindly in love with Daisy throughout the novel, and he is ready to do anything to get her back into his life. However,'[a]lthough Gatsby believes that his ultimate goal is the possession of Daisy’a belief that many readers, as well as Nick, Jordan, Tom and Daisy, seem to share’Daisy is merely the key to his goal rather than the goal itself’ (Tyson42). Gatsby’s love of Daisy is more about what she represents than who she is. He does not feel affection for Daisy as much as he loves being chosen by Daisy to feel supremely important. This is why Gatsby insists to inform Tom during their confrontation that Daisy loves only him, and she was supposed to choose him over Tom in the past. Gatsby states later on in the novel: ‘Your wife doesn’t love you [‘] She’s never loved you. She loves me’ (139). If Daisy chooses Gatsby, this will allow him to belong to ‘old money’, a class that he has longed to for a long time.
Moreover, Gatsby’s love for his ideal leads him to a psychological fear of intimacy with his parents. His father-son relationship is not introduced to the reader until almost at the end of the novel. Gatsby is not close to his father at all; he has not even seen him for two years. It is remarked in the ninth chapter of the novel, when Gatsby’s father says to Nick: ‘He come out to see me two years ago and bought me the house I live in now. Of course we was broke up when he run off from home […] He knew he had a big future in front of him. And ever since he made a success he was very generous with me’ (184). Actually, Gatsby has never invited his father to visit him in his house despite his generosity with him. Instead, he only sent him a picture of his luxurious house. Jay Gatsby’s father, after his son’s death, comes to his house for the first time, and it seems as if he cannot believe that he is inside his son’s fine house. He tells Nick: ‘Jimmy sent me this picture’; he adds, showing the picture to Nick: ‘Jimmy sent it to me. I think it’s a very pretty picture. It shows up well’ (184). These statements show the vast distance between Gatsby and his father.
Jay Gatsby’s fear of intimacy is closely related to his low self-esteem, since his dreams were much bigger than his childhood miserable circumstances; they were even bigger than the status of his parents, who are ‘shiftless and unsuccessful farm people’ (Fitzgerald 105). His imagination ‘had never really accepted them as his parents at all’ (Fitzgerald105). Gatsby’s embarrassment of his parents’ social and economical status makes him appear as if he has come from totally different parents. He gives people the impression that he belongs to aristocratic wealthy parents. He, moreover, invented a new past, and he changed his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby. Acting as a mechanism of psychological defense, all those fantasies inevitably resulted from an inferiority complex in Jay’s inner psyche.
From a psychoanalytical point of view, one can argue that the cause of Gatsby’s invention of an entirely new past for him is not only because he wanted to belong to the upper class society. The motive behind this can be related to Gatsby’s employment of what Sigmund Freud calls the ego of ‘denial’, which is a defense mechanism. ‘Gatsby’s invented past is more than just a strategy to pass himself off as a member of an upper class; it’s also a form of denial, a psychological defense to help him repress the memory of his real past’ (Gholipour, Sanahmadi 51). His use of denial as a defense mechanism aims to eradicate his childhood events and realities from his conscious, since they strongly contradict his desire for a privileged life; so he just refuses to accept them. Gholipour and Sanahmadi state that Gatsby kills the parents in his mind, since they are considered as painful souvenirs in his psyche (51).
In the same vein, Tyson, in his analysis of Gatsby’s fear of intimacy, suggests the following interpretation: ‘Gatsby’s outrageous idealization of Daisy as the perfect woman’she can do no wrong [‘]. For it is impossible to be intimate with an ideal [‘] Even during the years when his only access to her was through the news items he read on the society page Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy protected him from intimacy with other women (43-44).
Gatsby’s idealization of Daisy proves that he has a fear of intimacy with her, since those who suffer from a fear of intimacy can be satisfied only when they live with someone in the world of fantasy rather than interacting with him in real life. This is to avoid the possibility for an intimate relationship with that person. In short, Gatsby’s idealization of Daisy protects him from being intimate with her; yet it guards him from intimacy with other women as well.
Through his behaviors, the narrator of the novel, like Gatsby, shows a fear of intimacy. Early on in the novel, when Nick sees Jordan Baker in Daisy’s house, he gets attracted to her appearance. He describes her body as ‘extended full length on the divan’, and likes ‘her flutter lips’ (Fitzgerald 11). However, this enchantment moves sooner to disenchantment. Nick’s relationship with Jordan seems to end even before he goes further in it. He does not feel comfortable with her carelessness and indifference. Nick finally overcomes his attraction after the death of Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, who is killed in a car accident by Daisy. Soon after, Nick reached the scene, and he fell apart because of her death. On the contrary, Jordan, who goes with him there, does not care at all about Myrtle’s awful death. After that, Jordan opens a conversation with Nick:
‘Won’t you come in, Nick?’
I was feeling a little sick and I wanted to be alone. But
Jordan lingered for a moment more.
‘It’s only half past nine,’ she said (Fitzgerald 152).
Here, Jordan does not care at all about the dead woman she has just seen after that terrible accident; she just asks Nick to be in a company with her at Buchanan’s house. Her reaction has shocked Nick, and leads him, consequently, to dislike Jordan and Tom. In fact, Nick seems to be in love with Jordan before discovering her true nature. He sees her at first when she was another world of ‘rotogravure pictures of the sporting life at Asheville and Hot Springs and Palm Beach’, and got fascinated by her (Fitzgerald 21-22). However, once he comes to get closer to her, entering to her real world, Nick runs away from her as much as possible.
Before meeting Jordan, Nick had a relationship with two women in his past life,butit did not last for so long. Tyson states:
Nick’s fear of intimacy is not limited to his relationship with Jordan is suggested by his two previous romances[‘] Clearly, [‘][his fist] relationship was more serious than he cares to acknowledge, and he wants out. Similarly, in New York City, [but] when the affair became somewhat serious, he dropped her, again in the manner most likely to avoid an emotional scene. In his relationships with women, Nick is a master of avoidance and denial’ (40).
Before his attraction to Jordan, Nick’s relationships with the two other women before meeting Jordan are characterized by an utter lack of seriousness; so, they lasted for a short time. This is probably because he is afraid of any intimacy with those women. Therefore, when he feels that things are getting closer than they should, he just gets away to feel secure.
All the characters mentioned above exemplify the unconscious difficulty in creating deep relationships with others, and in holding on to intimacy. Their relationships with others are either broken in some cases, or subject to change in others.
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby appears to us as a tragedy which tells the love story between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Yet, if we get deeper into the characters’ personality, the novel reveals another psychological feeling. Analyzing the plot, the characters, and the setting, we find that shame has probably a great impact on the novel’s story in general.
Throughout the novel, we clearly notice Gatsby’s displays of those generous parties which are deliberately done in such a lavish way. We also observe how people who are invited to New York and the Eggs are attracted to wealth and luxury. This attraction to wealth was a characteristic of the 1920s American society, as discussed in the first chapter. From a psychological point of view, Gatsby’s exaggeration in displaying his wealth definitely comes as a reaction to cover his shame of being born to poor parents. This psychological reaction is called a ‘reaction formation’. This term refers to a psychological mechanism of defense which is introduced by Freud. The researchers Baumeister, Dale, and Sommer provide a description of his concept. They write:
The concept of reaction formation involves converting a socially unacceptable impulse into its opposite. To apply this notion to esteem protection, one may propose the following: People respond to the implication that they have some unacceptable trait by behaving in a way that would show them to have the opposite trait. Institutions of hostility or intolerance might, for example, be countered with exaggerated efforts to prove oneself a peace-loving or tolerant person (5).
In other words, reaction formation happens when a person does or says something which is contradictory to what he/she really is, only to defend his/her self-esteem, or because of a fear of being criticized. Accordingly, Gatsby’s excessively presents his wealth to others especially to Daisy and Nick. For example, in Chapter Five of the novel, Gatsby says to Nick, ‘My house looks well doesn’t it? […] See how the whole front of it catches the light’ (96). Gatsby intentionally shows off his achievements to Daisy, since he wants to see his success in being rich through Daisy’s eyes. In the same chapter, Nick says: ‘He [Gatsby] hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes’ (98). Actually, Gatsby through showing off his wealth to others wants to convert ‘a socially unacceptable impulse [in the roaring twenties society, which is belonging to the lower class,] into its opposite’ (Baumeister, Dale, and Sommer 5).
Moreover, his reaction formation is strongly put up around his shame of belonging to a poor lower-class family. This feeling of shame pushes him to work hard for five years in order to build another prosperous future and get detached from his miserable past. This explains well his creation of a new name and personality for himself. The social philosopher Helen Lynd tries to give a psychological definition to shame, comparing it to guilt. She explains what the American psychoanalyst Frantz Alexander think of these two feelings. She writes:
A somewhat similar distinction is made by Frantz Alexander. Guilt, he believes gives rise to the feeling ‘I am not good’ in contrast to the feeling in shame ‘I am weak’ or inadequate. A sense of guilt arises from a feeling of wrongdoing. A sense of shame from a feeling of inferiority. Inferiority feelings in shame are rooted in deeper conflict in the personality than the sense of wrongdoing in guilt; feelings of inferiority, in this view, are personal phenomena, whereas guilt feelings result from efforts for social adjustment (28).
While guilt is based on a bad feeling emanating from doing something wrong, shame, contrariwise, is based upon a displeasure coming from an external experience. It originates in an inner conflict in one’s personality. In other words, shame can be considered as a problem of identity, since it makes someone develop dangerous self-destroying thoughts about himself like who is he, for instance, or he might think that he is totally shattered and does not deserve any privileges. We can notice Gatsby’s feeling of shame from his reactions to many events in the novel. Gershen Kaufman, who discusses the ways people respond to shame, singles outrage which ‘serves as vital self-protective function by insulating the self against further exposure [‘] rage insulates the wounded self. When rage becomes further magnified as hatred it will function to keep others away. These secondary reactions function to mask shame from view’ (20). Rage as a reaction to shame provides a protection to the injured self from other unsympathetic contacts. Gatsby’s reaction to Tom’s accusations, during that confrontation at the Plaza, is due to a narcissistic injury in Gatsby’s psyche. As Tom starts to tell Daisy that Gatsby earned his money through illegal means, Gatsby seems to get gradually angry with him. Nick comments on Gatsby’s facial expression at this moment: ‘he looked [‘] as if he had ‘killed a man’ (144). This statement reveals his great rage, since he gets totally ashamed of Tom’s true accusations. Gershen Kaufman attributes shame to the loss of relationships. He declares:
Loss of the dream can activate shame in the sphere of relationships [‘]. The dream may be one of marriage, family, or a particular lifestyle. Any life event that thwarts an individual’s dream has the potential to activate powerlessness and then shame. The actual loss of a relationship also means loss of the dream, which is why failure in marriage is such a potent source of shame (53).
Shame can also result from a loss of someone’s dream in making a successful relationship. This failure can leave him so powerless that he will feel ashamed later on. This is exactly what happens to Gatsby, since his failure in achieving his dream which is an eternal relationship with Daisy makes him feel ashamed. This is why he tries to convince Nick at the end of the novel that Daisy will call him sooner to be with him: ‘I suppose Daisy’ll call too’. Gatsby displays this idea to Nick, looking at him ‘anxiously as if he hoped [‘] [Nick]’d corroborate this’ (164). Gatsby’s waiting for Nick to confirm his idea about Daisy’s coming back reinforces his feeling of shame because of the obvious failure of this relationship.
In addition to Gatsby, one can argue that Daisy’s shame of her infidelity to Gatsby leads her to accept Tom’s love affairs with another woman. She feels that she deserves to be neglected by her husband. Daisy Buchanan is the object of Gatsby’s affection in this novel, and like Gatsby, she is completely dishonest. She is unfaithful to Tom when she has a love affair with Gatsby. During the confrontation at the Plaza which involves Tom, Daisy and Gatsby, Daisy halfhearted admits: ‘I never loved him [Tom]’ (141). However, she soon claims again that she loved Tom and Gatsby. Daisy’s dishonesty, in fact, is out of her shame. Being a woman who belongs to the 1920s society, Daisy recognizes that both divorce and love affair are still considered to be something shameful.
Shame is mainly about having worries about how others think about us. Throughout the novel, the characters are afraid their wrong deeds are being seen; thus, it is probably axiomatic that the billboard eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, appearing at the Valley of Ashes, is the most influential symbol in The Great Gatsby. The eyes seem to glare, suspiciously, at these characters. For instance, just before the confrontation between Tom and Gatsby, Nick states that: ‘the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil but I perceived [‘] that other eyes were regarding us with peculiar intensity from less than twenty feet away'(132). This statement probably indicates Nick’s attention to these watching vigil eyes that keep detecting him in a fearful, suspected way. George Wilson directly links Eckleburg’s eyes to the eyes of God. He says to Myrtle after he discovered that she was cheating on him at the end of the novel: ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!’ (170). It is clear from this sentence that Mr. Wilson is very aware of those God-like eyes, and he seems wondering why Myrtle is not afraid to be seen by them.
Between those who are ashamed of their past and the others whose shame is related to what they have done recently, the identity of The Great Gatsby’s characters is undergoing a crisis. This identity crisis puts them in a continuous state of fear and unhappiness.
To sum up, the characters’ feelings and behaviors in The Great Gatsby have been a subject of interest to many psychoanalysts. Since the novel was written in the roaring twenties, it unavoidably depicts the new psychological issues that the modernist era brought. It expresses, in this light, the characters’ inner conflicts in discovering their true selves. The influence of the unconscious mind, the feelings of inferiority, trauma, and shame, in addition to emotional relationships are all expressed by The Great Gatsby’s characters. Accordingly, these fictional characters can be viewed as psychological case studies, reflecting the issue of modernist identity.
Indisputably, the new changes that modernity brought to the United States during the 1920s resulted in a huge economic, technological, and political advance. However, it threw the social and the personal experiences of Americans into a total confusion. Modern Americans struggled to establish both their national and individual identity. The old spiritual and moral values were strongly overthrown. In fact, Americans found themselves groping for new ones. This change in their perspectives did not have a negative influence on their national experience only; it also overwhelmed their psychological entity.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby portrays the quintessential twentieth-century society of America, with all its changes which were felt as new. Consequently, they had perplexing effects on the lives and the lives of the characters. The novel is almost remembered as extremely associated with American modernity. Fitzgerald’s fascination with modern New York City, new vast cars, and electric lights, through the novel, creates in our minds an accurate image of urbanism in that era. Social mobility, which is witnessed right after the First World War, can be noticed as a recurrent idea in the novel. The American society started to take on new modern values, which were seen as threatening to the traditional ones, belonging to the previous century.
This clash of values in the United States is depicted through the events of TheGreat Gatsby, and summarized, finally, in Nick Carraway’s comment on the novel as being a story about the West. The main characters, including Tom, Gatsby, Daisy, Jordan, and Nick are all identified as westerners who cannot adapt to the eastern life. The East is linked to the new lifestyle of Americans, with all its immorality and indifference, whereas the West is connected mainly with conventional moral values. The contrast set between the western and the eastern lifestyle definitely put the characters’ identities in trouble. This identity trouble can be said to unite all the main characters in spite of the fact that they are originally described in the novel as contrasting each other. The characters’ struggle between two lifestyles presents another different insight into the concept of American national identity, which becomes totally different from what was known before.
Erupted debates over the American national identity formed a prevalent characteristic of the 1920s time period, since almost all Americans have re-evaluated and re-identified who they are, what they do share in common, and what makes them different. This is reflected in The Great Gatsby’s plot. The novel depicts the fluid social identity of Americans, through the main characters, especially Gatsby who lives in a dilemma that resulted from the struggle between the modern values and the traditional ones.
The concept of the American Dream, which has been for so long presenting American identity, seems to change dramatically in the modern times. The Great Gatsby portrays this dream’s shift from a quest of success and happiness through ambition and hard work to a search for pure materialistic gains. Money becomes the main condition for a happy life, leading consequently to the corruption of the characters’ dreams. Seeing materialistic gains as the only solution to his troubles, Jay Gatsby builds his personality on a series of lies, especially when it comes to his family and the source of his wealth. The corruption of the American Dream is represented through the Buchanans whose immoral and careless behaviors with others leads them to an utter failure in their pursuit of happiness. Besides, Myrtle Wilson, whose materialistic tendency is clear in the novel, believes the wealthy East Egger Tom to be her ideal dream. The perversion of the American dream, presented by the main characters, enables one to recognize how much their national identities are corrupted.
As Gatsby represents the corrupted American Dream, he also embodies the same dream, but in its pure version. Described in the novel as a romantic dreamer for the best life, Gatsby pursues money in favor of his immaterial uncorrupted love for Daisy. The fact that Gatsby’s idealized dream contradicts his corrupted twenties era environment can never deny its original purity and truth.
Moreover, The Great Gatsby mirrors the problem of race which was raised again in the United States during the 1920s. It implicitly refers to that national debate between modernists, who refuse the superiority of races, and nativists who give importance to the white Nomadic race to form one’s identity. Tom Buchanan is presented in the novel as the most racist character, because of his hostile discourses through which he confirms and proves scientifically the dominance of the Nomadic race over other races.
Equally important, the issue of social class positions raises another apparent debate in Fitzgerald’s novel, and significantly affects the characters’ national identity. This issue is mainly represented through the different settings of the novel. Fitzgerald, throughout the novel, tries to depict the enormous split between the societies, living in different settings. The setting of the two rich peninsulas West Egg and East Egg, in contrast to that of the Valley of Ashes, noticeably reflects this social split. The settings of the novel affect almost all the main characters especially Gatsby whose dream, at the end of the novel, is discovered to be more related to his longing for the upper class society than to Daisy herself. This split between classes, in addition to those previously discussed national problems, lead the main characters of The Great Gatsby to a serious crisis in their American identity.
This work also evinces that Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby does not only explore the national American identity. The characters’ psychological feelings and behaviors are also meant to be the center of attention in the novel. Writers of the period, including Fitzgerald, were influenced by psychologists who deeply turned people’s minds to the inner psyche of the modern individual. The novel, therefore, can be said to reveal the psychological inner struggles of the characters.
Trying to understand the characters’ behaviors, the Freudian analysis of gender difference and its effect on the object choice gives Daisy and Gatsby’s love story a clear meaning. The inner struggles that both pass through are mainly caused, to use Freud’s terminology, by Daisy’s womanish narcissism, on the one hand, and Gatsby’s idealization of Daisy which represents men’s natural display of a total love object, on the other hand.
Deep down, the psychological problems that the novel’s main characters suffer from can be reflected in a range of overlapping feelings and behaviors, which overwhelm their identities. Gatsby’s psychological trauma results from his painful experience with Daisy, since it makes him incapable to distinguish reality from illusion. Therefore, it results in a fragmentation in his psyche. This fragmentation prevents the characters from real emotional attachments in their relationships with others. It is seen especially in Daisy’s avoidance of close relationships with both Tom and Gatsby. Moreover, the characters’ fear of intimacy seems to be implicitly linked to their feeling of inferiority, which makes them unable to overcome conflicts in their lives. This feeling of inferiority that the characters express throughout the novel contributes, in turn, to the development of a deep feeling of shame in their psyches. Gatsby’s shame of belonging to a low class family, for an instance, can be considered as a source of his exaggerations in showing off his wealth and properties. The psychological feelings of the characters which are discussed above are entrenched in a deeper struggle in their personalities, leading to a crisis in their identity in addition to a constant feeling of unhappiness in their lives.
The Great Gatsby discusses the issue of modern identity which is usually identified and associated with the period of the twentieth century. This issue that is raised in the modern period does not merely influence American people in terms of their national identity. It also enables the reader to observe those inner struggles of the individuals to discover their true self. This work will hopefully entice future researchers to show more interest not only in the subject of social identity in The Great Gatsby, but also to deal with the characters’ individual identity, by psychoanalyzing them.
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