Gatsby is more a ruthless criminal than an irresponsible dreamer
The title of The Great Gatsby, to a certain degree is misleading in the sense that Gatsby is being referred to as ‘Great’. Understandably, this may be a reference to his characteristic, ‘gift of hope’ which encourages him to follow his dream through to the end. Considering the perception that Gatsby is a ruthless criminal, it is an understandable analysis of him considering his involvement in bootlegging and bond fraud. As his distorted version of the American dream is to achieve Daisy, Gatsby realised that he needed wealth in order to fit into Daisy’s world.
Therefore, he followed the ‘Get rich quick scheme’ which was very popular during this new age of the 1920s. This scheme eventually saw him having to resort to crime as a way of accumulating his wealth. Gatsby can be classed as a type of ‘gangster’, and as one he would have had to use many people and conned many people in order to get to where he needed to be. ‘Bootlegging’ was a con as it was the illegal selling of ‘watered-down’ alcohol during the ‘prohibition’. Not only did he take advantage of people as a gangster, but he continued this with people such as Nick and Jordan.
Throughout the novel he uses them to get closer to reaching is true dream which is to retrieve Daisy. In chapter IV, Gatsby reveals to Nick that ‘… Miss Baker has kindly consented to speak to you about this matter. ‘ Here Gatsby selfishly interrupts their arranged date in order to make Jordan inform Nick of Gatsby’s undying love for Daisy and the history which accompanies it. Once Nick knows of this, Gatsby uses Jordan to persuade Nick to arrange tea between her and Gatsby. Jordan says to Nick in chapter IV that he is ‘just supposed to invite her to tea’.
The way in which Gatsby appears to have planned this all shows how he created this friendship for means of no end, so that he could manipulate it to his own advantage. Gatsby is a ruthless criminal in the way he creates a false persona. Kathleen Parkinson wrote: ‘Jay Gatsby flaunts his wealth about through the parties that he holds and the lavish clothes that he wears. This appears to be only a front that Gatsby hides behind as a means of being accepted in this high society. ‘
This is true, as Gatsby holds these parties so that he can create a name for himself in this social group, which may have allowed him to eventually break away from periphery. This was a means of getting closer to Daisy. Another method he used was to convey misleading information to people. In chapter IV, the reader discovered how Gatsby influenced Wolfshiem’s perception of him, when Wolfshiem talks of Gatsby with Nick. Wolfshiem comments, ‘He went to Oggsford College in England. You know Oggsford college? ‘ Gatsby perhaps only went to another college in Oxford, but instead gives out general, unspecific information.
Along with this, he also has various different names such as, ‘Jimmy Gatz’, ‘Jay Gatz’ and ‘Jay Gatsby’. This evidence of how he produces a fake identity, which is characteristic of a criminal. Gatsby has an integral role in the novel as he effectively represents the American Dream, which was the freedom of any American citizen to pursue their goals and dreams through hard work and free choice. Often, people followed the common saying, to ‘Go West young man! ‘ where the land was uninhabited and extremely fertile.
Gatsby appears to have achieved this dream to some extent as he has risen from an impoverished child to a young man with great material wealth. Originating in the West, rural North Dakota, he followed the ‘get rich quick’ scheme, which pushed him towards organized crime. In chapter II Gatsby is described as being a ‘bootlegger’ by one of the guests at his party. During the 1920s, there was a ‘prohibition’ which imposed the law that alcohol was to be banned. Gangsters like Gatsby, were able to make a fortune out of this time through the illegal distribution of alcohol and trading in stolen securities.
This was all a means though of achieving his distorted version of the American Dream, which was to retrieve Daisy. Importantly, he does not abide by the ‘protestant work ethic’ which states that a man should work hard and earn a comfortable living by which he and his family can live a peaceful and enjoyable life. He also participated in a bit of bond fraud on the side as Fitzgerald notifies the reader in chapter IX. A strange phone caller says to Nick (thinking it Gatsby), ‘Young Parke’s in trouble.
They picked him up when he handed the bonds over the counter. The way he commits himself to such illegalities is irresponsible on his behalf. His irresponsibility with money can be paralleled with the Wall Street Crash in the 1930s (after this novel), where money and assets were handled carelessly. Gatsby is irresponsible with his dreams because he is not only jeopardising his own future in order to achieve possibly an unattainable dream, but also the fact that he is endangering the lives of others around him because of the violence that being a gangster embodies.
Fitzgerald uses the whole situation of bootlegging and bond fraud as a social satire in which is trying to criticise the growing moral decadence in modern American society. The concerning issues here are the corrupted values and the decline of spiritual life – which is an important condition related to the American Dream. In another sense, Gatsby is irresponsible in the way he tries taking a married woman away from her husband and possibly her child.
In chapter VII, Gatsby persistently pressurises Daisy with comments like ‘Just tell him (Tom) the truth -that you never loved him. ‘ He clearly is only thinking of obtaining his own dream which is Daisy, and does not stop to think of the effects that it could have on her. If Daisy were to divorce Tom, society would have frowned upon her immensely because ‘fast’ women were considered untrustworthy during the 1920s. She would have lost her public standing and it may have sparked off a ‘public scandal’ which would have been exceptionally painful for her and her family.
Here Gatsby is depicted as an irresponsible dreamer because his dream makes him act irresponsibly due to his ruthless determination to achieve it. In chapter IX, Nick reads Gatsby’s ‘SCHEDULE’ which he wrote as a boy. Its ‘General resolves’ are significant in the way they reveal how Gatsby’s dream had not changed from when he was a teenager. The note, ‘practise elocution, poise and how to attain it’, along with ‘Read one improving book or magazine per week’ both suggest how intent upon bettering his social status he was, so that he could fit in with Daisy’s world.
This part of the novel shows how irresponsible and immature Gatsby is, as he is still working towards a teenager’s dream. Gatsby is not intentionally an irresponsible dreamer, but more a nai?? ve one as he does not realise the fact that his dream is not worthy of him. The way in which Gatsby was driven by his undying love for a woman is a reflection of Fitzgerald’s own life and dreams too. He too joined the army (1917) and eventually fell in love with a seventeen year old girl called ‘Zelda Sayre’.
Zelda finally agreed to marry him, but her overpowering desire for wealth, fun, and leisure led her to delay their wedding until he could prove a success. Their relationship appears to be like Gatsby and Daisy’s. The following quote reveals the point in the novel at which all of Daisy’s charm and beauty is stripped away, leaving nothing but money to be admired underneath: ‘That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money- that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it.
Gatsby realizes late into the novel, how his dream has been ripped apart into ‘dollar bills’ as he discovers that ,for years, he has been in pursuit not of love, but cold, harsh money which is hidden behind the disguise of a human face. Following the death of Gatsby and the suicide of Wilson, it becomes apparent that Fitzgerald may be using the deaths of a rich man and a poor man who both set out to achieve their unattainable goals, to symbolise the death of the original dream on which America was founded. To some extent, Gatsby is a victim of false hope. He is presented with many different appearances due to Nick’s narrative.
In one circumstance, he is revealed to be a criminal but the superficial reasons he has for committing these illegalities are that they are a means of achieving his dream which is Daisy. Gatsby embodies the idea of the dreamers who founded America. These people were in search of new beginnings and this is true of Gatsby, who reinvented himself as Jay Gatsby having previously known as James Gatz. Gatsby is depicted as a man who retains some of the purest traits of the old dream, but loses them by attempting to reach his goals by wearing the dream’s modern face, with its corruption and depravity.
One of Gatsby’s major flaws is his incapability to distinguish between the dream world and the real world, which leads him into irresponsible acts like becoming a ruthless criminal. In a way he is both an irresponsible dreamer and a ruthless criminal, but the aforementioned are a result of his unattainable desire to repeat the past. Conclusively, Gatsby seems to be more a ruthless dreamer who is intent upon achieving his dream at any cost, than anything else.