The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is an intricate and compelling story.  It details the tragedy of one James Gatz, and his desire for power, money and the love of one woman. It details the tragedy of power and desire.

The Great Gatsby exposes the human condition, in all its misery.  Two themes emerge in Fitzgerald’s narrative.  Desire’s ability to direct our actions; power and money’s ability to destroy both our desires and our selves.

James Gatz first attempts to invent himself as Jay Gatsby, first mate and chief steward on a wealthy man’s yacht.  But power and money take that from him.  Gatsby become a military officer.  With the end of the war, he attempts to reinvent himself by becoming a millionaire playboy.

Jay Gatsby’s desire for Daisy drives everything he does from the day he meets her.  He even admits he knew he had to make the decision between who he believed he was destined to be and his desire for her.  Desire always wins; otherwise it isn’t desire, it is some other, lesser human emotion.

Gatsby is swept away by war but his desire remains.  Her desire for him, or what he believes to be her desire, quickly fades and is replaced by her true desire for power.  With money comes power.

Upon return from the war Jay Gatsby finds it necessary to invent himself again.  This time he makes himself into a mysterious millionaire, with ambiguous business relationships and the wanton social life only money can bring.  But his desire is not for power or money.  It’s for Daisy. Everything else is a means to that end.

Gatsby uses the power his money brings to find Daisy.  He believes his money will give him the power to reclaim Daisy’s love and desire.   But the power money buys will never overcome the power of money.  This is a difficult concept to define and the novel does not develop the distinction very well.

The Great Gatsby is a story about old money and new money.  No matter how much wealth Gatsby might acquire, no matter how many times he invents himself, he will always be a poor white boy from the sticks.  Money simply isn’t enough to make him successful in Daisy’s world.  Doing everything possible to make himself acceptable leads directly to his ruin.

Although her motives are not examined in the novel, Daisy manipulates Jay Gatsby as military officer and Jay Gatsby as millionaire playboy.  Even in the beginning she knew he did not meet the requirements of her social standing.  She was indulging her rebellion in an illicit relationship with this poor military officer off to war.  She was toying with forbidden fruit, telling him that she would walk away from it, all for his desire.  She knew even then that would not happen.

When they are reunited she knows she will never leave her comfortable, cosseted life.  She also knows she can use the power of  Gatsby’s desire to manipulate him and her husband at the same time.  His insistence that she profess her desire, her love for him ends in calamity.  He discovers her desire is for the power of money, and not the power that money can buy.  She confesses that money and power are the object of her desire saying she will not leave her husband for him, leaving Gatsby lost and vulnerable. In the final act of this tragedy, those with the power and the money take everything he is, everything he has made himself into, away.

This is not a story of love. It’s a story of desire and power, and in the end, a tragedy.