Essay: Hemingway Fitzgerald

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Hemingway / Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby: Themes and Characterization

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a story of a failed attempt to live the American Dream. It tells the story of a man, Jay Gatsby, who attempts to create a perfect image of a member of the American aristocracy. He claims to have studied in Oxford, uses phrases like 'old sport,' and buys a palatial mansion in the (less) fashionable section of Long Island known as West Egg. However, the people who attend his lavish parties view Gatsby with contempt. Despite the common ideology that America is a meritocracy, early on in the story it becomes obvious that America has a rigid class system, with clearly delineated social markers that cannot be bought or sold. Gatsby's ridiculously ostentatious home and his intellectual pretentions are mocked by one of his visitors who says upon visiting the Gatsby household:

"See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too -- didn't cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?" (Chapter 3)

The books are not false -- Gatsby is not that crass, but he has clearly not read a single word as the books are still sealed and the pages are uncut. Despite the humor in this situation, however, Fitzgerald suggests that the members of the 'truly' aristocratic class of the Island are no better educated. Their moral bankruptcy is perfectly embodied in Tom Buchannan, a racist and violent Princeton graduate who is clearly attractive to his wife Daisy because of his money, not because of his personal attributes.

"Civilization's going to pieces," broke out Tom violently. "I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read 'The Rise of the Colored Empires' by this man Goddard?"

"Why, no," I answered, rather surprised by his tone.

"Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. 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" (Chapter 1).

Although Gatsby is really not an 'Oxford man' Tom and Daisy possess no more intellectual capabilities than he does, although people sneer at Gatsby's library and not at Tom's ideas. Fitzgerald makes it clear that this is only because Tom's status in society is secure, not because Tom is a better person. True, Gatsby's wealth is based in ill-gotten gains -- he is a bootlegger. But so is the wealth of people like the Buchanans, as their wealth is inherited and not earned by hard work, despite what the American ideology Gatsby 'buys into' suggests should be the source of prosperity. They have done nothing to earn their money -- a Marxist would even say that their wealth is also stolen from the working classes. Both Daisy and Tom reveal themselves to accomplished liars.

One of the dominant themes of Gatsby is that ugly untruths exist behind the surface of beauty. Daisy and Tom seem like a lovely couple, but Tom is a crass adulterer and Daisy marries Tom for his money, and stays with him for the social cache he provides her. Gatsby's wealth is a less dangerous lie because people can see through it -- everyone knows he is a bootlegger, and no one takes his pretentions seriously except for Nick Caraway, the narrator who becomes enamored with Gatsby, even though he should know better, given his own higher social status. Daisy herself is a lie -- Gatsby sees her as pure, and protects her honor by taking a 'fall' for her when she runs over Myrtle, Tom's lover. He claims he was in the driver's seat. But after Gatsby commits suicide, Daisy does not seem scarred for life, and fairly quickly and easily moves past her unpleasant memories.

Daisy, for whom Gatsby has done everything, is beautiful and has social class but there is nothing behind the veneer. Although Gatsby works hard, in the true spirit of American ingenuity, to win Daisy's love, she does not reward him in kind. She is not willing to take risks unlike the man who loves her. Yet although Daisy is materialistic, it is also possible to suggest that Gatsby is just as obsessed with material objects. He mistakes the image for what is real, and substitutes things in his heart for deeper values. It is suggested that he loves the image of Daisy more than the real woman -- what she represents is more important than anything she says or does. For example, after Gatsby leaves the army he wanders around the city where she married, if he can access Daisy through the presence of material things that are near and dear to her -- or as if the presence of the idea of Daisy is more important than the woman herself: "Just as Daisy's house had always seemed to him more mysterious and gay than other houses, so his idea of the city itself, even though she was gone from it, was pervaded with a melancholy beauty" (Chapter 8).

Both Daisy and Gatsby continually mistake things for feelings -- Gatsby buys expensive shirts to wear to prove he is of Daisy's social class, and Daisy cradles the shirts as if they were Gatsby, as if she is trying to show she understands how much he has done for her, but also as if she does not see a difference between clothing and humanity: "He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher -- shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily. "They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such -- such beautiful shirts before" (Chapter 5). Daisy is crying over the fact that Gatsby has done so much to win her love and Gatsby believes he can win Daisy and seem like a true member of the aristocracy by buying fine British shirts. However, no commodity can heal the sickness of Long Island pretentions -- class cannot be bought either with old money or new money, Fitzgerald suggests.

The Sun Also Rises: Themes and Characterization

Boredom, aimlessness, and impotence pervade Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises. The novel tells the story of American expatriates living in Europe after World War I. The narrator, Jack Barnes, is depressed and unable to cope with life outside the army. He loves Brett, Lady Ashley, but his desire for her is thwarted by the fact she is married and by his impotence. Brett tells Jakes she loves him but hints she could never be satisfied by an impotent man. But even the other male characters of the novel who do not have Jake's problem are less dominant than the short-haired, magnetic Brett. Traditional masculinity, the novel suggests, is a causality of the war. The only real vitality in the book is provided by the bullfighters that the characters witness, men who risk life and death in the arena outside of the artificial political strife of nations.

The characters of the book seem empty and unfulfilled, and drift aimlessly. The two main characters, Jake and the ex-boxer Robert Cohen, both love Lady Brett, although their love seems less real and more imaginary -- significantly, Jake is a newspaper writer and Cohen wrote a well-received novel. Their literary affiliations suggest they are more comfortable with ideas than the true feelings. The only times Jake feels alive are when he is fishing or watching bullfighting, true masculine pursuits that take him out of a world of ideas. Most their wanderings and fighting seem purposeless. Of course, the most purposeless aspect of the story could be said to be Jake's attraction for Brett, given that he is now incapable of physically performing with her. And Brett, despite her femininity, also seems the more sexualized of all of the characters in the novel -- she sleeps with almost every man who shows interest in her except Jake. This suggests that the war has turned the normal affections and relations of men and women on their heads. Now women call men 'chaps' like Lady Brett, cavort in the company of gay men with cropped hair, as Brett is seen doing at the beginning of the story, and men like Jake cannot 'perform' as men.

The war, instead of giving Jake masculine credentials, takes them away and proves the lie about the futility of war. Even Cohen, a trained boxer,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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