It is in human nature to define ones own role in society, as time goes on that role shifts and shatters and reforms anew. Both Coupland and Fitzgerald, in their novels “jPod” and “The Great Gatsby”, explore this theme of identity through; creation of a persona for personal gain, the impacts to that persona and internal turmoil that can be caused by external influences, and the potential harsh realization of reality that stems from filling a persona.
The characters in both novels, much like many people in real life, strive to accomplish many goals, mainly stemming from social and romantic origins, and in order to achieve these goals, characters will take the role of a self-created persona. For example, take John Doe, who tries to be as average as possible in all aspects of his life. “Grew up in a lesbian commune and was home-schooled until the age of 12... Wants to be statistically normal to counteract his wacko upbringing. (p35, jPod) John changes his name, bases all his opinions, and relearns all he know about the world, so that he can achieve a part in the social scene that he desires to join, mass consumer culture. Another example from “jPod”, Bree tries to act french and classy. “'So you're still determined to be classy for Mr. French Guy? ''Absolutely. '” (p235, jPod) Bree takes on the persona of a sophisticated french member of the “high culture” community to try to achieve a romantic goal, staying with the classy frenchman Luc.
Unsurprisingly, characters in “The Great Gatsby” also create personas for some similar reasons. For example Daisy purposely acts submissive and unintelligent, and wishes the same for her daughter. “... that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool. ” (p17, The Great Gatsby) She knows that in order to be a member of the luxurious upper class society, a woman must not express opinions or in any way threaten a man intellectually, since she desires this lifestyle for her and her daughter she acts a fool, much like John acts normal to become a mass consumer.
Gatsby also creates a persona, creating and intricate map of lies about his wealth, past, and family. “So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent. ” (p101, The Great Gatsby) Gatsby creates this lie to amaze and impress his love interest, Daisy. Much like Bree, he creates this persona for romantic gain. Whether or not from romantic or social origins, both novels cover the roles that personal desire plays in the creation of an alternate persona.
However strong a persona, it is liable to change at a moments notice based on the unforeseen external influences. In “jPod”, freedom changes her name to Kimberly and becomes a polar opposite personality to what she was previously. “'Kam told me that if I wanted to be a true radical, I should infiltrate and hyperbolize the concepts I consider to be my opposite. ” (p504, jPod) freedom compromises what she considered to be right and wrong, her moral compass, after harsh feedback from Kam. Though a small event, the words of Kam made freedom completely transform and become Kimberly.
Mark also changes that which he stands for after pressure from his peers labelling him “Evil Mark. ” “'You'd rather have everyone here in jPod call you Evil Mark for almost a year, instead of simply telling us to screw off. '” (p441, jPod) Mark, being the newest in the department and eager to fit in, wanted to please his peers, so he conformed to the identity they gave him. The characters in “jPod” are not the only ones subject to these external forces, characters in “The Great Gatsby” are just as vulnerable to their effects.
However not all of then succumb to these forces, for example Nick refuses the shady work offered to him by Gatsby. “'Well this would interest you... it happens to be a rather 'confidential sort of thing''... 'much obliged but I couldn't. '” (p83, The Great Gatsby) Nick refuses to go against his own moral compass despite the allure of money and the pressure provided by Gatsby, unlike freedom who changed her identity and gave up her moral compass at the slightest sign of adversity.
Gatsby also alters the persona he created based on external forces, he stops throwing his elaborate parties based on one comment made by Daisy. “At first I thought it was another party... but there wasn't a sound. ” (p82, The Great Gatsby) Gatsby wants to please Daisy so he changes a large part of his persona at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction, just like Mark with the other jPodders. The impact that external forces can play is enormous, especially relating to identity, where it causes either great internal debate, a complete shift in personas, or potentially both.
However, the most powerful force of identity is the potential realization of reality that can occur while portraying a persona, and the lengths to which people will go to preserve the personas they hold dear. For example Carol realizes she may in fact be a lesbian, despite previous denial, after freedom changes. “'Ethan, I... I think I might be a lesbian. '” (p506, jPod) She realizes' after months of denial and claims that her and freedom are only friends and share similar beliefs, that the whole time she had romantic feelings for freedom.
Steve also realizes he was living a lie in his forced and obviously fake corporate lifestyle. “'There was a part of me that knew things were all wrong in my life... I am no longer a prisoner to that part of me that made me such a corporate suck-hole. '” (p359, jPod) After being removed from his persona, by being shot up with heroin and sent to China, Steve had an opportunity to realize the life he was living was an intricately crafted lie to please people who didn't care about him. On “The Great Gatsby” side of things, Wilson realizes his ideas of a happy marriage are just an illusion. 'He had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world. '” (p124, The Great Gatsby) After lying to himself and suppressing the suspicions of his wife’s infidelity, a realization brought about by a loved ones affairs with another, much like Carol, led to Wilson’s realization about his marriage. Gatsby, on the other hand, values his persona so much that he gets killed so he doesn't have to witness the persona he crafted crumble around him. “Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come..
He paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. ” (p162, The Great Gatsby) Gatsby held on to the persona too tightly to be removed from it, denying himself the opportunity to realize how flawed his lifestyle was, this kept building a more and more intricate lie, until it collapsed, killing him as part of the aftermath. The characters in both books cover a wide range of possible outcomes of this realization process; from happiness, to depression, to madness, and finally, to a tragic and early death.
Through these characters and their struggles with identity, both Coupland and Fitzgerald capture the cycle that all people go through to create roles for themselves to fill, starting from the inception, to the changes along the way, and finally to the eventual realization that a role is merely being filled, inspiring either depression or a search for who they truly are. It is the great cycle of finding ones self, a goal which is regularly set but impossible to achieve, which is so eloquently captured by Coupland and Fitzgerald.