Discuss the view that The Great Gatsby and 1984 concern the attempt of an impossible idealism to realise itself in a grossly materialistic world
What was it that finally brought Gatsby down? The title to this novel seems odd in relation to the way he finally passed: the “great” Gatsby killed over one woman’s death, for which he accepted all blame even though he was innocent. His final demise could be credited to a dream that had soured, though he was so infatuated with achieving a long-desired aspiration that he would do anything to secure it. His dream of course was Daisy.
Similarly the character Winston smith, the main protagonist in George Orwell’s ‘1984’ ultimately sacrifices himself for a similar cause, an unattainable longing for freedom and the love of a woman, both novels share a common theme that is a society where social class takes all precedence. The greatest idealism within The Great Gatsby is the pursuit of happiness and dreams. Gatsby having been so desperate to achieve his dream that he placed every ounce of his effort into building himself into a strong economic and social figure.
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The pursuit of this dream and the effect that it had upon him as a driving force and to have created and achieved as much as he did, shows the power of aspiration. However, this novel grows to be especially hedonistic in its portrayal of life, as it seems as though the majority have become hopelessly preoccupied with the acquisition of their own “happiness”. To quote Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence of 1776 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This search for freedom and happiness naturally dates back to the absolute beginning of the American society to the time of the first colonial settlers. The first settlers were mainly religious refugees who had been driven to the “New World” by persecution. To these settlers America represented to them a new hope, a new life of freedom holding some promise of spiritual and material happiness. Even to those that were not especially religious, America still represented a great opportunity: a land of possibilities.
In these early days, material propriety and progress kept pace with the religious and spiritual goals of the time as the founders; the Puritans and the Quakers both approved of the advancement of industry. This however is quite paradoxical to the situation in Oceania in 1984, The majority of the populace is content with their situation of slavery and poverty, brainwashed into ignorance. Only a few individuals share the desire for liberation, known as “the brotherhood”. The character Winston smith is a parallel with Jay Gatsby in that he is striving for the un-attainable.
Winston smith resents the authoritarian regime of the Party and tries to rebel, but is finally crushed in body and soul. Jay Gatsby fights against the social hierarchy, neglecting his physical and emotional needs and effectively destroying his personality, not living his life, simply living to become successful, in fact following the guidelines of society where physical pleasures were “evil”, hard work and the achievements therein were regarded as indications of a good soul. The engine of the totalitarian state seems to be the common man’s hunger for personal power.
Power is often exercised for its own sake and not seldom in destructive manners; rank is one of few true priviligies in totalitarian states. As Inner Party member O’Brien puts it in Nineteen Eighty-four: “We are the priests of power. [… ] Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. ” It is almost like power becomes more important than life itself; it becomes more important than ideological principles for sure. Power is often expressed through privilegies and wealth, even in communist states. However miserable life may be in a totalitarian state, the ruling class make sure their lives are the least miserable.
Corruption is common on all levels and the party elite wallow in luxuries. For instance, Joseph Stalin’s standard of living was remarkably extravagant and probably exceded most Western presidents’ and kings’. Milan Simecka, a dissident in communist Czechoslovakia, suggests in Our Comrade Winston Smith that this is the fundamental principle of totalitarian systems: the hunger for the fruits of power. Comfort, luxuries and other expressions of materialism have always been the engine in societies throughout history and why should totalitarian societies be different?
Totalitarian societies are more materialistic than other societies, even extreme consumption societies like USA. Creative arts and religion are restricted or even surpressed; utilitarianism and pragmatism leaven all through the totalitarian society. There are no such things as art or beauty as we know it, only insipid Party buildings and propaganda statues. Physical strength is idolised, athletics and body culture is encouraged. It is not a coincidence the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China have been so successful in various sports.