Attitudes towards love in The Great Gatsby and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s poems are greatly at odds in general terms (Fitzgerald presents love as a destructive power born of the past, whereas EBB regards it as a redeeming hope for the future), but within these differences parallels can be found. These include:
Love is personal and creates especial bonds between two people which cannot be share or reproduced outside of that relationship. “Why – there’re things between Daisy and me that you’ll never know, things that neither of us can ever forget.
” Sonnet XXVIII – her letters, despite being “all dead paper, mute and white!” hold a special meaning for her due to the personal memories they contain. “A simple thing – yet I wept for it!”
Love can be dangerous, and it can be safer to be alone.
“You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well, I met another bad driver, didn’t I?” “I stand unwon, however wooed… lest one touch of this heart, convey its grief.
Love is an external force which seeks to overwhelm humans – something against which we have to fight. “But I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires…” “A mystic Shape did move behind me and drew me backward by the hair… in mastery while I strove… ‘Not Death, but Love.’”
True love should be constant and run deeper than dalliances or lust. “Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time.” “Evermore thou may’st love on through love’s eternity.”
Expressing love is of crucial importance in verifying it, and something which is greatly desired in a relationship. Gatsby urges Daisy to tell Tom that she loves the former, not her husband. “Beloved, say again and yet again that thou dost love me”
Attaining a woman’s love should be enough; asking for her to express it is too much. “Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby.
“And wilt thou have me fashion into speech the love I bear thee?”
However, there are also many contrasting attitudes towards love found in the two texts.
While in The Great Gatsby, the force of love ultimately brings death and hurt, in Sonnets it is seen as a positive and healing force. “Gatbsy believed in the green light… and one fine morning – ” “For perfect strains may float ‘neath master-hands, from instruments defaced.”
In The Great Gatbsy, Fitzgerald suggests that love in the real world is not long-lasting, whereas Barrett-Browning believes it is eternal. “I saw them in Santa Barbara when they came back, and I thought I’d never seen a girl so mad about her husband.” Contrasted with their later broken marriage. “I shall but love thee better after my death.”
God and love are seen as incompatible in The Great Gatsby, as loving a “perishable” human is in direct opposition with loving the eternal and everlasting God; however, in Barrett-Browning’s sonnets, God is actually associated with love. “He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.” “As if God’s future thundered on my past”
In TGG love is seen as very materialistic, whereas in Sonnets it is a spiritual and internal force. “And the day before the wedding he gave her a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.” “Love me also in silence, with thy soul.”
Comments on mortality in The Great Gatsby and Sonnets from the Portuguese are at times in agreement, and at others total opposition.
In both texts, mortality is symbolised through letters – the fleeting vulnerability of life is seen when the letter from Gatsby which Daisy refuses to let go disintegrates, suggesting that the tighter we attempt to grasp at life, the less it lasts. However in contrast, Barrett-Browning’s letters described in Sonnet XXVIII have been carefully kept and treasured; while they too break down (“its ink has paled”), it is more slowly and more gently, holding better to the life they are described as having. The “simple things” they contain, and the meaning they hold for her, achieve some sort of immortality in their lasting written form.
In The Great Gatsby, almost nobody attends Gatsby’s funeral. This is encapsulated by Wolfshiem’s attitude of “letting everything alone…after a man is dead.” Gatsby, despite his parties and stylishness, achieves no immortality in people’s minds following his death; the feelings held for him die when he does. However, in Sonnets, Barrett-Browning claims quite the opposite; rather, that emotion live on after death, and that she will even “love thee better after my death.”
A fear of human mortality and ageing is apparent in both texts. In The Great Gatsby, Nick sees his birthday as “the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair.” Similarly, in Sonnet I Barrett-Browning sees “through my tears… the years… of my own life, who… had flung a shadow across me.” Both these characters realise their own mortality and feel cheated by or unprepared for it.
However, in both texts an acceptance of ageing and mortality can also be found – in The Great Gatsby, it occurs towards the end; Nick finally able to calmly confront and admit his age and its significance, he tells Jordan “I’m thirty. I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honour.” This lack of fear of ageing is echoed when Barrett-Browning asks “Who can fear… too many flowers, though each should crown the year?” She implies that fearing mortality and the progression of time is wrong, and instead one should appreciate what happens within that time.
Characters in both texts express beliefs in renewal and rebirth which make mortality more bearable and perhaps deniable through the symbol of seasons. Jordan asserts that “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” While Barrett-Browning refers to Spring as the renewing season (in Sonnet XXI, Spring is described as “sweet” and “green” – symbolising the new life which comes with being in love), the meaning is the same; a new beginning in which the decay of the past is eradicated. In this way the characters are able to stave off their own mortality – or at least the fear and emotional effects of it.
Both Myrtle and Barrett-Browning express an attempt to escape their mortality and its emotional effects through love. For Myrtle, she was spurred to begin her affair with Tom Buchanan through the realisation of her own mortality (“All I kept thinking about, over and over, was ‘You can’t live forever; you can’t live forever.’”). Ironically, it is this affair which shortens her life dramatically. However, in Sonnet XLIII Barrett-Browning’s escape from mortality through love has a positive effect on her; she speaks directly to her lover, saying “I love thee with the passion, put to use, of my old griefs”. While she is also obviously affected by the dissatisfaction and suffering of her past, she uses it in the creation of something positive. In this way she is able to escape the perceived hopelessness of her future and mortality.
Religion in The Great Gatsby and Sonnets from the Portuguese are greatly at odds. Basically, in The Great Gatsby God is seen as dead and/or ineffectual, whereas Barrett-Browning sees it as an underlying force which has an ultimate power.
In TGG God (in the form of T.J. Eckleburg) glares down disapprovingly on the Valley of Ashes, the site of Tom and Myrtle’s infidelity and her death; however, He is powerless to prevent either of these things. In Sonnets, Barrett-Browning defers to God as having the ultimate decision even in something as personal as her emotions. “And, if God choose, I shall but love
thee better after my death.”
Capitalism has replaced God in the American depicted by Fitzgerald; indeed, the only manifestation of God is a billboard sign. This emphasises the leading power in the world – consumerism and greed for money. “God sees everything,” repeated Wilson. “That’s an advertisement,” Michaelis assured him. Contrastingly, Barrett-Browning portrays God as being represented in nature (with references to “Spring”, “sun”, “hill & plain” etc); this suggests that natural forces are more powerful than humans ones, and therein God shows Himself.
The only real role of religion in The Great Gatsby is as a lie to justify adultery. “It’s really his wife that’s keeping them apart. She’s a Catholic, and they don’t believe in divorce.” Daisy was not a Catholic, and I was a little shocked at the elaborateness of the lie. In Sonnets, God’s role is to guide the lives of Men, and lends itself towards an unadulterous and good love. “As if God’s future thundered on my past.”
However, there are also some elements in both texts which could be read as similarities.
Daisy and Jordan both wear white, a colour which is associated with religious purity, holiness and saintliness; however, this is proven to be a false imagery, as both are spoiled by corruption and impurity. “Weighing down their dresses like silver idols.” Barrett-Browning also expresses an unusual (for her) religious cynicism in her lines “The love I seemed to lose with my lost Saints”. Is it possible that she, like Fitzgerald, is attempting to communicate a certain distrust of holy appearances?
Both texts also emphasise the importance of religion, though Fitzgerald does this through illustrating an instance in which it’s lacking (“You ought to have a church, George, for times like this”) whereas for Barrett-Browning it’s more of a pervasive theme that God permeates and is essential to every aspect of her life and love.
Cite this F. Scott Fitzgerald and Love
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Love. (2016, Jul 10). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/f-scott-fitzgerald-and-love/