The Great Gatsby is more effective as a symbolic novel than as a realist novel
The Great Gatsby is more effective as a symbolic novel than as a realist novel. With reference to appropriately selected parts of the novel, and relevant external contextual information on symbolic novels and realist novels, give your response to the above view. In literature a symbolic novel can be defined as a novel with meaning to the writing beyond what is actually being described. The plot and action that take place in a story can be thought of as one level, while the symbolism of certain things in the writing act on another level to enhance the story.
On the other hand, a realist novel can be defined as an approach that attempts to describe life without idealisation or romantic subjectivity. It is undeniable the The Great Gatsby contains elements of both, but it is more effective as a symbolic novel than a realist novel due to the amount of symbolism and representation contained in its characters and plot. In examining this view, a good place to start is how Gatsby symbolises the American Dream. Gatsby as a character is highly symbolic and his life epitomises the American Dream, the idea that with a bit of hard work anyone can become affluent and fulfilled.
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Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle is used to symbolise the dream, such as the description of his house, “a colossal affair by any standard… spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. ” Even though we find out differently in subsequent chapters, you would be forgiven for initially thinking that Gatsby was a perfectly fulfilled man, wealthy and happy as a result of his hard work and endeavour. Gatsby has certainly worked hard to acquire all that he has.
According to Thomas Wolfe, every man in America has the right to become, “whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him. ” This certainly applies to Gatsby. He represents the American Dream of self-made wealth and happiness, the spirit of youth and resourcefulness, and the ability to defy his past and make something of himself. It could even be argued that Gatsby is symbolic of America itself, and how the country rose from nothing to being one of the world’s greatest superpowers in a relatively short period of time.
This clear use of symbolism on Fitzgerald’s part is evidence that The Great Gatsby is more effective as a symbolic novel than as a realist novel. Further support for this proposition can be found when we consider that Gatsby and Daisy collectively symbolise romance and unrequited love. Fitzgerald describes Gatsby’s desire for Daisy using highly symbolic language, of which the most important symbol is, of course, the, “single green light,” at the end of the pier. This light comes to symbolise Gatsby’s desire and longing for Daisy.
Another way in which the relationship is described symbolically is when Fitzgerald writes, “he found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail. ” The reference to a grail draws an interesting comparison between Gatsby and the legendary literary figure of Sir Lancelot. The highly sought after Holy Grail was the chalice used by Jesus and it symbolises a long journey of devotion and patience, and is an extended symbolic metaphor to represent Gatsby’s heroic longing for Daisy. Another similarity between the two literary figures is their relationships with women.
In true romantic style, both men believe it is their chivalric duty to protect women. Lancelot is, “bound by oath to protect ladies. ” Likewise, Gatsby cares deeply for Daisy: “I want to wait here till Daisy goes to bed. ” Gatsby is also willing to sacrifice his own reputation for Daisy’s sake after the car accident: “but of course, I’ll say that I was [driving]. ” Gatsby is used in this way to symbolise the very essence of chivalric romance, proving that The Great Gatsby is more effective as a symbolic novel than a realist novel.
Another instance of symbolism in the novel is the character of Dan Cody and how he represents the American frontiersman. The American frontiersman of earlier times can be defined as a settler who came from another land (usually Europe) to find work and conquer new lands. We are told that he was, “a product of the Nevada silver fields, of the Yukon, of every rush for metal since seventy-five. ” This is a reference to the Gold Rush. In these metal rushes, workers would migrate quickly to an area rich in a certain metal seeking a profit.
The particular Yukon gold rush in question was the Klondike Gold Rush. These exploits, “made him many times a millionaire. ” Dan Cody is the quintessential frontiersman who uses the natural resources that can be found in new lands to build up a fortune. Furthermore, it is likely that his character is based off a real frontiersman called William Cody, or Buffalo Bill. Even from the young age of 14, in 1860 Cody decided to search for gold, with news of gold at Fort Collins, Colorado and the Holcomb Valley Gold Rush in California.
Cody symbolises the self-reliance and determination that characterised frontiersmen and ultimately he is just one of many deeply symbolic characters presented in the novel. In light of this, it perplexes me that anyone could claim that The Great Gatsby is not more effective as a symbolic novel than as a realist novel. Those that oppose my view claim that The Great Gatsby is more effective as a realist novel than a symbolic novel. Richard Chase defined several characteristics of what makes a realist novel.
He said that a realist novel uses selective presentation of a reality with an emphasis on verisimilitude, even at the expense of plot, and that characters appear real in temperament and motive. This has led many to define The Great Gatsby as a realist novel rather than a symbolic one. There may be some merit to this opinion, especially when we consider how the events of the novel are closely related to Fitzgerald’s own life, especially the women in the novel. For example, the character of Daisy is said to be modelled on Ginevra King. Fitzgerald met Ginevra when he was at Princeton and she was still at prep school.
They exchanged love letters, but the relationship ended when Ginevra’s father bluntly told Fitzgerald that he had no business dating rich girls. This gave him a sense of inferiority and was the cause of his lust for wealth, much like Gatsby. In the novel Fitzgerald remarks that Daisy’s voice was, “full of money,” and Gatsby tells Tom, “She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. ” This is very similar to Fitzgerald’s experience of love. Critics are divided on whether the women of the play are based on Ginevra or his wife Zelda; it is likely he used elements of both as inspiration.
This direct link with Fitzgerald’s real life experiences may suggest that The Great Gatsby is more effective as a realist novel than a symbolic one. The claim that the novel is more effective as a symbolic novel than a realist novel could be contested when we consider how Fitzgerald uses social realism in his writing. Social Realism is an international art movement that draws attention to the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and who are critical of the social structures that maintain these conditions.
While the movement usually applies to paintings, it can just as easily be applied to novels such as The Great Gatsby. The most obvious instance of social realism in the novel is the depiction of the Valley of Ashes. Fitzgerald deliberately places this after the extravagance of chapter one in order to have maximum impact on the reader. We are presented with an area that bears closer resemblance to the slums of the third world rather than an economically thriving western nation such as America. It is described as, “a certain desolate area of land,” and, “the solemn dumping ground. The Valley of Ashes is based on a real location called the Corona Ash Dumps, further increasing the social realism. This stark portrayal of reality suggests that the novel is more effective as a realist novel than a symbolic novel. Finally, it could be argued that The Great Gatsby is more effective as a realist novel than a symbolic novel due to Fitzgerald’s use of naturalistic realism. Naturalism was a literary movement from the 1880s to 1930s that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character.
Naturalistic works tend to focus on the darker aspects of life, including poverty, racism and violence. As a result, naturalistic writers were frequently criticised for focusing too much on human vice and misery. We certainly see these dark undertones in The Great Gatsby. If we take racism as an example, the form that Fitzgerald uses to describe to us the character of Tom Buchanan is decidedly naturalistic. Fitzgerald wishes to convince the reader that Tom is a highly despicable character, but he does not come out and say such in so many words.
Rather, he meticulously describes Tom’s actions so that the reader is left to draw no other conclusion. His views are clearly racist, evidenced by his choice of reading: “Have you read the Rise of the Coloured Empires by Goddard? ” This refers to a genuine book that was around at that time, titled The Rising Tide Of Colour by Lothrop Stoddard, which increases the realism. Tom feels threatened by the rising power of racial minorities and wishes to preserve the archaic status quo.
Fitzgerald’s skilful use of naturalistic realism would suggest that The Great Gatsby is more effective as a realist novel rather than a symbolic novel. To conclude, after careful consideration we determine that although the novel is highly effective in both genres, ultimately it is more effective as a symbolic novel than a realist novel. Some of the events and characters depicted are simply too exaggerated for it to be wholly realist, and instead are better looked at as symbolic events. The opposing arguments have some merit but ultimately they fail to realise the true implications and context of The Great Gatsby.