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The Impact of "The Great Gatsby" upon readers

A description of the ways in which "The Great Gatsby" has an impact upon readers.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a tragic story about the lives and values of a few middle and upper class Americans a few years after the First World War ended. The impact on a reader?s values by The Great Gatsby is related to its representation of values ? the reader?s and otherwise ? and the sense of tragedy experienced.

A text will often leave a lasting impression upon a reader, and it can be seen that the acceptance and rejection of the represented values will affect the impact The Great Gatsby has upon a reader. The values were different in the 1920s, as ?The Roaring Twenties was a fast new era of fun, freedom and fooling around? (Seymour, Pg. 2). Obviously the degree of acceptance will vary from reader to reader, as not every reader holds the same values in the same regard. However, if the reader rejects too many values, the text may seem unbelievable, and will not have an effect on the reader. Alternatively if too many attitudes are accepted then the book may become boring to the reader due to lack of conflict. Therefore a balance must be established with enough of the reader?s values accepted so as to create a realistic setting, but also with enough of their values rejected as to create conflict and provoke the reader?s thoughts and emotions.

The Great Gatsby brings up many of the values and attitudes that are commonplace in people of the 1920s. These values differ greatly to the generally accepted perspectives of today. During the Jazz Age, people?s attitudes were interwoven into a singular body that was society. People behaved as everyone else did. If this was morally wrong, it didn?t matter ? so long as everyone else was doing it. Thus it was characteristic of many people of the era to maintain a relationship outside of their marriage; today this is strictly against most people?s values.
? ?You mean to say you don?t know?? said Miss Baker, honestly surprised. ?I thought everyone knew.?
?I don?t.??
?Why-? she said hesitantly. ?Tom?s got some woman in New York.?
?Got some woman?? [Nick] repeated blankly.?
This philandering and the characters in the text?s reaction to it all stimulate emotions and opinions in the reader, thus impacting on their values.

More general attitudes relating to society as a whole can also have an impact upon the reader. In a conversation between Tom Buchanan and his guests, he refers to the ?rise of the coloured empires?. This obviously racist point of view was reflected in a very general sense throughout the 1920s. Today, racism is taught to be a bad value, and the reader is thus more likely to reject this value placed forward by Tom.

One of the greatest values displayed by the characters is that of the power struggles between men and women. Fitzgerald portrays the way women were considered as objects by men in what Daisy would like her baby girl to be when she matures:
?All right, I?m glad it?s a girl. And I hope she?ll be a fool ? that?s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.?
Daisy realizes the world she lives in and the position that the majority of women were bound to. That all a woman was supposed to be was a beautiful body with no mind is a value that is certainly not prolific today; indeed, it was all but non-existent a few decades after the novel was penned. Once again the values that a reader holds are challenged by the text, and thus the text has an impact upon the reader.

In the text however, not all women are shown to be submissive to this expectation of the being that was ?society?. Jordan was a golfer, a sport normally considered a man?s domain, and at one of the parties two women fight, showing their views on society?s expectations.
?In spite of the wives? agreement that such malevolence was beyond credibility, the dispute ended in a short struggle, and both wives were lifted, kicking, into the night.?
Even though not all women were submissive to the traditional way of going along quietly with what your husband wanted they were still, like the wives in the quote above, over-powered and forced to concede to their husband?s wishes ? once again contrasting to the free-speech, equal-rights society of today. The author?s ?illustration of the emptiness of Daisy?s character is drawn with a fineness and depth of critical understanding? (Bewely, Pg. 45), helping to define the values expressed in the text.

Another value represented that has an impact upon the reader is that of materialism. Gatsby?s parties are the biggest show of money in the entire book, with the ?buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d?oeuve, spiced baked hams and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched?. This splendor of money, houses cars and food is set to be challenged by the reader?s of this age, as
?Fitzgerald has defined the original sin of the rich: They do not worship material gods but they possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful?? (Ornstein, Pg. 62)
We do not empathize with the ?old-money? upper class characters in The Great Gatsby, thus challenging the values that they hold.

The values and situations foregrounded in The Great Gatsby can sometimes leave a sense of empathy for the characters in it. The impact that The Great Gatsby has upon us can also be found in the fact that it is somewhat of a tragedy, but applies a 1920s ethos to it, warping it into a bizarre and rather ironic re-interpretation of a typical tragic story.

The main focus of the tragedy in The Great Gatsby is on events and people that cannot possibly happen or exist in the same universe. Attempts by the characters in the text to put right the wrongs and impossibilities in their lives results only in a breakdown of order, an inevitable slide into a tragic chaos.

This is best shown by Gatsby's dream to regain Daisy's love, and to return to a life that no longer existed, like "he had committed himself to the following of a grail". However, it would always be out of Gatsby?s reach. Daisy's marriage to Tom creates a break between her and Gatsby?s lives that is impossible to bridge. This is symbolized by the stretch of water separating East Egg and West Egg. When we first see Gatsby it is in a tragic situation:
?He stretched out his arms towards the dark water in a curious way, and, as far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward-and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.?
The green light is where Daisy is, and tragically Gatsby is never able to fully cross the river between them. It is from this point onwards that the reader is set to empathize with Gatsby ? emotions are impacted, and we are almost rooting for Gatsby to reach his goal.

However, when he is finally re-united with her, the reality of the situation does not live up to the dream he has lived, the "grail" he has followed for five years of his life: "There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams - not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything." Yet since the novel impacts us, we still support Gatsby, and an interest is especially on him as we continue the novel.

Gatsby is undoubtedly the primary source of interest, not least because of the novel's title. As the events of the novel spiral out of control and into a tragic confusion, Gatsby finds his own emotions undergoing a similar collapse. Aside from the difficult but fun job of seeing Daisy whilst she is still married to Tom, he also has to cope with the tragedy of seeing the woman he loves living with another man, whom he no doubt regards as something of an usurper, stealing Daisy from him whilst he was out of the country.

This problem is intensified in Chapter 7, when Tom and Gatsby meet, and Daisy meanly claims she loves both of them:
? ?I did love him once ? but I loved you too.?
Gatsby?s eyes opened and closed.
?You loved me too?? he repeated.?
Tragically, Gatsby now has an emotional and intellectual struggle to cope with this newfound knowledge. He does not see how it is possible to love two people at once (as the reader quite possibly also does), and cannot accept that she ever loved anybody but himself. We empathize with Gatsby, and hope that no more tragic events occur during the rest of the novel.

If the events occurring in the text were entirely by chance, they might be very sad and unfortunate but they would not be tragic. The events can be somewhat predicted, and thus The Great Gatsby has a sense of helplessness, of an impending doom that is avoidable but which nobody even tries to escape. Fitzgerald achieves this through the use of peripeteia, which is the downward turn in Gatsby's luck, at the end of Chapter 5. Ironically, this is also when Gatsby is finally re-united with Daisy. As soon as this happens, things start to get worse, and the plot moves towards the end of Gatsby's dream? and his life. At this exact point in the text Gatsby has it all - money, power, Daisy - but from this point he also starts to tragically lose everything? and we are set to empathize with him even more, as he is Gatsby ? the man who had his dream for a fleeting moment before losing it to fate.

From Chapter 6, any bits of control and sanity that might have existed in the society depicted Fitzgerald begins to disappear. This is reflected not only in the events occurring, but also through such things as the intense heat of the day they all travel into the city. The heat is representative of the emotions of the main characters once they reach the Plaza Hotel. This raises the tension of the novel, increasing the ominous feeling of everything slipping quietly towards something really nasty. The text impacts the reader greatly here, as they know something is going to happen, but don?t know what.

Gatsby's resultant fall from greatness is made ironic by the nature of the ?greatness?, as Gatsby is not exactly 'great' in the ordinary sense. He is a criminal, dealing in illegal stuff through his drugstores, and he is also trying to steal Tom Buchanan's wife. Yet when reading the book, we do not generally dislike him for this; in fact, it is quite the opposite. At the point of his death, the text impacts on us to its greatest extent, as here we feel the most compassionate for him. Thankfully, ?Gatsby dies ignorant of the forces that preyed upon him? (Bicknell, Pg. 71).

This is audience manipulation, a vitally important element of how the text impacts upon the reader. If we do not feel sympathy, and if we cannot empathize with the characters, then the tragic events will have no impact on us. Sad as they are, we will not care about the characters enough.

Gatsby?s obsession with Daisy that rules his life for so many years becomes something of a ?grail? for him, filling his every thought. As a result, once he realizes that the dream is unattainable, we sympathize greatly with him, despite his character being very immoral throughout the novel. This empathy is required in order for his sudden death to have any power ? and for the impact of the text upon the reader to be at its greatest.

Nick's portrayal of Gatsby also influences readers a great deal. Throughout the novel he describes Gatsby with quite a bit cynicism, often being extremely facetious, such as when he refers to Gatsby?s lavish description of his life:
"I was going to ask to see the rubies"
Yet the strangest thing is that in his final moments his attitude seems to change greatly, when he shouts at Gatsby: ? ?They?re a rotten crowd... You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.? ? At this moment we also have far more sympathy with Gatsby, and his impending death comes as something of a shock - which, of course, was Fitzgerald's intention. The catharsis is also shared by Nick, who is almost part of the readership, acting as he does as something of an 'audience' for much of the book, existing in the background and watching (such as when Gatsby and Daisy met).

The overall tone of the novel also makes us feel that the story being told is tragic, the greatest indication of this being the frequent references to car accidents throughout the text - there are at least three car accidents of varying severity in The Great Gatsby. Plus there are the words spoken by Wilson, "'I'm all run down'", and Nick, "Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade." The gloom and despair that this tone brings to the text can impact greatly upon the reader.

One of the more spiritually challenging parts of the text is the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg when Wilson glances towards the advertisement and comments ? ?God sees everything? ?. Whilst an amusing image in itself, it is also somewhat disturbing, and can have a quite significant impact upon the reader.

Finally, throughout the book, Gatsby is never great; prior to his downfall, his life is a lie and his power only exists through illegal activities, and at the end of the book he loses even that. Therefore the greatest tragedy and modern ironic twist is perhaps in the novel's title ? ?The ?Great? Gatsby?. He never was great, indeed, ?like his romantic dream, Jay Gatsby belongs to a vanished past? (Ornstein, Pg. 64).

The impact The Great Gatsby has upon its readers is constructed through the reader?s attitudes towards the values expressed in the text, and the effect the tragedy that is Gatsby has upon them. Both of these can provoke the emotions and intellect of the reader into analysis of the text, and their reactions to it, thus helping to complete the story and the meaning they will eventually derive from it.

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