The Quick Discussion Question relates to the theme of the story.
1. Is Jay Gatsby a tragic hero? If so, what is his tragic flaw?
There is, of course, no single answer to this question. Here are some interesting points. Certainly, Gatsby is not a classical tragic hero. Gatsby’s equivalent of the noble stature of the classical hero is the fact that he has purchased a large mansion and gives lavish parties. He is a celebrity rather than a nobleman. It could be said that in modern life we have celebrities instead of nobility, which limits the types of tragic heroes that we can have. Certainly, Gatsby has no real stature in society; he is a bootlegger and a stock swindler. He lies and pretends to be what he is not. However, Gatsby has done something heroic. He has reinvented himself, as Nick says, with “an extraordinary gift of hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.” Page 2. Unfortunately, this heroic quality is accompanied by several character flaws that eventually lead to Gatsby’s undoing. He refuses to see Daisy as she really is, holding on to an ideal that does not match reality; he gets stuck in the past and doesn’t recognize that the time for his and Daisy’s love is over; his new persona involves living his whole life for another and accumulating wealth to impress others; he has no set of ethics by which he can measure his actions.
Choose one of the following two questions:
2. Should Gatsby have pursued Daisy or simply let it be and gone on with his life? What is Fitzgerald’s position on this question?
Nick tells us, or rather he tells Gatsby, that, “You can’t repeat the past.” Daisy was a married woman with a child. She was not the young girl that Gatsby fell in love with before he went to war. Gatsby also failed to see Daisy for who she really was; his ideal of her did not match reality.
3. If Wilson had missed his aim and Gatsby had survived the attempt on his life, what do you think would have happened among him, Daisy and Tom?
There is no one correct response. One example of a strong response would be that Daisy and Tom had found their match in each other. They were well-suited for each other. Gatsby would never be permitted to get close to Daisy again. If he were able to stay out of prison, he would have two choices. He could hold on to this dream of loving Daisy and become a sad and embittered man. Or, he could give up the dream, recognize that one cannot relive the past, and go on to a new life.
4. On the first page of the novel, Nick describes himself as a disinterested observer and a great listener. Is that a fair characterization of how he acted in the events described in the novel? State your reasons.
Nick, despite his disclaimers, was an active participant in the events of the story. He was a facilitator, by both action and inaction. He served as the host for the meeting in which Gatsby reintroduced himself to Daisy when Gatsby’s clear purpose was to begin an affair and wreck a marriage. While that marriage was stressed by Tom’s infidelities, the remedy was not to provide an affair for Daisy. After all, there was a child involved. Before the afternoon tea, Nick had gone with Tom and Myrtle to the party at the apartment in NYC. Tom insisted that Nick spend the day with him so that he could tell Daisy that he had been with Nick all day. See e.g., page 28. Nick’s inaction was therefore important facilitation of Tom’s affair with Myrtle. Nick didn’t tell Daisy about the woman from the Valley of Ashes nor did he report Daisy to the authorities for the hit-and-run. If he had promptly reported Daisy to the authorities, Gatsby might not have been killed.
5. What are Nick’s feelings toward Daisy at the beginning of the story and at the end?
An argument could be made that Nick was in love, or once had been in love, with Daisy. See page 9, when Daisy is first introduced as “charming” possessing a “low thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.” Nick goes on to note that “[T]here was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen,’ a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.” Ibid. Daisy knows of Nick’s feelings, or past feelings, for her and teases him. See, e.g., page 85. Nick notes that she has “bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth.” At the end, however, Nick’s relationship with Daisy, whatever it had been, is over. She has disappointed him too many times.
The following two questions should be asked together:
6. When George Wilson came to the Buchanan’s house with a gun and was acting in a threatening manner, what should Tom have done?
Tom had several options. Even if he thought that the best way to get rid of Wilson was to send him to Gatsby’s, he should have warned Gatsby. He didn’t do it because it was an easy way to remove both of them; they were the primary threats to his existence, his marriage, and his reputation. Tom bears much of the responsibility for the deaths of both Gatsby and Wilson.
7. At the end of the story when Tom and Nick meet by chance in front of a jewelry store in New York and Tom admits that he had sent Wilson toward Gatsby, why did Nick shake Tom’s hand? Was this the right thing to do?
Given the answer to the previous question, a strong argument could be made that it was not. But in the context of the story, with Tom and Daisy being careless people, it can be said to make some sense. Tom and Daisy were beyond redemption. Here’s how Fitzgerald describes it at page 179 of the novel:
I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made . . . .
I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child. Then he went into the jewelry store . . . .
The following two questions should be asked together:
8. What is Fitzgerald’s view of women as set out in this story? Evaluate the two main female characters, Daisy and Jordan.
Daisy is shallow, careless with the lives of others, inconstant, unable to take responsibility for her own actions (such as carelessly killing Myrtle Wilson) and willing to put up with a deeply flawed marriage. She abandoned her relationship with Gatsby without so much as a call to Gatsby to say goodbye. She just left him hanging. Jordan Baker was also careless, and one could easily see her having a car accident similar to the one that Daisy had. Jordan was also dishonest.
9. What is Fitzgerald’s view of men as set out in this story?
Fitzgerald’s view of men is not much better than his position on women. Look at the three major male characters. Tom Buchanan was a philanderer who used Wilson as a way of killing Gatsby, without compunction. When confronted by Nick much later, all he could talk about with questionable authenticity was how he had suffered when Myrtle died; he didn’t consider how Myrtle had suffered nor was he concerned that his actions in pointing Wilson toward Gatsby’s mansion had led to the deaths of both men. Like Daisy, he was satisfied with a deeply flawed marriage. Nick was a spineless cipher who allowed himself to be used by the other characters, always commenting to himself or to the reader, but never acting to stop the devastation caused the carelessness of Tom and Daisy. He allowed Gatsby to use him to facilitate Gatsby’s reintroduction to Daisy and to their affair. He allowed Tom to use him to facilitate his relationship with Myrtle. Neither Tom nor Gatsby were capable of seeing that their actions were wrongful. Nick, however, knew better but chose to allow himself to be enlisted to assist each of them. Gatsby, the closest thing to a good man in the story, someone who was “worth the whole lot of them put together” was a bootlegger and stock swindler who was a hopeless romantic dreamer. In short, Fitzgerald had a pretty jaundiced view of the human race, or at least those people that he was writing about.
10. Tom’s affairs are with women from what he would consider the “lower classes.” From Tom’s point of view, what could be said of Gatsby, with whom Daisy had an affair?
Tom considers Gatsby to be “new money” and a criminal, which would be just as déclassé as his working-class dalliances.
11. Was Daisy’s motivation in resuming her relationship with Gatsby (1) simply to fill a hole in her life caused by disappointments in her marriage or (2) because Gatsby was the love of her life, as she was the love of his?
This is a debatable point. Support for the first conclusion can be found at pages 76 & 77 of the novel that describes how Daisy, as a young bride, had been madly in love with Tom. In addition, at page 132, Fitzgerald describes how Daisy had “never intended doing anything at all” in terms of leaving Tom. The most important support for this argument is that Daisy eventually went away with Tom and ceased all communication with Gatsby. In support of the second proposition are Daisy’s protestations of love for Gatsby. The first is the stronger position.
See also the questions in the Social-Emotional Learning Section under Romantic Relationships.