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Emptiness in the Great Gatsby

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald portrays the emptiness of a very meretricious society. Many people in today’s materialistic world are just hollow, but some have a dream, which turns into a goal. In many cases, this dream might be pursued, but for some people, it becomes a superficial vision. Through the use of symbolism and characterization in the novel and Eliot’s poem the blindness of people is depicted; the only person with any substance is Gatsby, but in the end, his dream becomes artificial as well.

Through the use of characterization, Fitzgerald shows how most characters in the novel have no desire; however Gatsby did, he had “an extraordinary gift for hope.” For example, Nick saw Gatsby as the “best of the bunch,” because he had this “grand dream,” but in the end, he turned out to be “blind,” just like the rest of the characters. According to T.S Eliot, in The Hollow Men, we are the silent listeners; who are “empty, filled with straw.” For example, the characters in The Great Gatsby were empty just like the hollow men in the poem. We cannot stand on our own, “we are learning together,” because we have no substance. Gatsby, unlike the other materialistic characters, captures his dream, but it’s empty.

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However, most people are so hollow that they don’t even have a dream. Daisy is Gatsby’s past; she is his dream, which he tries to attain. The characters in the book are so meretricious they do not know what to do; they cannot move because of a “paralyzed force.” The characters are restricted to a “spiritually empty world,” because of this force that inhibits them, from acting upon their dreams.

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Through the use of symbolism, Fitzgerald also portrays the emptiness in the characters. According to T.S Elliot, “those who have crossed/ with direct eyes to deaths other Kingdom/ remember us.” The “direct eyes” refuse to see the world around them, just like the characters. This revelation explains the unsettling eyes of Dr. T.J Eckleburg, peering down from their signboard on the valley of the ashes.

The eyes are disturbing because they have no fixed meaning, and they seem to stare down at the surface of the world without asking it to mean anything. George Wilson for example mistakes Dr. T.J Eckleburg’s eyes for the all-seeing eyes of God. According to T.S Eliot, “The eyes are not here/ There are no eyes here/ In this valley of dying stars/ In this hollow valley/ This broken jaw of our lost kingdom.” The eyes have a spiritual-ness in them, in which modern men look for something to believe in. Also, the “cactus land” represents the valley of the ashes, because it has dried out and has no substance to it. The characters in The Great Gatsby, are as blind as the speaker, they have no “direct eyes, shape without form, and gesture without motion.”

Gatsby has also made Daisy a symbol of everything he values. He made the green light on Daisy’s dock a symbol of his destiny with her. When Nick thinks about Gatsby’s death, he suggests that all symbols are created by the mind; that symbols do not possess meaning by themselves, but are filled with meaning by the people who create them. However, the green light disintegrates when Gatsby reaches Daisy. The green light is like the “fading star,” that T.S. Eliot writes, is more “distant and more solemn.”

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Daisy is among the many meretricious characters in the novel. For example, when Gatsby takes out all his beautiful silk shirts, Daisy grabs them and starts crying. She does this because she has once loved him, but she has not waited for him because of her materialism. She was too blind to see that love is more important than money, and therefore she has lost her true love. Because now he has money and she is married and cannot have him.

Fitzgerald considers Gatsby a “great” character, because of his sense of wonder. Even though Gatsby was one of the “hollow men,” he was considered grand because he had a dream. However, his dream of attaining Daisy turned out artificial at the end. According to T.S Elliot, “life does not end with a bang, but with a whimper.” Like at the end of the novel, Gatsby was lying in his swimming pool, waiting for that one call from Daisy, which never came. The people in this artificial society are so careless; they do not even realize what kind of artificial lives they lead. In The Great Gatsby, “the wasteland” and the “valley of the ashes,” both represent modern society, in which people lead meretricious lives and have no dreams or goals to follow.

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Emptiness in the Great Gatsby. (2021, Feb 28). Retrieved December 9, 2022, from