The characters’ search for their own identities and the struggle that ensues is the most suffusive theme throughout The Great Gatsby. The fact that we never really know the characters, and the corrupt immoral things they do, directly represent the 20’s high society lifestyle. The characters continued to cheat on their spouses, let money become their obsession, and debated the American dream in the hopes of one day obtaining happiness. But the fact remains that they have no true morals or ideals of themselves as individuals. These are a group of people who –no matter how cocky and self-confident they seem– have absolutely no idea of what they are doing (as many men and women of the ’20s do not). Tom and Daisy are two examples.
Daisy is a hospitable character who had a love for parties and tended to lose herself in them and the drinking. Daisy once said, “What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon, and the day after that, and the next thirty years?” This quote not only means she lives for one day at a time never thinking of the future, but that she truly has no idea of what to do with herself. She is like loose change floating around wandering from party to party, man to man, friend to friend, in a big house in East Egg with no sense of purpose. She once attempted to plan something when she first reunited with Nick. She said, “What’ll we plan? What do people plan?” meaning she has never had to make decisions nor has she had much responsibility. Not only does she have no purpose, but she also has no morals. She literally killed a woman and went home to eat cold chicken. What more, her lover was killed and she left on a trip missing his funeral. Show me a woman who has no morals or goals and I’ll show you a woman who is searching for her own identity.
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Tom Buchanan is a small man hiding in a big house with an equally large ego. In fact, he once remarked that women run around too much and meet the wrong kind of people. This statement is both arrogant and ironic because he runs around with the wrong people, and women run around with him- he being the wrong people. Also, when stating this he was most likely referring to his wife, and subtly putting her down for her relationship with Gatsby in a most conceited way. Tom is not a caring or sympathetic man. He did not attend his mistress’s- Myrtle’s- funeral. Tom cared a great deal about his image. Enough to uncover the history and truth about his wife’s lover, and openly embarrass him for it. Tom is so desperately an empty man that he believes he can define himself with exterior belongings. He is trying to find his identity by looking for happiness in nice cars (he is a ridiculous yellow luxury vehicle), money and a good woman- be it he has to cheat on his wife to do so. But what about if the money runs out? What happens if his wife finds another lover also? or one of his women kills the other? One day he will look himself in the mirror and not like what he sees, and only then can he finally forget about the image and just be.
To best describe Daisy’s, Tom’s, and the 1920’s high society’s relentless quest for money and aimless existence is Daisy and Tom’s own relationship. They were once young lovers with a hold on the world like their hold on each other but that too tarnished like a gilded cup and saucer. Tom once carried Daisy down from the punch bowl so her feet wouldn’t get wet. But the weight of time has pulled at their love until Tom was seen as a racist man reading The Rise of Colored Empires who depends on a mistress to fulfill his need of lust and to be apart from home life, leaving Daisy ignorant and smiling. She hoped her daughter would be a fool of a girl so nothing would hurt her, a lesson she learned from living with Tom.
While their marriage seems to be falling apart Daisy finds a man from her past- Gatsby-who has heated desperation for her love- enough so to acquire a huge home and beautiful shirts and throw lavish parties in the hope she will attend to add to his facade. But not even the people who gave up their own lives for Tom or Daisy could change them. For Nick. the eternal observer with his unbiased opinions once wrote, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made…” Even with both spouses having affairs with a passion possibly more than the love Tom and Daisy share, they stay together for the sole purpose of money.
In conclusion, The Great Gatsby asks the eternal question: what is the purpose of our lives? and Tom and Daisy answer for the 1920’s high society, “I don’t know, but it has to do with money and lots of it.” Throughout Daisy and Tom’s marriage, they have grown and they are still growing, but the question remains: who are they and what are they here for? Until these two can think of others before themselves, not hold exterior belongings with such high repute, and stop all the reputations and images that surround them, they will just be two random, conceited, rich people in a time-dependent on classes and will never be individuals.
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