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Main Character Analysis of The Great Gatsby

Example 1 – Main Character Analysis of “The Great Gatsby”

Nick Carraway

The book’s narrator, Nick is a young man from Minnesota who, after being educated at Yale and fighting in World War I, goes to New York City to learn the bond business. Honest, tolerant, and inclined to reserve judgment, Nick often serves as a close friend for those with troubling secrets. After moving to West Egg, a place home to the newly rich, Nick quickly becomes friends with his next-door neighbour, the mysterious Jay Gatsby. The Great Gatsby is told entirely through Nick’s eyes; his thoughts and observations shape and colour the story.

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Jay Gatsby

The title character of the book, Gatsby is a wealthy young man living in a West Egg mansion. He is famous for the parties he throws every Saturday night, but no one knows where he comes from, what he does, or how he got his money. As the book continues, Nick learns that Gatsby made his fortune through criminal activity, as he was willing to do anything to gain the social position that he thought was needed to win back Daisy. When he met Daisy while training to be an officer in Louisville, he fell in love with her. Nick also learns that Gatsby was born James Gatz on a farm in North Dakota.

Daisy Buchanan

Daisy is Nick’s cousin, and the woman Gatsby loves. As a young woman in Louisville before the war, Daisy was courted by a number of officers, including Gatsby. She fell in love with Gatsby and promised to wait for him. On the other hand, Daisy harbours a deep need to be loved, and when a wealthy, powerful young man named Tom Buchanan asked her to marry him, Daisy decided not to wait for Gatsby after all. Now a beautiful socialite, Daisy lives with Tom across from Gatsby in the East Egg district of Long Island.


Example 2 – Character Analysis of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway

A man is tested against nature and then tested again by how well he behaves in relation to other men,” (46) Richard Lehan stated in The Great Gatsby: The Limits of Wonder. In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald tested each of his characters by giving him or her a place in society and seeing how each one would react to his or her surroundings. East Egg and West Egg are the areas where the main characters in this novel lived and through stereotypes of Tom, Daisy, Gatsby and Nick, it is clear what East and West Egg represent.

Because of East Eggers’ old, exclusive money, they seemed to think that they were superior and if any obstacle appeared in their path, they were secure with their money behind them. In Modern Critical Views: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harold Bloom states that “In Gatsby, we see that the charming irresponsibility of the flapper has developed into the criminal amorality of Daisy Buchanan and that the smug conceit of the Rich Boy has hardened into Tom Buchanan’s arrogant cruelty,” (74).

When Daisy ran over Myrtle Wilson, she and Tom simply disappeared and left Gatsby to deal with the punishment of a crime that he never committed. Tom’s affair also represented their ideas on morality – that as long as he had old money, he could do whatever he wanted. “Surrounded from childhood by the artificial security of wealth, accustomed to owning rather than wanting, they lack anxiety or illusion, frustration or fulfillment,” (75).

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West Egg represents western values such as romanticism and capitalism. Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby are typical possessors of “new money,” who achieved wealth but still are not accepted into the exclusive society of East Egg. Gatsby was much more of a romantic than Nick was, for he did everything – attain massive amounts of wealth, throw huge parties, involve himself in illegal business affairs, and even embark upon an affair – in order to win back Daisy. “In creating himself, Gatsby had no social or moral context to give his intensity direction,” (Lehan 31). With no other life goal than Daisy, Gatsby ended up engaging in immoral activities.

Both East Eggers and West Eggers were wealthy, but because of one major difference in their lives, they would not and could not ever understand each other. That difference is the American Dream. “Those who possess the necessary means lack the will, motive or capacity to pursue a dream,” (Bloom 75). The rich do not care to detach themselves from the meaningless, materialistic lives that they lead in order to pursue a dream, because everything else they have was handed to them on a silver platter. West Eggers, did not have the “necessary means” – money – to easily follow a dream, but through the American Dream, they rose up “from rags to riches” because they had the will.

Even though money plays a big role in The Great Gatsby, wealth was not Gatsby’s American Dream. “The thirst for money is a crucial motive in Gatsby (as in Fitzgerald’s other novels), and yet none of his major characters are materialists, for money is never their final goal,” (74). Money was the element that connected Gatsby to Daisy. Money for Daisy was an excuse for her to act however she desired. There was no way for their romance to work out if money was such an important ingredient. That is why Daisy gave Gatsby up when Tom revealed to her the origin of Gatsby’s wealth (Lehan 76).

Nick Carraway was the only character in The Great Gatsby who realized the truth about life. “Nick Carraway, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the variety of life, attains Fitzgerald’s mature realization that the protective enchantment of the romantic ideal lies in its remoteness from actuality,” (Boom 74). Just like everyone else, Nick too was captivated by the immense wealth of Tom and Daisy.

Then, he realized that they were nothing but “two of the very rich, who in the end represent nothing but themselves,” (78). Nick stated at the end of Gatsby that “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 made. . .,” (Fitzgerald 187-188).

Nick at first was also impressed by the American Dream and how Gatsby was able to achieve it. But then Nick realized that money was not Gatsby’s ultimate goal, and that his ideal was impossible to accomplish because he could not control Daisy. “The desire for Daisy energizes his world, fuels his very being; and when he loses her, the romantic possibility is exhausted, a romantic state of mind depleted, (Lehan 73). Nick told us that, “he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass,” (Fitzgerald 169).

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At the end of The Great Gatsby, the theme of the corruption of the American dream is apparent that the East does “symbolize contemporary decadence and the West does not symbolize the pristine virtues of an earlier America,” (Bloom 78). Tom and Daisy ended up running away from a crime and letting Gatsby die as a result. Gatsby failed to represent the true, legitimate West because he pursued a good, moral dream in an immoral way.

Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner’s, 1925.

Lehan, Richard. The Great Gatsby: The Limits of Wonder. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.

Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Views: F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.


Example 3 – Character Analysis of Tom Buchanan from the Great Gatsby

Out of the five main characters in the Great Gatsby, I disliked Tom Buchanan the most ( however his wife Daisy was a close second). He just didn’t seem like he was a nice person, and he also seemed extremely self-absorbed. I don’t believe that he and I would choose the same values that we would consider important in guiding our lives.

One of Tom’s important values is wealth. He was very rich and thought that it made him superior to other people. He enjoys showing off his possessions, ” I’ve got a nice place here. It belonged to the Demaine oilman” (Great Gatsby, 12). In this case, Tom is showing Nick his house and obviously thinks that because it belonged to the Demaine oil man that it makes it a little more important. Tom thinks that poor people are inferior to him and he is quite the snob. He is from old money and often refers to the newly rich as ” bootleggers”, people who distributed alcohol during prohibition. Tom doesn’t think much of Gatsby and claims that he pegged him as a bootlegger the moment he saw him. When Daisy tells Tom that she is leaving him for Gatsby he says, ” She’s not leaving me! Certainly not for a common swindler who’d have to steal the ring to put on her finger!” ( 140). Later, Tom even sends Daisy home with Gatsby, adding that his presumptuous flirtation was over.

Power and control over people are something that Tom considers important in guiding his life. Throughout the novel, he has shown, time and time again that he is the type of person who likes to control others and what they do. Sometimes he is nothing more than a bully and other times he is just cruel. He often talks to George Wilson, his mistress’ husband about selling him his car, which he never actually intends to do. He is simply toying with the man, but becomes angry when Wilson tries to talk to him about it: ” Very well then, I won’t sell you the car at all… I’m under no obligations to you at all…And as for your bothering me about it at lunchtime I won’t stand for that at all!” (122). Tom was being extremely cruel at that moment because Wilson needed the money that would come from the car and Tom didn’t care. There are times when Tom loses his temper when people don’t obey him. When Myrtle Wilson started shouting Daisy’s name ( she said that she could say it whenever she wanted to), Tom broke her nose. Later in the novel, Tom couldn’t stand it when he realizes that his wife and mistress were ” slipping precipitately from his control”. He confronts Gatsby in the hotel and says, ” I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that’s the idea then you can count me out” (137). Tom couldn’t stand having control so he made a scene. After ridding Daisy of whatever courage she had, he ordered her to go home. That was how he handled the situation.

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Tom also values aesthetics, which means ” tasteful or sensitive to beauty”. That is not to say that his actions are very tasteful, but that he acts like a man of high class and good taste. He buys extravagant things such as a bunch of polo ponies or a $350 000 string of pearls for Daisy. He is concerned with what he sees as the loss of his own high status and is the perfect example of “old money”. He is extremely pompous: he married the girl that everyone wanted and when he did that he came from Chicago ” with a hundred people in four private cars and hired a whole floor of the Seelbach Hotel”. Tom values expensive things that are both beautiful and tasteful.

Tom also values knowledge and considers himself to be an intellectual. He is obsessed with books: ” I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. have you ever read the ‘ The Rise of the Colored Empires’? It’s a fine book and everyone ought to read it. It’s scientific stuff, it’s all been proven” (17). Tom’s ” scientific” book claims that the coloured races will submerge the white race eventually. Tom is obsessed with an inevitable downfall of society. He is very insecure and his attempts at intellectualism are rather fumbled.

There are some values that Tom preaches, but doesn’t practice. One of those values is morality. He condemns the affair between Daisy and Gatsby and even claims that it is a step toward the eventual collapse of society and inter-racial marriage: ” Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white”. Tom is the ultimate hypocrite: he condemns his wife’s affair but has no qualms about his own infidelity. He even admits, ” Once in a while, I go off on a spree and make a fool out of myself, but I have always come back, and in my heart, I love her all the time”. What kind of a person preaches about the decline of society, using his wife’s infidelity as proof and yet admits to having his own little “sprees”?

Perhaps I dislike Tom so much because I find that his values are all so shallow and in his own self-interest. Nick Carraway puts it best: ” 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…”

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