The Great Gatsby: Themes | SparkNotes (2023)

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a work of literature.

The Decline of the American Dream in the 1920s

on the surface,The Great Gatsby is the story of a frustrated love between a man and a woman. However, the main theme of the novel covers a much broader and less romantic area. Although the entire action takes place over a few months in the summer of 1922 and takes place in a circumscribed geographic area near Long Island, New York,The Great Gatsbyis a highly symbolic meditation on 1920s America as a whole, particularly the disintegration of the American Dream into an era of unprecedented prosperity and material abundance.

(Video) The Great Gatsby | Themes | F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald portrays the 1920s as an era of decadent social and moral values, evident in its general cynicism, greed and empty pursuit of pleasure. The ruthless cheer that led to decadent parties and wild jazz music epitomized inThe Great Gatsbythrough the lavish parties Gatsby throws every Saturday night - ultimately leading to the corruption of the American Dream as unbridled desires for money and pleasure trumped nobler goals.

When World War I ended in 1918, the generation of young Americans who had fought in the war was deeply disillusioned, as the brutal carnage they were about to endure made early 20th-century Victorian social mores seem like a suffocating and empty hypocrisy. The post-war surge in stock markets led to a sudden and sustained increase in national wealth and a new materialism as people began spending and consuming at unprecedented levels. A person from any walk of life could potentially make a fortune, but the American aristocracy—families of old wealth—looked down on the new wealthy industrialists and speculators. Additionally, the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, which outlawed the sale of alcohol, created a thriving underworld aimed at satisfying the massive demand for illegal alcohol among rich and poor alike.

(Video) The Great Gatsby | Themes | F. Scott Fitzgerald | Study Guide

Fitzgerald positions the characters inThe Great Gatsbyas emblems of these social tendencies. Nick and Gatsby, who both fought in World War I, show the new cosmopolitanism and cynicism that resulted from the war. The various ambitious climbers and speculators who attend Gatsby's parties bear witness to the greedy pursuit of wealth. The clash of "old money" and "new money" is manifested in the novel's symbolic geography: East Egg represents established aristocracy, West Egg represents self-made wealth. Meyer Wolfsheim and Gatsby's fortunes symbolize the rise of organized crime and smuggling.

As Fitzgerald saw it (and as Nick explains in Chapter 9), the American Dream originally revolved around discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness. However, in the 1920s depicted in the novel, easy money and lax social values ​​corrupted that dream, particularly on the East Coast. The novel's main plot reflects this assessment, as Gatsby's dream of loving Daisy is ruined by the difference in their respective social statuses, his turning to crime to earn enough money to impress her, and rampant materialism, that characterizes his lifestyle.

(Video) A-Level English Literature Exam Revision: The Great Gatsby Analysis

In addition, the places and objects are inThe Great Gatsbythey have meaning only because the signs imbue them with meaning: Dr. T. J. Eckleburg's eyes best illustrate this idea. For Nick, the ability to create meaningful symbols is central to the American Dream, as early Americans infused their new nation with their own ideals and values. Nick compares the green mass of America rising out of the ocean to the green light at the end of Daisy's pier.

Just as Americans gave America meaning through their dreams for their own lives, Gatsby infuses Daisy with a kind of idealized perfection she neither deserves nor possesses. Gatsby's dream is ruined by the unworthiness of its object, just as the 1920's American dream is ruined by the unworthiness of its object: money and pleasure. Like 1920s Americans in general, who search in vain for a bygone era when their dreams still had value, Gatsby longs, but cannot, to recreate a vanished past, his time in Louisville with Daisy. When his dream falls apart, Gatsby's only choice is death; All Nick can do is return to Minnesota, where American values ​​have not wavered.

(Video) The Great Gatsby - Themes

The emptiness of the upper class

One of the main themes inThe Great Gatsbyit is the sociology of wealth, particularly how the newly minted millionaires of the 1920s differed from and related to the old aristocracy of the country's wealthiest families. In the novel, West Egg and its residents represent the nouveau riche, while East Egg and its residents, particularly Daisy and Tom, represent the old aristocracy. Fitzgerald portrays the nouveau riche as vulgar, flashy, ostentatious, and lacking in social grace and taste. Gatsby, for example, lives in a monstrously ornate mansion, wears a pink suit, drives a Rolls-Royce, and ignores subtle social cues like the insincerity of the Sloanes' lunch invitation. In contrast, the ancient aristocracy possesses grace, good taste, subtlety and elegance, embodied by the tasteful home of the Buchanans and the flowing white robes of Daisy and Jordan Baker.

What the old aristocracy lacks in taste seems to lack in heart, however, as the East Eggers prove to be carefree and ruthless thugs, so used to money soothing their minds that they never care to hurt others . The Buchanans exemplify this stereotype when, at the end of the novel, they simply move to a new house far away rather than deign to attend Gatsby's funeral. Gatsby, on the other hand, whose recent fortune has come from criminal activity, has a true and loyal heart and stays outside Daisy's window until four in the morning in Chapter 7 just to make sure Tom doesn't hurt her. Ironically, Gatsby's good qualities (loyalty and love) lead to his death as he takes the blame for killing Myrtle instead of letting Daisy punish him, and the Buchanan's bad qualities (fickleness and selfishness) allow them to break away from the Remove tragedy and not only physically but psychologically.

(Video) Great Gatsby Themes and Symbols


In the affluent world ofThe Great Gatsby, Class influences all aspects of life and especially love. Myrtle mentions this in reference to her husband George, whom she believed to be someone with a better "education" and therefore greater prospects: "I thought I knew something about parenting, but I wasn't able to lick my shoe." In similarly, Gatsby's search for Daisy is connected to the classroom. Only after amassing a large fortune does he feel able to take the plunge. By the end of the book, class dynamics determine which marriage will survive (Tom and Daisy), which will be destroyed (George and Myrtle), and which will never be (Gatsby and Daisy). Only the wealthiest couple survive the events that close the book. In fact, it seems that the accident has brought them closer together. Spying on her through the window, Nick reports that "there was an unmistakable atmosphere of natural intimacy surrounding the picture and anyone would have said they were conspiring". Because of their elite status, Tom and Daisy share the belief that they are immune to the consequences of their actions. In the final chapter, Nick calls Tom and Daisy "carefree people" who "broke things and... let other people clean up the mess they made."

The American dream

IsAmerican Dreamit refers to a common set of ideals that guide the spirit of the United States. Among these shared ideals is a concept of liberty that gives all Americans the opportunity for social advancement as long as they work for it. Each character inThe Great Gatsbyis inspired by the promise of wealth and prosperity of the American dream. At the same time, the novel itself criticizes the idea of ​​the American dream. By the end of the novel, readers may be wondering if the American dream is truly achievable. Gatsby suffers most from the promise of social mobility inherent in the American dream. He spends his life believing that if he earns enough money and acquires enough possessions, he can overcome his lower-class birth and become the equal of Daisy and Tom. Although Gatsby manages to become rich, he is never accepted by the upper class. Gatsby's failure to achieve the American Dream suggests that the dream is an unattainable and reckless goal.

(Video) Video SparkNotes: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby summary

love and marriage

The ideals of love and marriage are deeply distortedThe Great Gatsby, a book focusing on two loveless marriages: the union between Tom and Daisy Buchanan and between George and Myrtle Wilson. In both cases, the marriages appear to be more of a union of convenience or profit than genuine love. Myrtle explains that she married George because she thought he was "a gentleman", suggesting that she hoped he would improve her social status. Daisy almost pulled out of her marriage to Tom the day before their wedding, and Tom had an affair a year after the wedding, but the couple hit it off because of their shared class and their desire for fun and material possessions. Even Gatsby's all-consuming passion for Daisy seems more like a desire to possess something unattainable than actual love. Nick dates Jordan Baker throughout the book, and while their relationship has its moments of warmth and friendliness, both parties generally come across as tepid and emotionally distant. "I wasn't really in love," Nick recalls, "but I felt a sort of tender curiosity." Such "tender curiosity" is the closest thing to love in the entire novel.


What is the main theme for The Great Gatsby? ›

The Great Gatsby, by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a novel set on Long Island in the 1920s that uses its characters to explore themes of materialism and the American Dream.

What are 3 symbols in The Great Gatsby? ›

Fitzgerald uses symbols to suggest the life of Gatsby. He uses the green light to represent the hopes and dreams of Gatsby, Dr T.J Eckleburg's eyes to represent the eyes of God, the Valley of Ashes to show the effects of capitalism and the symbol of time is also repeated throughout the novel.

Which is the best example of theme in The Great Gatsby? ›

The American Dream Theme

The American Dream is one of the major themes in The Great Gatsby. The life of Jay Gatsby himself is an embodiment of the American Dream, as he's a poor farm boy who changes his name and reinvents himself to become wealthy and successful, at least financially.

What are themes in The Great Gatsby are relevant today? ›

Despite being a commentary on a different age and people, Gatsby's story is as relevant today as it was when it was written. Because it explores universal themes — human follies, the hopelessness of societal constructs and man's struggle with time and fate.

What does Great Gatsby symbolize? ›

Critics agree that this novel is not a mere love story between a man and a woman but a commentary on the American Dream (Mizener, 1963, p. 125). Gatsby represents the decay of this dream and "the conflict between illusion and reality at the heart of American life" (Mizener, 1963, p 128).

What is the moral lesson of The Great Gatsby? ›

The moral of The Great Gatsby is that the American Dream is illusory. Gatsby's dream was to be with Daisy, but even after he attained her lifestyle, he was unable to be with her. Meanwhile, the people that had money, like Daisy and Tom, could not achieve happiness either.

What does Nick Carraway symbolize? ›

If Gatsby represents one part of Fitzgerald's personality, the flashy celebrity who pursued and glorified wealth in order to impress the woman he loved, then Nick represents another part: the quiet, reflective Midwesterner adrift in the lurid East.

What are the 5 major themes in The Great Gatsby? ›

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald offers up commentary on a variety of themes -- justice, power, greed, betrayal, the American dream, and so on. Of all the themes, perhaps none is more well developed than that of social stratification.

What does Gatsby's Daisy symbolize? ›

To Gatsby, Daisy represents the paragon of perfection—she has the aura of charm, wealth, sophistication, grace, and aristocracy that he longed for as a child in North Dakota and that first attracted him to her. In reality, however, Daisy falls far short of Gatsby's ideals.

What does the green light symbolize? ›

The green light represented a past love that had been lost, and after many years Gatsby had found that love again. The light was merely a representation of how close Gatsby had gotten to that beloved past with Daisy, but in reality it was still far.

What are the two eggs in The Great Gatsby? ›

West Egg is home to the nouveau riche, or "New Money." East Egg residents come from generations of familial wealth. The arrogant and spoiled characters, Tom and Daisy, live in East Egg, while Nick and Jay live in West Egg. The Valley of Ashes is reserved for the poorest citizens.

Does Daisy love Gatsby? ›

Although Daisy may have loved Gatsby once, she does not love him more than the wealth, status, and freedom that she has with Tom.

What is Gatsby's party theme? ›

What is a Great Gatsby Party? Great Gatsby-themed parties bring glamour to the forefront of your celebration with Art Deco designs and golden décor elements. Expect live jazz ensembles, flapper performers, and sparkling Champagne towers.

What is a theme about dreams in The Great Gatsby? ›

In The Great Gatsby, the American Dream is supposed to stand for independence and the ability to make something of one's self with hard work, but it ends up being more about materialism and selfish pursuit of pleasure.

Why is Daisy crying over shirts? ›

Daisy cries because she has never seen such beautiful shirts, and their appearance makes her emotional. The scene solidifies her character and her treatment of Gatsby. She is vain and self-serving, only concerned with material goods.

What does the egg symbolize Great Gatsby? ›

East Egg became symbolic of separating Gatsby from Daisy, the love of his life. Gatsby is determined to get Daisy back regardless of her being married and his division from her in West Egg.

What does The Great Gatsby teach us about society? ›

In parts, The Great Gatsby is a satire on American society of the 1920s. This paper assumes that the novel realistically portrays the American society of the 1920s. The 1920s is portrayed as an era of decayed social and moral values, evidenced in its overarching cynicism, greed and empty pursuit of pleasure.

Why is Nick Carraway moral? ›

A moral voice

Nick can therefore be seen as the moral compass of the story. He refuses Gatsby's offer of a dubious scheme that could make him a nice bit of money . When he meets Jordan, nothing happens between them at first because of the interior rules that act as brakes on my desires… .

Why is it important to teach The Great Gatsby? ›

Schools should continue to read Gatsby. It's short enough to enthrall students without them getting bored quickly, and it provides insight about idealism, social classes and wealth that still remain relevant today. Reading the novel [also] provides a great way to start conversation about the 'American Dream. '”

What does Daisy Buchanan color symbolize? ›

Daisy's color is white, she wears white dresses and recalls her “white girlhood” (chapter 1), and this use of color helps her to characterize her as the unattainable “enchanted princess” who becomes incarnate as Gatsby's dream.

Is Nick Carraway in love with Gatsby? ›

In that novel, Nick loves Gatsby, the erstwhile James Gatz of North Dakota, for his capacity to dream Jay Gatsby into being and for his willingness to risk it all for the love of a beautiful woman. In a queer reading of Gatsby, Nick doesn't just love Gatsby, he's in love with him.

Why was Nick attracted to Gatsby? ›

Nick is particularly taken with Gatsby and considers him a great figure. He sees both the extraordinary quality of hope that Gatsby possesses and his idealistic dream of loving Daisy in a perfect world.

What are the major plot points in The Great Gatsby? ›

F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel,The Great Gatsby, follows Jay Gatsby, a man who orders his life around one desire: to be reunited with Daisy Buchanan, the love he lost five years earlier. Gatsby's quest leads him from poverty to wealth, into the arms of his beloved, and eventually to death.

What does the Valley of Ashes symbolize? ›

The Valley of Ashes

It represents the moral and social decay that results from the uninhibited pursuit of wealth, as the rich indulge themselves with regard for nothing but their own pleasure.

What is Daisy a metaphor for? ›

What is Daisy a metaphor for in The Great Gatsby? Daisy is not herself a metaphor, but Gatsby does think of her as more of a shortcut to happiness than as a person. Their relationship is explored through the metaphor of the green light.

Is Daisy a victim in The Great Gatsby? ›

Daisy, in fact, is more victim than victimizer: she is victim first of Tom Buchanan's "cruel" power, but then of Gatsby's increasingly depersonalized vision of her. She be- comes the unwitting "grail" (p. 149) in Gatsby's adolescent quest to re- main ever-faithful to his seventeen-year-old conception of self (p.

Why does Gatsby stop throwing parties? ›

In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby stops giving parties because of Daisy's reaction to the party she attends and because he has attained what he had hoped the parties would give him - renewed contact with Daisy.

What does the last sentence of The Great Gatsby mean? ›

In this way, the last line is simply saying that through our continuing efforts to move forward through new obstacles, we will be constantly reminded and confronted with our past because we can't help but repeat our own history, both individually and collectively.

What does yellow symbolize in The Great Gatsby? ›

Yellow is the most common color appeared in the novel. First, it symbolizes money, materialism and high social position, such as Doctor T. J. Eckleburg's enormous yellow spectacles and Gatsby's golden tie. Second, it symbolizes luxury and greed when the author describes Daisy as a golden woman.

What does Nick mean when he says that Gatsby believed in the green light the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us? ›

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. Here, Nick explains what made Gatsby so different from most of the characters in the novel: his sense of hope and belief in the American dream.

What do cars symbolize in The Great Gatsby? ›

What role do automobiles play in The Great Gatsby? For many of Fitzgerald's characters, the automobile represents American progress. Fitzgerald, however, remains unconvinced. Despite its superficial role as an emblem of man's ingenuity, Fitzgerald suggests that the automobile is actually a tool of destruction.

What is the green light in The Great Gatsby? ›

The green light in The Great Gatsby serves as a representation of all that Jay Gatsby wants to achieve. It is a guiding light. When he glances upon the light, it reminds him to keep pushing forward. Most specifically, this pertains to his infatuation with Daisy.

How did Gatsby make his money? ›

Jay Gatsby however did not earn his money in an honest way. He earned it by bootlegging alcohol, which as we all know was illegal because of the prohibition of alcohol during the time of this book, and he also earned a lot of his money from fake stocks.

What is a famous line from The Great Gatsby? ›

All I kept thinking about, over and over, was 'You can't live forever; you can't live forever.” “No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.” “It takes two to make an accident.” “He looked at her the way all women want to be looked at by a man.”

Does Gatsby sleep with Daisy? ›

The reader also learns that, when courting, Daisy and Gatsby had been intimate with each other and it was this act of intimacy that bonded him to her inexorably, feeling "married to her." Gatsby left Daisy, heading off to war.

Does Daisy kiss Gatsby? ›

While all five are at the Buchanans' house, Tom leaves the room to speak with his mistress on the phone and Daisy boldly kisses Gatsby, declaring her love for him.

What is ironic about Gatsby's party? ›

Gatsby, the great party giver, is alone. Gatsby's partygoers bail when the party is over. The irony is that all Gatsby's money cannot buy friends or the woman he loves.

What is the theme of Gatsby's death? ›

Gatsby's death is symbolic of the death of the American dream, bringing the novel full-circle. Even though George Wilson murdered him, Gatsby still carries some of the blame for his death. He took responsibility for Myrtle Wilson's death in order to protect Daisy.

What are the themes in the first chapter of The Great Gatsby? ›

The first chapter introduces the friction between old moneyed families in America and those who had recently made their fortunes during the first quarter of the 20th century. Themes introduced during the chapter include racism, cultural superiority, and unhappiness hidden behind extravagant lifestyles.

What is the central theme of dreams? ›

"Dreams" by Langston Hughes is a short poem - just eight lines split into two quatrains. Through this poem, Hughes encourages the reader to pursue their dreams, lest life become meaningless and barren.

What is the most common dream theme? ›

Falling. Falling is the most common recurring dream people have, according to a 2022 survey of 2,007 Americans conducted by mattress and sleep product company, Amerisleep.

What color represents Gatsby's dream? ›

There are six main colors in the novel: green, white, red, yellow, blue and grey. Green is closely associated with the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, which is minute and far away. So it symbolizes Gatsby's original dream and hope, his ceaseless pursuit of dream and even the corruption of his dream and life.


1. Video SparkNotes: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby summary
2. Like Pale Gold - The Great Gatsby Part 1: Crash Course English Literature #4
3. The Great Gatsby - Young and Beautiful (Music Video)
4. Themes and Motifs of the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
(Bullis Student Tutors)
5. How to Figure Out Themes in the Great Gatsby--The American Dream with Prof. Bernstein
6. 'The Great Gatsby' Summary and Analysis | by F Scott Fitzgerald and narrated by Barbara Njau
(First Rate Tutors)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Annamae Dooley

Last Updated: 16/09/2023

Views: 5969

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (65 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Annamae Dooley

Birthday: 2001-07-26

Address: 9687 Tambra Meadow, Bradleyhaven, TN 53219

Phone: +9316045904039

Job: Future Coordinator

Hobby: Archery, Couponing, Poi, Kite flying, Knitting, Rappelling, Baseball

Introduction: My name is Annamae Dooley, I am a witty, quaint, lovely, clever, rich, sparkling, powerful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.