The presentation of Gatsby as a creation of himself and others imaginations is a main theme in the novel. As the novel is an allegory for the American Dream, the need for a character that can supposedly create his own life is important as the Dream was that anyone could become successful. Though in Gatsby’s case, it is just a facade, such as the American Dream was. The reader is encouraged, through Nick’s idealising and fantasising vision, to get caught up into Gatsby’s romantic self construction.
But the mix of irony and romanticism in the narrative help us stay detached from Gatsby’s personality and show us how Gatsby’s self construction ultimately leads to his destruction. The first real presentation of Gatsby’s identity and his belief of the idealised self is when Nick sees his house preparing for the party. It seems as though everything is as it should be for someone of Gatsby’s social standing, the full orchestra setting up showing someone with taste. Yet it is not until Nick is in the party that you realise that something is off.
His orchestra are playing Vladmir Tostoff’s ‘Jazz History of the World. ‘ Gatsby is a figure for the Jazz Age, but he is also tied by social constraints that he believes means he must have an orchestra. Both things are correct, but when looked at together, they just don’t fit. It seems to be a challenge by jazz music to be a serious rival to classical music. This could never happen showing how traditional wealth will always come out on top, no matter how hard you try to influence things. This act of being too good is also vivid in Gatsby’s recollection of his youth.
The things he tells Nick are all a bit too correct. It seems true on the surface, part of the romanticism of Gatsby, but when looked at thoroughly you see it is wrong. His account of war is wrong and the medal he was given was given to soldiers who came from Princeton, yet he supposedly came from Oxford. This idea of creating his own past to create an identity is what makes him appealing to the other people. As he has a less than complete history, people fill in the gaps with what they want. ‘I think he killed a man. ‘ People fantasise what they want to believe to increase the romantic personality of Gatsby.
But he also contributes to people’s opinions of him and his own self identity. He has an extravagant need to embellish his so called ‘associates. ‘ ‘I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked my name and address – within a week I got a package from Croirier’s with a new evening gown in it. ‘ His need to constantly impress people fuels suspicion in his party goers. It seems as though he doesn’t want trouble from anyone in case they dig deeper into his past and discover the truth. Although the crowds seem to have enough fun just accepting what they make up. His decadence and wealth are used only on guests.
He is the only one not enjoying the parties as though he needs to keep up the image of what he is. It seems as though he cannot let his guard down in case he slips from character. He has to keep up the act of what believes is the correct way of acting at this social event. This links back to the idea of things being too perfect. ‘Want to go with me, old sport? ‘ Although he doesn’t know Nick, he uses ‘old sport’ as he believes it is the correct gesture to use. Whereas someone who was actually brought up in that social class would know that he is using it in the wrong place.
When Nick talks about New York after the party it fills the role of Gatsby as America in character. The ‘racy, adventurous feel’ embodies Gatsby, yet Nick also sees underneath it. ‘At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others. ‘ This vibrant character with a lonely undercurrent sums up Gatsby. The embodiment of American culture in the 20’s brings a romantic sense to his personality. He is what people wish they were. When he smiles at Nick it is one of those ‘rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it. Nick feels as though he knows what he wants to be when he sees it. ‘It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood. ‘ When in the library it seems as though the party goers don’t take Gatsby for what he is. Owl Eyes (a reference to Athena, goddess of wisdom, seeming to point towards some knowledge of Gatsby) is shocked when the shelves of books are real.
You would assume, as Gatsby’s personality is so thin, that the books would be fake, just for show. ‘Thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Even though the books are real Owl Eyes still refers to Gatsby as a ‘regular Belasco’ referencing the over elaborate Library is just a stage. He still feels as though it has been set up to support Gatsby’s identity. This need to show himself in what he owns is also visible when ‘Gatsby’s gorgeous car’ pulls in to Nick’s house. His car is desirable but lacking in taste, showing Gatsby can buy it as he has money, but has no real knowledge of what is socially acceptable. The embodiment of Gatsby in his library also foreshadows the future.
He snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on the shelf, muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse. ‘ It is as though if one part of his identity was to fall out of place his whole facade would be ruined. His need to get back with Daisy is his ultimate collapse as although impossible, he has a delusion that she would leave Tom and come back to Gatsby. This party image of himself was to impress Daisy, but he cannot keep it up. Gatsby’s main strength, being able to create the idealised version of himself is his main weakness as well.
As he wants to be socially acceptable in the class he believes he fits into he follows all their customs. Though as he also needs to fit in to the social order of the current period he follows all the aspects of the Jazz Age culture. These two things are perfectly acceptable by themselves, yet he tries to fit into both and fails by using social norms from each class, at the same time. Coupled with this, as he is not originally from either social class, he gets things wrong. Using the rhetoric of the upper class, but not in context, though appears good, is a glaring mistake and obvious that he is not originally from that class.
Also his lack of true identity aids increasing people’s views of him. No history means they can fantasise about his past, increasing their romantic view of him. Gatsby aids this by acting as the suave American that he does. This image of Gatsby as new America while Tom is the traditional, staid, ‘old money’ America with conflicting romantic ideals was an allegory for America at the time. Gatsby’s fate at the end of the novel, but also scenes such as the crash at his party were references to the fact that ‘new’ America would always crash and traditional America would always stay as it was.