The Quest to Discover the Different Sides of America in The Great Gatsby, a Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“All That Glitters Is Not Gold”

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the narrator and protagonist Nick Carraway travels from his hometown in the Midwest to New York to learn about the bond business and

become a “well-rounded man” (4). By doing so, he begins his quest to discover the different sides of America through exposing himself to the height of opulence at the Eggs and the extent of corruption in the “valley of ashes” (23).

Having moved to West Egg next to Jay Gatsby’s grand mansion, Nick bears witness to the disparity between the arrogant “old” rich, as depicted by the Buchanans, and the superficial “new” rich, portrayed through the guests at Gatsby’s party (44-45). Nick’s residence at West Egg places him in the heart of the hustle and bustle between the socially elite. While many are “supercilious” (7) like Tom Buchanan, there are also corrupted individuals present in the valley of ashes, such as Myrtle Wilson and her adulterous relationship with Tom. Thus, Nick doesn’t only see the beauty in American society, he also looks beyond the facade of fame and riches to reveal the decay and debauchery underneath.

Even in his pursuit to uncover the mysteries of Gatsby’s identity, Nick realizes even more than appearances can be deceiving. Though Gatsby seemed to be a highly engaged socialite, he was also incredibly learned and soft-spoken, owning a library filled with real books rather than empty volumes (45) and surprising Nick with his humble appearance (48). Furthermore, Gatsby’s free pass from the authorities through his mysterious white card (68) only strengthened Nick’s impression that everything regarding Gatsby is a surprise and that “anything can happen

anything at all” (69). Just as the atmosphere of Gatsby’s party shifted into something “significant, elemental and profound” (47) as the highs of celebration transitioned into lows of conflict (51), Nick finds himself both attracted to and repulsed by city life. “I began to like New

York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye” (56), he says.

However, “at the enchanted metropolitan twilight [he] felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others” (56) as well. This push-and-pull momentum from the city’s allure and underlying perversion, as personified by the vivacious and “incurably dishonest” (58) Jordan Baker, is what drives Nick to continue searching for a true sense of what these complexities of society are really like. In this, he also attempts to find a place for himself within America — in all her glory, splendor, and decadence.

 

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