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Jay Gatsby: A Tragic Hero Essay

1064 words - 4 pages

"Tragedy, then, is a process of imitating an action which has serious implications, is complete, and possesses magnitude; by means of language which has been made sensuously attractive, with each of its varieties found separately in the parts; enacted by the persons themselves and not presented through narrative; through a course of pity and fear completing the purification (catharsis) of such emotions." (Aristotle)

The “tragic hero” is an indefatigable staple in all mediums of literature. Although the term’s defining characteristics have morphed since its initial inception by Aristotle those many millennia ago, the main idea has endured. To be a tragic hero, several requirements must be met. The formula begins with a character that possesses noble and admirable qualities. Then come imperfections to make him appear human and believable, and finally the tragic hero is completed when he experiences an equally tragic downfall, that is both partially his fault and disproportionate to his crime (Aristotle). In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald successfully creates main character Jay Gatsby as such a figure. By molding his protagonist in the shadows of such a literary icon, Fitzgerald’s hopes of introducing the classic American novel to the public are realized. Through analysis of the novel, the claim that Jay Gatsby was created as a tragic hero is irrefutable.
Before the reader even considers a probe at the novel’s binding, Gatsby is firmly solidified in his or her mind as having some undefinable, indescribable aura of inherent goodness. By including “great” in the title, Fitzgerald forces a bias onto all who are exposed to the work. Regardless of if one catches a fleeting glance at the cover, or hears of the classic by a recommendation from a colleague, the prevailing sentiment is always something along the lines of, “Wow, whoever this Gatsby character is, he sure is great.” You may not know who he is, or what he has done, but he will always stand out in your mind, elevated on a pedestal to be slightly higher than the rest of humanity, simply because of that lone adjective.
And this feeling does not dissipate, but in fact is reinforced immediately. No more than two pages into the novel is Gatsby described by Nick in a way that would make any sinner seem saintly, with the grand compliment of, “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him...” (2). Sincerity and a true genuineness of character: these are valued immensely in society, a fact not lost on Fitzgerald. By immediately establishing Gatsby’s admirable qualities, he firmly plants the roots that provide a perfect framework for the perfect tragic hero.
However, this is not to say that Jay Gatsby should be a revered literary figure. Throughout the course of the book he repeatedly does not live up to the standards set for him both by the title, and by that initial summary from Nick. Simply put, he is a realistically...

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