Jay Gatsby as Tragic Hero of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
According to Aristotle, there are a number of characteristics that identify a tragic hero: he must cause his own downfall; his fate is not deserved, and his punishment exceeds the crime; he also must be of noble stature and have greatness. These are all characteristics of Jay Gatsby, the main character of Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby is a tragic hero according to Aristotle's definition.
Jay Gatsby is an enormously rich man, and in the flashy years of the jazz age, wealth defined importance. Gatsby has endless wealth, power and influence but never uses material objects selfishly. Everything he owns exists only to attain his vision. Nick feels "inclined to reserve all judgements" (1), but despite his disapproval of Gatsby's vulgarity, Nick respects him for the strength and unselfishness of his idealism. Gatsby is a romantic dreamer who wishes to fulfill his ideal by gaining wealth in hopes of impressing and eventually winning the heart of the materialistic, superficial Daisy. She is, however, completely undeserving of his worship. "Then it had been merely the stars to which he had aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor" (79). Nick realizes Gatsby's estate, parties, shirts and other seemingly "purposeless" possessions are not purposeless. Everything Gatsby does, every move he makes and every decision he conceives is for a reason. He wants to achieve his ideal, Daisy. Gatsby's "purposeless splendor" is all for the woman he loves and wishes to represent his ideal. Furthermore, Gatsby believes he can win his woman with riches, and that his woman can achieve the ideal she stands for through material influence. Gatsby believes in The Great American Dream, for that is where the basis for his ideal originated. Later, the concept develops into an obsession with money and more so, Daisy.
Gatsby's tragic flaw lies within his inability to see that the real and the ideal cannot coexist. Gatsby's ideal is Daisy. He sees her as perfect and worthy of all his affections and praise. In reality she is undeserving and through her actions, proves she is pathetic rather than honorable. When Daisy says "Sophisticated-God I'm sophisticated" (18), she contradicts who she really is. The reader sees irony here, knowing she is far from sophisticated, but superficial, selfish and pathetic. Gatsby's vision is based on his belief that the past can be repeated, "can't repeat the past? Why of course you can" (111)! The disregard for reality is how Gatsby formulates his dream (with high expectations), and the belief that sufficient wealth can allow one to control his or her own fate. Gatsby believes youth and beauty can be recaptured if he can only make enough money. To become worthy of Daisy,...