The Legacy of Romanticism in The Great Gatsby
The development of American Literature, much like the development of the nation, began in earnest, springing from a Romantic ideology that honored individualism and visionary idealism. As the nation broke away from the traditions of European Romanticism, America forged its own unique romantic style that would resonate through future generations of literary works. Through periods of momentous change, the fundamentally Romantic nature of American literature held fast, a fact clearly demonstrated in the fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In an era of post-war disillusionment, when idealism succumbed to hedonistic materialism, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s romantically charged novel, The Great Gatsby, emerged in direct counterpoint to the disorder and apathy of Modernism. In his depiction of the idealist, Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald created a link with America’s literary past and the romantic yearnings of a nation struggling to re-define itself. If Romanticism exemplifies individualism, idealism, and transcendence, then Jay Gatsby, as a romantic protagonist, testifies to the legacy of Romanticism in American literature.
In keeping with the Romantic tradition and its reverence for individualism, Fitzgerald presents a protagonist whose “Platonic conception of himself” marks him as unique (Fitzgerald 104). Possessing a natural “heightened sensitivity to the promises of life,” Gatsby’s “romantic readiness” evolves long before his crucial encounter with Daisy Fay, finding inspiration in his association with the self-made pioneer-tycoon, Dan Cody. Described as “a product of the Nevada silver fields, of the Yukon, of every rush for metal since Seventy-five,” Cody represents the romance of the frontier, an era when the land still beckoned, when exploration, speculation, and risk-taking frequently led to fame, notoriety, and fortune (Fitzgerald 104, Way 91). In his propensity for living on his own terms, Cody projects the free-spirited individualism that deeply influences the young and impressionable Jimmie Gatz. Yet, as much as Cody’s influence proves significant, it is Gatsby’s innate sense of wonder that sets him apart, linking him to an “epic sense of destiny” and vision that allows him to transcend the parameters that shape and dictate the lives of the majority (Lehan 15). In disassociating himself from his past, Gatsby embraces the possibility of re-inventing himself; however, as a true romantic, he aspires to a pristine image beyond himself. Thus, when Daisy Fay enters his life, she becomes the manifestation of all that commands his desire and purpose (Way 90). Essentially, in Daisy, Gatsby finds the key to the final development in his romantic vision as “she blossom[s] for him like a flower […] [making] the incarnation complete” (Fitzgerald 117).
Daisy’s impact on Gatsby is immediate and cathartic. As “the golden girl” she represents the ultimate prize,...