Transformation

The Great Gatsby is a book of transformations, namely the transformation that comes from a transition from living in the “Middle West” to the East. Although the story is set in New York City and her suburbs, as Nick says “this has been a story of the West.” In attempting to acclimate to their new home, each of the main characters adopts his or her own understanding of what seems to be a heightened version of the High Society attitudes of the New York elite.

The clearest example of transformation is that of James Gatz, farm boy, into Jay Gatsby, host of the best parties outside Manhattan. His transformation is planned from his childhood and is much less obscured than those of the other characters. In the schedule that Fitzgerald includes in the last few pages, young Gatsby, or Gatz as he was known back then, is seen as someone “bound to get ahead.” Gatz seems unconcerned with his lot in life, simply using it at as a rather low starting point for achieving his lofty aspirations. He did not come East hoping to do well. Instead, his confidence told him that he would and he went on to do so with a doggedness and a take-no-prisoners attitude. His list and his attitude as a child and young adult support his inherent belief that he will succeed. That being said, despite his best intentions, the lessons of Gatsby’s Gatz years stick with him, giving him depth and a moral compass that is less skewed than his friends’. When Daisy kills Myrtle, Gatsby has no qualms about taking the blame just as Tom has no qualms about turning Gatsby in. Perhaps his lingering love for Daisy allows him to maintain that one emotional connection with his past, regardless, he maintains some of his Midwestern morals such as true chivalry as opposed to the illusion of it.

Daisy, however, has changed as well. Living in the East has given her more freedom to portray her true self. Though she might have contemplated immoral behaviour out west, the surrounding morality of the Midwest forced her to curb her behaviour. Once she gets to New York, however, her messes get cleaned up for her, so she no longer needs to worry about the repercussions of some of the questionable decisions that she makes (such as having an affair). Tom, as well, exhibits some of these behaviours. His philosophy that his relationship with Myrtle Wilson is both normal and acceptable hints at a view that scandalous behaviour in the upper echelons of New York society is permissible as long as it does not cross an unspoken line. As long as he and Daisy are still together after the conclusion of the affair, society is satisfied.

Nick, by contrast, is not willing to forgo his morals. His lingering Midwestern ideals cry foul at the idea of widely known extramarital affairs. Nick claims that “though [he] was curious to see her, [he] had no desire to meet her.” Being a more recent emigrant to the East, he is less morphed by the questionable ideals of the East and New York’s fast paced lifestyle. He resists adopting the philosophies of the East, as does Gatsby to a certain extent, which leads to conflict with the East.

Nick claims, towards the end of the book, that the main characters are “all Westerners and perhaps [they] possessed some deficiency in common which made [them] subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.” Perhaps he is onto something. Each of the characters has to deal with internal conflict of living life fast and loose and staying true to their childhood morals. Some of the characters snap, such as Daisy and Gatsby and others move on to the next challenge after a brief recovery period.

 

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