Malik McMillian's Portfolio Project
How reading through literary lenses can change understanding
Literary Theory Essay
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a tragic novel that encapsulates the era it was written in. The story is told through the eyes of Nick, a veteran returning from the war, who tries to reconnect with his distant cousin, Daisy. Nick meets Daisy for dinner, along with her husband Tom and her friend, Jordan. They all come from a wealthy background, which Nick notices immediately. Nick on the other hand, comes from a middle class family, which connects to the life of the author as he also comes from a middle class background. The whole book takes place around the 1920s and focuses on the rise and fall of Gatsby, a mysteriously wealthy man who lives next door to Nick. It brings up many important topics such as can someone become wealthy and change their class and if all rich and wealthy people are selfish. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of The Great Gatsby, uses the characters and the events of the book to represent the aftermath of World War 1 and the society that that created.
An example of a character that represents Fitzgerald’s time is Tom. Tom is a wealthy man who attended college with Nick and played football throughout his years there. Tom represents what was seen as “old money” in the 1920s, or better yet, what was wrong with it. Fitzgerald presents Tom as a man with power and money in order to demonstrate the power wealthy men had during the 20s. Tom was married to Daisy, but was having an affair with another woman named Myrtle. Myrtle kept mentioning Daisy’s name and Tom responded violently, “Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand,”(p.37). F. Scott Fitzgerald lived a life of luxury among other wealthy elites, in this part he is writing about how power, wealth, or status can corrupt someone. Tom is selfish and thinks that only his beliefs matter, he is sexist and also controlling. Tom is meant to serve as a reflection of what fortune or power can do to someone. However, as the book progresses, Tom briefly loses Daisy to Gatsby, is involved indirectly with the death of Myrtle, and is shown up by Gatsby. He loses a lot and after losing all that he shares some of his real thoughts, “And if you think I didn’t have my share of suffering- look here, when I went to give up that flat and saw that damn box of dog biscuits sitting there on the sideboard, I sat down and cried like a baby. By God it was awful-”(p.179). Tom feels guilt and remorse over the events there, but this only happens when his actions affect him and have consequences. Fitzgerald continues to write on the same page, “I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made...”(p.179). This means that they are using their power to create problems for other people and don’t care about the consequences unless they are hurt by them. This is symbolism for the society Fitzgerald was apart of.
Another example of characters that represent the aftermath of World War 1 are Gatsby and Nick. When Nick went to Gatsby’s house for the first time, he heard all sorts of rumors about Gatsby, “‘’Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once.’ A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly. ‘I don’t think it’s so much that,’ argued Lucille scepticall; ‘It’s more that he was a German spy during the war.’”(p.44). The truth is that Gatsby was a Major in the army, fighting for America. These rumors represent how people make stories about important subjects. At the very beginning of the book Nick says, “I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. Instead of being the warm center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe,”(p.3). World War 1 was the biggest war in history at the time, and for some it was an adventure, but for others it was the worst thing they’d go through. Nick had a good time in the war and the lack of interest in his home life made him restless. These two quotes show two perspectives of the war that are very similar, there is a fantasized story made by the people who didn’t participate and the adventure held by those who did. The perspective that isn’t shown is the bad one, the people that saw all the violence and destruction of the war aren’t given a perspective.
Fitzgerald uses his characters as metaphors for the world at the time. The book focuses on how wealth and status can affect a person and what kind of society money creates. Fitzgerald also writes about World War 1, he mentions it a lot in the book. All of this shows how much the environment around him affected his writing. He uses mentions of history and symbolism that represents his time to give the reader the themes he wanted to write about.
A book is like a planet
From far away it can be small
But if you go and look deeper
You'll find glory in it all
Because book and planets both teach lessons
About what our world could be
All the people you can meet
All the places you could see
Just like a planet, a book is big
It's a very long journey
And order to learn it all
You must go through without a hurry
Go through and take your time
Make sure you're using all your senses
Because reading a book is viewing a planet
Through telescope lenses
"I wrote this to symbolize how looking at a book through literary lenses can help understand a book better "- Malik M.
Creative Response #1:
Nick and Tom go and travel to New York
They go to see a friend of Tom’s while he’s at work
Tom jokes with the man and asks how’s the business
And out through the back door comes Mrs. Wilson
Mrs. WIlson takes Tom and Nick back to her apartment
They go and straighten up just to get the party started
Mrs. Wilson’s sister Catherine come by
Just to tell her sister to divorce her other guy
Cause see, Tom and Mrs. Wilson are having an affair
And to their “significant others” none of this is fair
But Daisy and Mr. Wilson ain’t gonna stop this party
Everyone drinks and dance like no one’s watching
But at night, things cool down and everybody’s slumped
After this party, they won’t dance for a month
As it all cools down, the guests say things are hazy
And Mrs. Wilson tells Tom that she can talk about Daisy
So Tom breaks her nose, what a turn of events
Blood on the floor and no one’s made a move since
Everybody leaves while Nick and Mr. Mckee hang out
Fast forward to Mr. Mckee’s bedroom and Nick heads out?!?!?!?!?
"I chose to summarize the first three chapters in order to show that I understood what I read" - Malik M.
Creative Response #2:
Gatsby the Great
The man that people debate
Over how he got his estate
“Oh, he’s a bootlegger”
They think that his money is fake
On a sunday, he invites Nick out to lunch
They barely eat, and they talk a bunch
Gatsby talks about his origins
Where he came from
And Nick remembers what Jordan said
This could be his front
He could be lying
About his upcome
They talk and talk more
They talk about love
Gatsby talks about Daisy
Nick learns what there was
A time before war
A time before death
Gatsby left Daisy
And hasn’t come back
When he did come back
He found out she was married
Wanted to get back with Daisy
So he lives like he’s merry
"I chose to talk about Gatsby and his goals in this poem because I feel like Gatsby is one of the more intriguing characters in the story" - Malik M.
- Wsfcs.K12.Nc.Us, 2021, https://www.wsfcs.k12.nc.us/cms/lib/NC01001395/Centricity/Domain/7935/Gatsby_PDF_FullText.pdf.
Bartleby.Com, 2021, https://www.bartleby.com/essay/How-Does-Tom-Buchanan-Represent-1920s-Society-F3PU5GFF4CJF.