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  • The Ethics of Love in The Great Gatsby

    Minna Pöntinen 00E 6.11.2001

    The Great Gatsby is often honored with the title “love story of the century”, and not without a reason. Love is one of the major themes in the novel, and the actions of the characters are much based on the dear feelings they hold towards each other, money, fortune or the images they have created of each other.

    Jay Gatsby has risen from rags to riches. Since the beginning his motivator has been the image of being a member of the rich upper class - and most of all, Daisy, since “she was the first ‘nice’ girl he had ever known” (p. 154). Gatsby seemed to think that while he remained a poor member of the lower class, he wouldn’t be worthy of Daisy’s love. Here we stumble across the first point concerning the ethics of love in this novel: the characters seem to think that to be able to love or to be loved you have to be equal in status to your partner, without giving any explanation why love between people of unequal status would not work.

    While gathering his fortune and building himself a facade to hide his low-status past behind, all he thinks about is Daisy. Day and night, the pictures of this young lady whose “voice is full of money” (p. 126) spin around Gatsby’s head, and slowly start to evolve. When the years go by, the Daisy Gatsby thinks about is not the old Daisy anymore - she is more like a goddess, not even comparable to a mortal woman. When Gatsby has achieved fame and fortune he desired, all that is between him and total happiness is Daisy. Here we can see another important points: first, when you love someone, you have to allow him or her to naturally change within the passage of time - this is something that Gatsby doesn’t allow Daisy to do.

    When Gatsby is gathering his fortune, Daisy, who is apparently impatient and ignorant of the meaning of true love, is married to Tom Buchanan, without even thinking of Gatsby. When Gatsby re-enters her life, she gets confused. During the long years she has submerged herself in material wealth and fun little vanities, but the appearance of Gatsby manages to strike her well-protected but inexperienced heart. Daisy doesn’t know what to do: should she remain faithful to her husband and continue her life as if nothing had happened, or should she follow the advices her novice heart gives her and join Gatsby once more? When the eternal triangle finally reaches its peak in the hotel room, Daisy still can’t decide, and cries to Tom: “I did love him once - but I loved you too!” (p. 139) Gatsby wants Daisy all to himself, to the length that Daisy should tell Tom that she’s never actually loved him, but she isn’t able to do so.

    When Gatsby finally reaches Daisy, at first it all goes like he imagined it to go: Daisy seems to rediscover her love for him because of his nice shirts and large house. Later the narrator notices that Daisy is still impatient and wants to get her life in order immediately, and ponders the criterions for her possible choice: “The decision must be made by some force: of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality.” (p. 157) Here we are introduced to the the reason for love or loving: for Daisy, the reason for love seems to be the opportunity to enjoy easy life, but as we notice as the book goes along, it doesn’t work very well in the long run - the craving for emotions can’t be buried under wealth.

    Cheating on a relationship is also an important part of the novel. Like the American Dream, which was fulfilled for its material part but not for the spiritual side, the characters have fulfilled their earthly desires, but they are all on a quest for love. Tom cheats on Daisy with Myrtle Wilson, who is also married, Daisy wants to love Gatsby again, and Jordan - who is engaged - is flirting with Nick.

    There is also true love in the Great Gatsby. George Wilson, the gray, middle-aged garage worker, living near the valley of ashes, truly cherishes his wife, Myrtle. He is quite old-fashioned and believes in the sanctity of marriage. He is not as naïve as it would seem at first: he is aware of the fact that his wife is cheating on him with somebody. The fact that he doesn’t do anything about this at first is because he has understood and accepted the real meaning of true love: your mate’s happiness should be the most important thing to you. Wilson realizes that he isn’t able to give Myrtle what she needs to be happy, and doesn’t interfere with whatever her wife is doing, but still notes to her “You may fool me but you can’t fool God” (p. 166), here referring to the fact that love is not just something that forms relationships between mortal men and women, but a divine gift that should not be misused. Later on George wants to help Myrtle to revive the holiness of their marriage by moving away with her.

    The relationships of characters in the Great Gatsby mainly portray love as something fun that can be bought by wealth or status. As the story proceeds, most of the characters learn to know the responsibilities that come along with and are the most important characteristics of true love.

    © Minna Pöntinen 2009 / minagi (at)