In the novel The Great Gatsby, Gatsby is a tragic hero because he displays the fundamental characteristics of modern tragic hero. He is a common man, he contains the characteristics of a tragic flaw, and he eventually has a tragic fall.
Although at first glance Gatsby might not seem to be the everyday man, in reality he actually is. At one point Gatsby’s past is being examined and his parents are described as “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people” which shows the readers that he came from humble roots and was just like everyone else (Fitzgerald 95). He was not born into wealth and privilege and did not have any special background that gave him an advantage over others. Another instance in which Gatsby is portrayed as the average man is when Nick is discussing Gatsby’s past and he says, “So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent”(Fitzgerald 95). This shows that the persona that Gatsby has created for himself is that of any average, immature boy. As the novel progresses further you find Nick recounting Gatsby’s past and describing him as being a “penniless young man” which again shows the reader that Gatsby is really just the common man with a big dream (Fitzgerald 141). This statement helps take away some of the disguise of wealth and overwhelming power, and brings him into a more human perspective.
Gatsby’s tragic flaw is that his view of the world is obstructed by his own naive idealism. It is very clear to the reader that Gatsby is idealistic when, while Nick is over at Gatsby’s house, he reflects on Daisy’s and Gatsby’s relationship and he notes, “There must have been momentsâ€¦ when Daisy tumbled short of his dreamsâ€¦ because of the colossal vitality of his illusion”(Fitzgerald 92). This shows that even Nick, his best friend and the one that sticks up for Gatsby the most, sees that Gatsby perceives Daisy to be ideal and perfect. Gatsby does not see things as they really are and expects them to play out exactly as he thinks they will. An example of this is when Nick is talking to Gatsby after a party and he tells Gatsby that he can’t repeat the past, and Gatsby responds, “‘Can’t repeat the past?’â€¦. ‘Why of course you can!'” (Fitzgerald 106). This delusion, that he can repeat the past and redo everything, blinds Gatsby to what is going on right in front of him. It seems as though he does not realize how absurd the idea of obtaining Daisy love is. Gatsby’s idealism also blinds him to how Daisy really acts and what her personality is like. An example of this can be seen in the imagery of the novel. Throughout the novel white is used as imagery for pure and innocent, while yellow represents corruption. A daisy has white petals and a yellow center. This imagery relates because it shows how Gatsby perceives Daisy. All he sees is a beautiful, loving woman who loves him back and he cannot see past his own idealistic view of the perfect Daisy to the corrupt, shallow, money-loving Daisy. Another example of Gatsby’s overwhelming idealism is his own self perception. Gatsby thinks as long as he surrounds himself with riches and the wealthy, that people will accept him and he can erase his former self; Gatsby the poor farm boy. This shows how he is idealistic because no matter what a person does, the former self will always be there. Later in the novel when Nick is reflecting on Gatsby’s idea of Daisy he notes, “He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you.'” (Fitzgerald 105). This idea is not a realistic expectation because Daisy is already married and has a family to take care of; also her religion prevents her from getting a divorce and marrying him. All these are factors block Gatsby from obtaining his ideal dream, but he seems to be blind to them.
Although Gatsby’s physical fall starts near the end of novel, his spiritual fall arguably begins before you even meet him. In the middle of the novel you hear about Gatsby’s past and how he was a poor average man, but he was honest and worked hard. As the novel progresses you hear about his relationship with Daisy and how it ended because he was not wealthy enough. He needed to become wealthy so that Daisy would marry him. To obtain this wealth Gatsby started to participate in dishonest and illegal deeds such as bootlegging. This shows a fall spiritually because he goes against his morals and values. Closer to the end of the novel, after Daisy kills Myrtle in car accident, you learn that Gatsby will take the blame for Myrtles death. Although this is a show of love for Daisy, it is eventually what leads him to his physical downfall. Throughout the novel you are shown images of Gatsby surrounded by all kinds of wealthy and high class people, and it seems as though he has many friends. However, at Gatsby’s funeral at the very end of the novel when Gatsby is shot and killed, there is no one there except for a select few. This image is used very well because it shows how the mighty have fallen. The one person everyone thought had it all, in reality has nothing; no money, no love and no friends.
Gatsby is a perfect example of a modern tragic hero because he has an eventual tragic fall, he displays certain characteristic that shows that he has tragic flaw and if you look beyond his wealth, you will see that he was just common man with a big dream.