Love in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:01 Love in the Great…
  • 1:17 Love's Timing
  • 2:33 Love's Future
  • 4:05 Love's Impossibility
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

This lesson examines themes of love in F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 masterpiece, 'The Great Gatsby.' In the book, love is neither idealistic nor pure, but rather depicted as a byproduct of timing and personal desires and as an impossible dream.

Love in the Great American Novel

There's a reason why many consider F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, to be the Great American Novel. The iconic tale hits a number of big themes: the unforgiving passage of time, the pain of unfulfilled dreams, the brutal divisions between the haves and the have-nots. But it is Gatsby's exploration of the biggest theme of all that truly makes the novel great. Because Gatsby is a story about love, what love is, what it isn't, and what it should be.

The Great Gatsby is set in the Jazz Age of the Roaring Twenties in Long Island, New York. World War I had forever changed modern life, inspiring in the younger generation a live-for-now mentality, an acute awareness that tomorrow is not promised, even for the young.

Spurning tradition and restraint, the period is often represented by images of 1920s socialites, called flapper girls, and their male counterparts, who sought pleasure above all else. In the book, this lifestyle changed the way they thought about themselves and their future, as well as who and how they loved.

Love's Timing

Love in Gatsby is, all too often, a matter of good timing. In the novel, where only today matters, love depends strongly on who is in the right place at the right time.

When Jay Gatsby returns after a five-year absence to claim Daisy Buchanan's love, he seeks confirmation that she has loved him despite their years apart. But Daisy can't provide that reassurance. She can only say, 'I love you now -- Isn't that enough?' The 'now' is all that matters in Daisy's world. And in the five years that Gatsby was off making his fortune, it was Tom Buchanan who was there; it was Tom who Daisy married; it was he with whom she had a daughter. Tom, unlike Gatsby, was in the right place at the right time.

Fitzgerald echoes this theme in the romance between the narrator, Nick Carraway, and Jordan Baker. Nick turns 30 over the course of the novel, and he feels the significance of one decade's passing as he begins to court Jordan. She is an attractive girl who is interesting, and available, at just the right moment. Their attraction is that of two people ready to be attracted (and it doesn't much matter to whom).

Love's Future

If timing is key in our modern, live-for-today kind of love, so too is having the right candidate. Daisy's and Gatsby's world is about pleasure. And the ideal candidate for a romantic partner is one who can promise exactly this. Good loving, Gatsby style, is about finding the one most likely to give you what you want, right now and every day after.

When Daisy and Gatsby first fell in love, Gatsby was a penniless soldier. His lack of fortune drives Daisy (the daughter of an old money Louisville family) to reject him. Gatsby could not then promise the luxury and social connections that Daisy desired, but Tom, heir to a family fortune, could. Only when Gatsby, now a self-made millionaire, returns does Daisy requite his love because he embodies the today and the tomorrow she wants.

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