War and Peace

Self-Begotten Fantasy in Gatsby and War and Peace: Satiating the Spiritual Void

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby is an utterly American character: deviant and romantic idealist; tenacious yet sensitive; ostentatious yet nostalgic. At his core is a transcendental yearning, and for this reason as a character he never quite comes into focus. To the “Great” Gatsby, Daisy is a vision of an ideal, one tied up thoroughly with the past, and to that end, Gatsby is a victim of his own creation. In light of Gatsby’s lonely demise, the question remains whether The Great Gatsby is ultimately a critique of Gatsby, or of his dream.

To consider such a question, it is helpful to adopt a perspective that treats human nature with almost biblical sensibility, to analyze by locating aspects of reality and human nature that cause us to see them both differently. This is what Tolstoy offers the reader. Pierre Bezukhov of War and Peace appears to embody the sort of vitality that Gatsby lacks. Though Pierre meanders somewhat aimlessly amongst half-hearted pursuits for nearly half the novel, once he finds an image to fill the void in his soul, he is raised to a higher spiritual plain. If we regard two essential moments in these novels – one each in War and Peace and The Great Gatsby – we find their protagonists launched to higher...

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