This was a non-compulsory essay I wrote in first year English. The Great Gatsby has become one of my favourite novels – i love F. Scott Fitzgerald’s descriptive writing. The essay topic was a discussion of who was responsible for Jay Gatsby’s death:
Jay Gatsby – a man who “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself” (p95); who was “preyed on” (p8) by those who shared a parallel existence with him though not the romance of his motives; and whose life was ended by the series of coincidences brought about by the consequences of his pursuit of a dream trapped in the past. We know who killed Jay Gatsby, but who is responsible ultimately for his death? Perhaps it is Gatsby himself, or is it Nick, his confidante? Could it be Daisy, the love of his life or maybe it is Tom, her jealous husband? Or do we just accept that George Wilson pulled the trigger and therefore he is solely responsible? I intend to explore these characters in relation to Gatsby and their possible implication in his death.
Through the events leading up to Gatsby’s death, we could argue that he brought his fate upon himself by clinging to a dream of recreating the past, for “[committing] himself to the following of a grail” (p142), and we could pass moral judgement for his pursuit of another man’s wife. Though he was guilty of both, neither of these can be seen as punishable by death. The way in which his death came about in relation to his own actions was purely circumstantial in that he did not have a direct acquaintance with George Wilson. This can be seen as a case of mistaken identity on Wilson’s part.
Gatsby’s story is recounted by the narrator, Nick Carraway, who despises everything that Jay Gatsby represents and “disapproved of him from beginning to end” (146-147) but makes an exception and even grows to like him and consider him “worth the whole damn bunch put together” (p146). We, as readers, are subject to Nick’s perspective of the events leading to Gatsby’s death as well his own role and his opinions of the other characters involved. We could indirectly pass partial blame onto Nick merely for the fact that he, through his idle cooperation, was accomplice to Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy, sparking Tom’s jealousy. In a conversation between Nick and Gatsby he (Nick) says “You ought to go away… It’s pretty certain they’ll trace your car…Go to Atlantic City for a week, or up to Montreal” (p140) it is evident that he has a genuine concern for Gatsby’s wellbeing and wishes that no harm come to him. From this we can conclude that Nick is not responsible for Gatsby’s death.
Daisy Buchanan is the dream Jay Gatsby pursues relentlessly. She is the reason for his transformation from James Gatz, son of unsuccessful farm parents, to Jay Gatsby, the wealthy, fashionable enigma. Daisy admits her love for Gatsby, but in a crucial moment, under pressure, she abandons her earlier courage to leave Tom for Gatsby and says she loves Tom and is staying with him. Gatsby sees the dream he has held for so long slipping out of reach. Tom, recognising his victory, sends Daisy home with Gatsby in his car as a message to Gatsby that he is not threatened by him. With the aim of trying to steady Daisy, Gatsby let’s her drive his car, resulting in the death of Myrtle Wilson. Gatsby decides to take the blame and say he was driving and Daisy lets him. We can cast Daisy in the role of a pawn in the events leading to Gatsby’s death but not responsible through any direct actions of her own. Her lack of courage, weakness of character and inability to stand by her decisions are contributing factors to how these events unfolded but do not show any evidence of her being responsible or having any motivation for Gatsby’s death.
This leaves us with Tom. Tom has motivation – his wife’s infidelity and the death of his mistress – both for which he blames Gatsby. We have also seen, in many instances, the numerous flaws in Tom’s character: his aggression and ruthlessness when he broke Myrtle’s nose: “Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.” (p39); his double standards with regards to fidelity and his prejudice to those outside his own social and racial circle: “Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white” (p124); and his own unbridled arrogance and opinion of himself. Our suspicions are confirmed when, some years after Gatsby’s death, Nick bumps into Tom and asks him what he said to George Wilson. “‘I told him the truth,’ he said… ‘His hand was on a revolver in his pocket every minute he was in the house -’ He broke off defiantly. ‘What if I did tell him? That fellow had it coming to him. He threw dust into your eyes just like he did in Daisy’s, but he was a tough one. He ran over Myrtle like you’d run over a dog and never even stopped his car.’”
In conclusion, while we know that Gatsby was killed by George Wilson, and that somehow, each person, including himself, has a certain amount of implication in the circumstances, the person whom we can deem most responsible for his death is Tom Buchanan. Tom has the motivation of revenge: for Gatsby’s affair with his wife, and for believing Gatsby to be responsible for killing his mistress. Tom, seeing Wilson’s desperation for retribution, doesn’t attempt to calm him or warn Gatsby. Instead, he sees opportunity for his own revenge without actually having to do the dirty work himself, and steers Wilson in Gatsby’s direction.