Monday, 29 February 2016

Re-invention of the self

Re-invention of the self is a major theme in The Great Gatsby as it is what turns James Gatz, the son of a rural farmer from North Dakota, into Jay Gatsby; the wealthy and glamorous figure that we are introduced to by Nick Carraway. It is also an incredibly important theme within the concept of the American Dream- the notion that anyone from anywhere can be anything. Gatsby certainly achieved the American Dream.
In chapter 9 we learn that Gatsby had a sense of dissatisfaction from a young age with the social position that he was born into. In 1906 he had written himself a schedule with times set aside for activities and a list of  'general resolves' for furthered self improvement. His father comments that because of this "Jimmy was bound to get ahead". This mirrors the real life and famous 'thirteen virtues' that Benjamin Franklin wrote for himself in order to become virtuous and therefore more successful. It can be seen that Fitzgerald was intending for this similarity to be clear to readers as Franklin rose from humble beginnings to one of the founding fathers of the United States. This is partly what Gatsby may have aspired to growing up as the American Dream and stories like Franklin's were influential to many people.
Gatsby thus changes his name and reinvents himself with the help of the wealthy Dan Cody and himself becomes wealthy, after fighting in WW1, by partaking in the underground world of organised crime and bootlegging during the period of prohibition. After this he projects an image of himself as a wealthy American who does not need to work so he fits into the world of old money that he desperately aspires to. Without going to this effort to self improve he would not have fitted into this world. Gatsby is the self made man that achieves the financial goals of many people today and when the novel was written in the 1920's. This concept is reiterated in the final paragraph of the novel- 'tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning..." This sense that stems from the American Dream that everything can always be bigger and better, nothing is ever settled; with the final allusion "one fine morning" that you will be where you want to be one day if you keep working at it. Before this time in history, and especially in the old world, social position and wealth were largely determined by birth and re-inventing ones self was not a concept for people.
Although it is mostly successful for Gatsby, Myrtle's attempt at self re-invention through having an affair with wealthy Tom Buchanan to climb socially and move away her life that she sees as beneath her is wholly unsuccessful, showing that not all acts of self reinvention will be successful and is a warning for readers.
And in contemporary times the obsession with self improvement and reinvention is still important, and that is especially projected by the American Media. Today self help books are big business.
The second most successful on the list, Think and Grow Rich was published in 1937 and has sold over 70 million copies. "Before compiling the text, Hill researched the lives of over 40 millionaires to discover how they became so successful." This seems to allude to everything The Great Gatsby and the character of Gatsby set out to and did achieve. Even the cover seems like a reference to the novel. A more recent example, the 2016 Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want is a step by step guide to " to design a life with the end in mind, determining in advance the outcomes we desire and path to get there". These examples show that this major theme of a book written 90 years ago has as much relevance now as it did then as people continue to believe in self-improvement.

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