F. Scott Fitzgerald once stated that the test of a first rate intelligence was the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. This intelligence he describes is characterized by the principle of “double vision.” An understanding of this is essential to the understanding of Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. “Double vision” denotes two ways of seeing; it suggests two things in opposition. The foundation of double vision is polarity, the setting of extremes against one another, which results in dramatic tension. For example, Fitzgerald utilizes a double vision motif with money to illustrate how it can be positive and constructive, but at the same time it can be very negative and destructive. In the following essay, I will illustrate the idea of double vision, in three of the main characters: Jay Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, and Daisy Buchanan. Towards this end, I will show how Fitzgerald uses this artistic devise in his depiction of each of these protagonists by having positive (i.e. glamorous, romantic, and exciting) aspects of their character juxtaposed with negative (i.e. crude, corrupt and disgusting) facets of personalities.
Jay Gatsby, the main protagonist, has almost everything a person can dream for. He lives in a huge ornate mansion; he owns a Rolls Royce and a Hydroplane. He wears custom made clothing from Europe made out of 100% silk. He has servants, gardeners, and chauffeurs to carry out his every whim. Lastly, but probably the most extravagant of all, he frequently hosts enormously lavish parties for his hundreds of guests. To attend one of Gatsby’s parties is to be accepted into the jet set. Gatsby’s generosity is legendary as he will provide anything the party goers need. For example, his guest Lucille states: “When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address- inside of a week I got a package from Croirier’s with a new evening gown inside it” (page 45). Gatsby is also depicted as a heroic and loyal individual, a true gentleman. He illustrates this level of self sacrifice by assuming the blame of Myrtle’s fatal accident thereby protecting the true culprit, Daisy, the love of his life.
Gatsby’s tragic error was that he was obsessed with Daisy and this prevented him from seeing her objectively (i.e. he was too loyal and loving
to notice any flaw or lack in Daisy’s personality or her actions). Gatsby while, fabulously wealthy and considerate, appears to care little about the means by which he amassed his fortune. His sole goal was to win Daisy over and that she should reciprocate his love and in his efforts to achieve this end, Gatsby lost sight of all morals. He associates with known criminals, such as Meyer Wolfsheim, and his childhood mentor, Dan Cody appears to be involved with bootlegging, trading in stolen securities, and is rumored to have killed a man. Gatsby also plots to win Daisy back – totally disregarding that she is now someone else’s wife and mother and that his selfish, adulterous interventions will disrupt a family unit.
Only three individuals: Nick, Gatsby’s father and the man with the owl-eyed glasses, attend Gatsby’s funeral – noticeably absent were his ‘friends’: Mr. Wolfsheim, Klipspringer (who boards in his home) and all the hundreds of people who came to his parties. Gatsby didn’t have any true friends. He merely used people in order to get closer to get to Daisy. He was seduced by the lure of money and fame, as the means to woo Daisy back. He even lies to Nick about himself and his family in order to enlist Nick’s support for his grand quest (Daisy). He prefers the deceptive illusions he concocts to the harsh reality of the obsession he allows to corrupt his life. Fitzgerald presents Jay Gatsby as a man who denies reality. “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” (page 106).
Tom acts like a man of high class and good taste. He makes extravagant purchases such as a bunch of polo ponies or a $350,000 string of pearls for Daisy. Tom is extremely pompous: he married the girl that everyone wanted and on that occasion, he came from Chicago “with a hundred people in four private cars and hired a whole floor of the Seelach Hotel”. Tom values expensive things that are both beautiful and tasteful. Tom also values knowledge, and considers himself to be an intellectual.
Tom is a cold-hearted, aristocratic bully. For example, when Nick visits Tom’s house the first time, Tom literally pushes Nick around. Tom demonstrates his egocentricity when he was showing off his possessions to Nick: “I’ve got a nice place here. It belonged to the Demaine man”(page 13). Tom’s wealth gets to his head and makes him think he is superior to other people. He’s racist and his goal in life is to keep the lower class from rising. Tom thinks that poor people are inferior to him and he is quite a snob. Sometimes he is nothing more than a bully and other times he can be downright cruel. When he talks to George Wilson, his mistress’ husband, about selling his car to him – he is simply playing with the man, since he never actually intends to do so. Tom becomes angry when Wilson tries to talk to him about it: “Very well then, I won’t sell you the car at all…I’m under no obligation to you at all…and as for your bothering me about it at lunch time, I won’t stand that at all!” (page 111).
Tom was being extremely cruel at that moment because Wilson needed the money that would come from the car, but Tom didn’t care. There are times when Tom loses his temper when people don’t obey him. For example, when Myrtle Wilson started shouting Daisy’s name, Tom punched her in the face, and broke her nose. Morality is one of the values that Tom preaches, but doesn’t practice. He condemns the affair between Daisy and Gatsby – while he goes and cheats on his own wife!! Tom is the ultimate hypocrite: he condemns his wife’s affair but has no qualms about his own infidelity. He even admits, “Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool out of myself, but I have always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time” (page 125). Tom’s values are shallow and in his own self-interest.
Daisy has the aura of charm, wealth, sophistication, grace, and aristocracy. Daisy is the perfect, beautiful, good-natured girl any guy could wish for. She has a way of attracting people; to keep them in a sort of trace with her pure and charming sweet voice. As Nick points out: “I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming” (page 14). Daisy was well liked and very popular among the military officers stationed near her home, including Jay Gatsby.
But the “real” Daisy, cared only for status, glamour, pleasure seeking and materialistic objects. She betrays Gatsby by not waiting for his return from the army, as promised; and instead, marries Tom Buchanan for his money. Nick characterizes her as “a careless person who smashes things up and then retreats behind her money and lets other people clean up the mess they had made…” (page 170). She is indifferent even to her own daughter; she never discusses her and treats her as an afterthought. Regarding her daughter Pammy, Daisy says: “…and I hope she’ll be a fool- that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” (page 22). This statement shows part of her corruption because she is saying that it is better to be careless and beautiful instead of worrying about real things. She also cheats on her husband with Gatsby! She certainly doesn’t protest Gatsby taking the blame for killing Myrtle at all; in fact, the reader is left to wonder if she truly appreciates the sacrifice made on her behalf by Gatsby. At the very end of the book, Daisy flees the situation with Tom and doesn’t even attend Gatsby’s funeral which is ungrateful and not very considerate at all.
Fitzgerald creates each of his three main characters: Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy with a double faceted personality. On the one hand, they are glamorous, romantic, and exciting, but on the flip-side they are simultaneously crude, corrupt and disgusting. Fitzgerald is trying to put into perspective how people have both an external, good side and a deeper, dark side. Dichotomy is used very often to describe a person’s charisma and personality. Fitzgerald uses this ‘double vision’ motif throughout the book. He forces extremes to clash with, and collide against, each other; thus creating climaxes in dramatic tension. As well as, a modern, tragic novel that is truly a clever, captivating and classic piece of literature.