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The Theme of Ghosts in The Great Gatsby


The theme of ghosts occurs a lot throughout the novel to display similarities to ghosts and juxtaposition too. I have seen all around the internet how many people are finding it difficult to relate the theme of ghosts and supernatural behaviour to that in The Great Gatsby. Yes, there are no literal ghosts present in the novel. However, the characteristics and appearance of ghosts are highlighted throughout the novel.

  • P131 ‘The mouth was wide open and ripped a little at the corners’. Myrtle’s death came across with a vivid description of her body. Her dead body is described in a way to make her seem extremely far away from being spiritual or ghostly. This creates an ideology that the poor, as well as sacrificing their selves for the rich’s happiness, are not important or worthy enough to be looked upon spiritually. They are just mere bodies when they die.
  • P13 ‘They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering’. Fitzgerald portrays Daisy and Jordan as goddesses here being at the absolute peak of beauty. Some would say the white flickering dresses can be seen to relate to ghosts. This makes the women seem like they have supernatural powers just like ghosts. The breezy element is a leitmotif for Daisy to illustrate how she is easily blown and manipulated. Daisy's appearance also makes it hard to believe she is real. She seems too white and pure making it hard to believe Daisy.
The theme of ghosts exists due to characters because of Daisy and Gatsby. Here are two characters in the novel which can be seen to be haunted by their past. Gatsby, when he realises his high-expectation dream does not deliver, it could be seen that Gatsby is a living ghost from that moment on. The definition of a ghost is:

An apparition of a dead person that is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image.

Gatsby’s whole life, ever since he met Daisy he was a young man in the army, has been based around getting his dream being Daisy. He bought the house opposite Daisy’s on the bay because of this. He has the huge parties in an attempt to lure Daisy closer to him. Everything he does is for Daisy. When Gatsby learns that his dream is not what he expected and a lot harder to achieve, he turns into a living ghost. He is literally dead with his past with Daisy lost: he is finding it harder and harder to stay alive. From Tom’s perspective, Gatsby has traits that of a ghost. He has come into Tom’s life, out of the blue, and caused disruption to his marriage just like a ghost would have the potential of doing.

Gatsby, a very mysterious man, shares qualities of a ghost especially from the views and opinions of the wealthy on Gatsby. Nobody knew him but everybody had heard about him. He was mysterious, an enigma to society and potentially dangerous from the stories some people heard that he ‘killed a man’. At the end, when Gatsby dies, it can be seen that only his physical presence has died because his soul had passed away already.

Fitzgerald wanted to make a connection between ghosts and Gatsby to show how Gatsby has many characteristics of a ghost. Just like a ghost, he has lost his dream and has nothing to live for. But, just like a ghost, he has not giving up and is trying everything to regain his dream being Daisy. He is constantly striving for his dream almost like his is haunting Tom and Daisy. 

Ultimately, Gatsby most obvious ghost like quality is the fact that his dream is more real than his reality. His past is dead. As well as this, Nick is the only character that let's Gatsby live on. It is only Nick who respected and knew Gatsby which led him to writing this book. Although Gatsby is dead, the soul of Gatsby lives on with Nick.

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

2 comments so far:

  1. thanks for this, it really helped with my English literature revision, as did your analysis of Auden's poems. Thanks again!

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  2. Some really helpful points in here, thank you :)

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