-- The only major collection of criticism on widely studied fictional figures from world literature

-- Brings together a diverse array of the finest critical writing from around the world

-- Includes Harold Bloom's essay "The Analysis of Character" and introductory essays on title characters


It is reasonable to assert that Jay Gatsby is the major literary character of the United States in the twentieth century.No single figure created by Faulkner or Hemingway, or by our principal dramatists, is as central a presence in our national mythology as Gatsby.There are few living Americans, of whatever gender, race, ethnic origin, or social class, who do not have at least a little touch of Gatsby in them. Whatever the American Dream has become, its truest contemporary representative remains Jay Gatsby, at once a gangster and a Romantic idealist, and above all a victim of his own High Romantic, Keatsian dream of love. Like his creator, Scott Fitzgerald, Gatsby is the American hero of romance, a vulnerable quester whose fate has the aesthetic dignity of the romance mode at its strongest. Gatsby is neither pathetic nor tragic, because as a quester he meets his appropriate fate, which is to die still lacking in the knowledge that would destroy the spell of his enchantment. His death preserves his greatness, and justifies the title of his story, a title that is anything but ironic.

Gatsby, doom-eager yet desiring a perfect love, or perhaps doom-eager out of that desire, is a wholly American personality, as tender as he is tough. Indeed, Gatsby's Americanism is so central to him that any other national origin would be impossible for him.Fitzgerald memorably remarked of his protagonist that "Jay Gatsby . . . sprang from his Platonic conception of himself," and for "Platonic" we could substitute "Emersonian," the proper name for any American Platonism. As a son of God, Gatsby pragmatically seems to have fathered himself. And that may be why Fitzgerald had to portray his hero in the Conradian mode, with Carraway mediating Gatsby for us as Marlow mediates Jim in Lord Jim. Gatsby does not reveal himself to us, but to Carraway, who plays Horatio to Gatsby's Hamlet. Perhaps a character who lives in a consuming and destructive hope always has to be mediated for us, lest we be confronted directly by the madness of a Wordsworthian solitary or a Blakean emanation. It is Gatsby's glory that he is not a "realistic" character. How could he be, since his essence is his aspiration, which again is at once sordid and transcendental?

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