In the novels ‘The Great Gatsby’ by Scott Fitzgerald and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck, the authors present similar ideas, but use different methods to portray them. Similarities in themes can be made between the two texts; these include the pursuit of the American Dream and the use and misuse of wealth. Other themes are also central to each novel, the strength in unity and the influence of female characters. The presentation of these similar themes is different, by the use of characters, setting, society, plot, and style and techniques employed by the author.
The pairing of these two texts gave me a clear understanding of how authors can present similar ideas in different ways. Both authors present the pursuit of the American Dream as a major theme; however this is done quite differently. The characters in both ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ are trying to pursue the American Dream; however the interpretation of the dream is very different. Tom and Daisy Buchanan are focused on the outcome of the dream; to be prosperous, secure and achieve social status.
They believe that their achievement and success at pursuing the dream is displayed purely by their wealth and materialistic possessions. Due to this belief, they frantically chase pleasure and in their chase never achieve true happiness, and so never achieve the dream. In ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ the Joad’s and the Oakies are also trying to achieve the American Dream, by being hardworking, honest and showing integrity. They are focussed on the path of the dream, rather than the material possessions and wealth. They desire the basics of life; food to eat, a house to live in and some security, to protect them.
The different interpretations of the American dream allowed me to achieve an understanding of how Fitzgerald and Steinbeck use different methods to present the same theme. Tom and Daisy’s interpretation of the American Dream is shown by Fitzgerald in Nick’s evaluation of Tom’s house. He describes the house as being ‘even more elaborate than [he] expected… the lawn ran for a quarter of a mile… the front reflected with gold’ this emphasises their focus on materialistic worth and possessions. Steinbeck describes the simplicity of the dreams of the Joad’s in Ma’s description of the boxcar. It’s nice,’ she said. It’s almost nicer than anything we had’.
The setting of each novel also conveys the theme of the American Dream. The authors convey the same theme using different surroundings, but with similar meanings, reinforcing my understanding of how authors present similar ideas in different ways. ‘The Great Gatsby’ is set in the Jazz Age of the 1920’s in New York, however ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is set a decade later during the depression of the 1930’s. Each author emphasises the importance of the setting in relation to the American Dream, rather symbolically.
In ‘The Great Gatsby’ there are references made by Fitzgerald to the East and West Eggs and the Valley of Ashes. In the East Egg the American Dream has been corrupted and is no longer about honesty and hard work, where Tom and Daisy live. In the West Egg the American Dream is still alive, where Gatsby and Nick live. The Valley of Ashes represents the struggle of survival of the working class people and their pursuit of the dream, much the same way as in the Joad’s story in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. Oklahoma is described as dry, dusty and lifeless, symbolising the withering and death of the American Dream.
California however is the promise land, of green and fruitful valleys, a clear symbol of hope and the opportunity to still achieve the dream. The plot of each story is also important in presenting the pursuit of the American Dream, showing how two entirely different stories can present similar themes. Fitzgerald sets his story among the wealthy, selfish and materialistic characters in upper class New York. The main storyline is the task of Gatsby trying to achieve his American Dream, winning back the love of Daisy.
Steinbeck’s focus on the other hand, is on the poor, dispossessed migrant farmers trying to survive and achieve their interpretation of the American Dream. Even though the plots are quite different, they both show the pursuit of the American Dream and the difficulties of achieving it. Both Fitzgerald and Steinbeck employ the use of writing techniques to portray the American Dream. The green light on Daisy’s dock is a symbol used by Fitzgerald, directing Gatsby to follow his dream of winning back the love of Daisy, green representing ‘go’.
Steinbeck employs the use of a turtle in chapter three to symbolise the struggle for survival, the pursuit of the American Dream and the perseverance of the human spirit. The use and misuse of wealth is also a theme central to both novels. The characters who are wealthy are also suggested to be powerful, indicating that wealth equals power and dominance within the social structures of both societies. The wealthy are also portrayed as abusing, or misusing this power. This is shown by Tom in “The Great Gatsby’ as well as the banks and large farm owners in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.
Tom uses his wealth to control George Wilson, by providing financial support for his business and making Wilson dependant on him to survive and support his wife, Myrtle. Tom’s power and control over Wilson are also expressed by his affair with Myrtle, an example of his control and manipulation over Wilson’s entire life. Tom also abuses his power and control over Myrtle when he assaults her, breaking her nose. In ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ the banks misuse their wealth and power by forcing the farmers to leave their homes.
This also occurs in California, with the large farm owners misusing their wealth and power by running the smaller farms out of business, and lowering the wages of workers to below the cost of living. These differing ways of representing the misuse of power show the manipulation and selfishness of the wealthy that both authors want to make clear to the reader, strengthening my understanding of how authors present similar themes in different ways. Writing styles and techniques can also be used in different ways to present similar themes.
Both Fitzgerald and Steinbeck use colloquial speech to emphasise the vernacular used by the characters who do not have power in society, and to also reinforce their victimisation by the misuse of wealth by the powerful. In ‘The Great Gatsby’, Myrtle is shown to speak with poor grammar and the mispronunciation of words; ‘I got to call up my sister’
‘I got to write down a list … things I got to do’.
In ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ the Oakies are also portrayed using similar speech; ‘well, it ain’t yourn, an’ it ain’t gonna be yourn’, ‘No – but I would a. Twicet to-day she worked my girl up’.
This use of vernacular shows how the powerless is these societies are portrayed as ‘being less than’ and inferior to the wealthy, who mistreatment them. Imagery is also used by both authors to show the monstrosity of Tom and the banks and to reinforce their power and wealth, and the abuse of it. Through the eyes of Nick, Fitzgerald physically describes Tom as a monster ‘enormous power of that body… a cruel body’ ‘a brute of a man’.
The psychological power and misuse of wealth by the banks is described in an interchapter. Steinbeck personifies the bank as a monster; ‘The bank must have… as though the Bank was a monster’, ‘They breathe profits; they eat the interest on money’.
The large land owners are also described as monsters in this chapter; ‘Or an owner with fifty thousand acres… that’s the monster’.
The societies in which both novels are set also play a part in the continuity of the misuse of wealth by the powerful. It is made clear to the reader that society approves of or cannot stop the misuse of wealth, no matter what they do.
In ‘The Great Gatsby’, the author shows the corruption of the valley of ashes by the misuse of wealth and abuse of power by people like Tom Buchanan. Fitzgerald also suggests that these people have no control over this corruption and are left helpless to accept the exploitation of the wealthy. This idea is symbolised by Fitzgerald in Wilson’s desire, but failure, to move west; away from corruption. This idea is also symbolised by Wilson’s death, caused ultimately by the self-interest and utilisation of Tom and Daisy, for him to dispose of Gatsby.
In ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ Steinbeck suggests that no one can stop the oppression and tyranny made by the powerful and wealthy. This idea is symbolised by the workers of the banks, where ‘every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank [still] does it… they can’t control it’.
This idea is also expressed during Ma’s shopping trip to the Hooper Farm store. The clerk is forced to work at the store to support his family, despite the exploitation and deceit of the workers. He is also poor but is unable to stop the succession of poverty. The different societies show how the similar theme of the use and misuse of power can be shown clearly to the reader. In both novels, there are significant, influential female characters that are central to the development of the plot. In ‘The Great Gatsby’, Daisy is portrayed negatively by Fitzgerald, as being weak, selfish and materialistic. Her influence lies in the life of Gatsby, as she is the sole reason for his quest for wealth; she is his interpretation of the American Dream. Gatsby is willing to do anything for Daisy.
This idea is supported by his decision to cover for Daisy in Myrtle’s accidental death. Daisy’s power over Gatsby is so great that she is able to ultimately cause his death on the assumption of her influence. In ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ Ma is portrayed positively by Steinbeck, as being strong, altruistic and compassionate. Ma’s influence over her family is so strong that she is able to provide hope when there is nothing to hope for, and to provide strength for the family when the strength of everyone is flagging.
The authors’ presentation of Daisy and Ma, show how entirely different characters can present the same theme; as influential women. The theme of strength in unity is also central to both novels. In ‘The Great Gatsby’ the success of unity is shown by the conspiring of Tom and Daisy to frame Gatsby for Myrtle’s death, ultimately causing the demise of both him and Wilson. In ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ the unity of the Oakies and the destitute is also shown. Steinbeck symbolises this unity in the giving and caring attitude that radiates from the Joad family and the Oakies.
Even when they have nothing themselves they still continue giving to others that are worse of than them. The Wilson’s give help to the Joad’s when Granma dies and they fix their car in return, Ma gives the poor children stew when there is none to spare, the clerk lends Ma a nickel to buy sugar; these are all examples of the unity of the poor. This idea is summarised in Ma’s statement: ‘If you’re in trouble or hurt or need – go to poor people. They’re the only ones that will help – the only ones’.
Steinbeck also summarises the importance of unity in chapters fourteen and seventeen. The statement ‘This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning – from ‘I’ to ‘we” symbolises that strength in unity is what will save the Oakies, working together, towards the common good to achieve dreams. The expression ‘the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all’. also reinforces the theme of strength in unity and the need for unison. Steinbeck is suggesting that without it, the quest for the American dream will be hopeless.
Throughout society, strength in unity is also shown. In ‘The Great Gatsby’, unity is shown by the wealthy sticking together, i. e. Tom and Daisy and by the unity of criminals, i. e. Gatsby and Wolfshiem. In ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ unity is shown by Oakies in the government camp, where the Oakies have the power, and are free from corruption. Steinbeck is suggesting that this is what the Oakies need to accomplish externally to achieve their dream, and without unity the Oakies will never prevail.
The pursuit of the American Dream is a major theme throughout the novels ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. Other prominent themes are the use and misuse of power, the strength in unity and the influence of female characters. The similarities in themes are presented in very different ways by the authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck. By presenting their similar ideas in different ways, I was able to obtain a clear understanding of how authors can present similar themes using different methods.