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Primary sources are the priceless eyes and ears that our future descendants will have when they turn to consider our ways, our habits, and our deeds. When the twenty-second century rolls around, however, all that historians will have will be recorded conversations, pictures, photographs, memoranda, and other personal correspondence. When one considers conditions of the nineteenth century or before, one has even fewer primary sources on which to lean. Narrative accounts are often the only source of information for the historian, and so a crucial skill can be the interpretation, and deciphering, of the biases of the original writer.
The Great Gatsby showcases a writer with tremendous ability at attaching symbol to theme. Fitzgerald uses a web of three major symbols to crystallize a thematic sequence. His narrative strategy is inscribed in a thematic that transcends time, space and ordinary reality. The universal aspect of his reflection is rooted in a deep philosophical study of human nature, and his digenetic process resorts to symbolism evoking the perennial and metaphysical dilemmas of human existence. In The Great Gatsby, the supernatural is part of the narrative function; suggestive symbols and metaphors act as meaningful signs expressing the multifarious voices of a spiritual quest.
In the Thirties, the Fitzgerald's narrative focuses on the symbolic aspects of his characters. Human attitudes, deficiencies or vicissitudes are personified, as are universal themes. The thematic of wealth, for instance, is incarnated by Daisy, ironically depicted as an icon; she appears as the 'golden girl', and this color has an ambivalent meaning in that it symbolizes on one hand and irresistible appeal towards earthly goods, on the other an attraction towards some kind of divine light. Heaven and earth are blended into a common shade to conceal their antagonism. Likewise, the American myths are embodied by Gatsby's illusive dream and Tom's radical ideology. Both of them are sufferers of a Utopian start of life that contains the germ of deception, figment of imagination and estrangement. The nodal point of the narrative, namely the issue raised by the nothingness of these deceiving forces, seems to set off an existential enigma.
The glorification of wealth through the use of gleaming symbols serves to emphasize the protagonist's holy mission towards Daisy. Romantic love defies all human and ethical principles, and Fitzgerald's crystallization process reinforces illusory hopes that blind Gatsby's vision.
Since his passion thrives in a transcendental realm, where the constraints of reality have vanished, Gatsby's feelings for Daisy are permeated with a strong religious fervor. Gatsby 'has committed to the following of a grail', is pursuing some kind of a mystical ideal.
Metaphors and allusions to the religious sphere, which intertwine with the romantic textual space, signal Fitzgerald's concealed narrative strategy. Here the sacred and the profane intermingle through a vivid symbolism that reveals the writer's obsessive religious thematic. Protean signs denote this implicit literacy approach. The symbol of death in the Catholic celebration of Ash Wednesday is represented, for instance, by The Valley of Ashes, and the fate of some individuals is intentionally revealed in the evocation of dust. The disintegration of ethical values is embodies in Tom's mistress, who lives in this grimly desolate area where a fatal issue waits for sinful men.
According to Joan M. Allen (1978, p. 103), protection from evil forces is personified in George Wilson's Greek friend, Michaelis, playing the part of the Archangel Michael whose mission is to shield men from all forms of spiritual danger. Moreover, several biblical injunctions may be perceived, especially in Wilson's self-explanatory discourse: "I spoke to her... I told her she might fool me but she couldn't fool God...God sees everything" (Fitzgerald 1967, p. 166). Likewise, the permissive and liberal society of the Thirties is symbolized by Dr. Eckleburg's eyes that express God's disappearance from the world. Here again, the mention of the Divine Entity brings Fitzgerald's spiritual concerns into relief as one finds several occurrences of God's name. Concealment, then, is not part of a total strategy, as the text directly refers to these meaningful thematic elements. They lead into a chiaroscuro of light and darkness, which symbolizes the search of the human mind and its attempt to grasp the essence of things. Steinbeck once said that the writer was like a "distant star" sending messages.
The most striking religious reference concerns Gatsby's death. As Joan M. Allen (1978, p. 109) puts it, certain ironic parallels between the figures of Christ and Gatsby are instantly recognizable. The question raised by such an identification between Christ and Gatsby has rarely been mentioned by Anglo-Saxon critics and justly so. The narrator's ironic tone transforms the entire passage into a deep caricature concerning not so much Gatsby as an individual but the society in which he was raised. Indeed, at first sight, Gatsby cannot be considered a victim: his self conceited attitude denotes illusory and egocentric feelings and his dubious past does not favor him. Indeed, he cannot be compared to some 'sacrificial lamb' if one considers his dark years and his obsessive dream defying all human and spiritual laws.
And yet the protagonist's longstanding and mysterious charm does not rest exclusively on romantic conception of a hero. The only answer which gives some coherence to the religious interpretation of the novel is the victimization of Gatsby's character. Gatsby's trauma was the result of an unfulfilled dream, the cause of which lies deep in his subconscious. Dark and deterministic forces seem to have prevented him from facing reality and irremediably led him to alienation and despair. The American ideology, founded on distorted spiritual values and myths, encapsulated in a dream of power and glory, is doomed to failure since it does not respect the fundamental principles of universal ideals.