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Essay: Idealisation of love: The Great Gatsby & Wuthering Heights

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When something is idealised, it is seen as being ‘perfect’ and above reality. It is put on a pedestal above everything else, and is used as a means to achieve happiness. Both novels – The Great Gatsby, written by F.Scott Fitzgerald and Wuthering Heights, written by Emily Brontë explore the idealisation of love itself, a major theme occurring within the two texts.

Essentially, the male characters idealism is what drives their actions, as they all seem to stem from it. Whether it be actions such as Gatsby using lost love as a means to achieve wealth and old – money status, or whether it be detrimental actions such as Heathcliff using his romanticised view of love to fuel his motivation to destroy those around him, they are all fuelled by the presence of a heavily idealised perception of love, which is unrealistic in the times that the novels were set in. Both the twenties and the Victorian era had clear distinctions between the wealthy and the poor. The twenties saw the initial development of the concept of the American dream, which at the time was greed driven, as it was based on acquiring material items. This led to society developing unfeasible hopes and dreams, indicated through the disposition of Gatsby – who aimed to chase his childhood dream of making a name for himself. Daisy, who he idealised, became a motivation for doing so.

Firstly, Brontë and Fitzgerald present the toxic consequences of non mutual love. In both novels, the male counterparts experience love which did not have the passion that their own love did. Heathcliff heavily idealised Catherine and their relationship, as he sought comfort in their bond and had an all consuming passion for her. However, Brontë indicates that as soon as Catherine found out the rules of society after staying at the Lintons, she sacrificed their love and married Edgar Linton. Catherine spurns his love, as it would “degrade” her to marry Heathcliff. The verb ‘degrade’ brings forth the idea of social class in Victorian times. The fact that it would humiliate Catherine to marry Heathcliff emphasises the presence of a rigid class system in which marrying someone of a lower social status would bring about shame for the family. This rejection of love from Catherine’s side ultimately led to Heathcliff becoming resentful and wanting to avenge all those who wronged him.

Similarly, Fitzgerald depicts the difference in commitment between Gatsby and Daisy. Daisy’s love was fickle in the level of emotional attachment she held towards only Gatsby; she was willing to love many men – for financial stability. She married Tom Buchanan “without so much as a shiver” (Fitzgerald, 75), highlighting the true nature of Daisy who ultimately craves for attention and financial solidity. This led to the consequence of Gatsby falling into the world of materialism and buying a “mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths” (Fitzgerald, 76) just so that Daisy could see his house across the bay. His idealised view of love led him to become incredibly hopeful and naive, as he hides behind the veil of his new – money wealth, hoping to gain his lost love. This idealisation ultimately ruined him as he remained waiting for Daisy to accept him.

Fitzgerald’s biographer Matthew J Bruccoli revealed that his writing was a “form of autobiography”. Therefore, it can be eluded that Gatsby and Daisy are a mirror of Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. He himself desperately attempted to please and win her, by writing bestselling books to earn money. This is clearly embodied in the novel as Gatsby earns a lot of wealth and devotes himself to hosting parties that he believes will win Daisy’s love. Like his character Gatsby, Fitzgerald was also driven by his idealised love for a woman, even though she was the treason that he was led towards the glamour of the Jazz age that he despised – as he saw through the glitz to see the real lack of morals underneath.

Much like Brontë’s depiction of Catherine who wanted to maintain her high status, Fitzgerald describes Daisy as having an “absolutely perfect reputation” (Fitzgerald, 75) after her marriage with Tom Buchanan.

On the other hand, Gatsby dedicated all his time to impress Daisy as he “revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well loved eyes”. This highlights the clear idea that Gatsby idealized Daisy in such a way that he could not see any of her faults and flaws, and looked at the world through her eyes. She has him enamoured in such a way that it almost equates her to a ‘siren’ who lure men in and have them under a spell – much like how Daisy has Gatsby wrapped around her finger. Fitzgerald represents this idealisation as being toxic because it is exaggerated to such an extent that it means Gatsby has no real connection with Daisy.

Brontë used the Victorian ideal of marriage being the ‘proper’ way to reaffirm love and stability to drive the character of Catherine. Her marriage through Edgar Linton is shown to be the way through which she would become the “greatest woman of the neighbourhood” (Brontë, 59). Moreover, the emerging norm for women at the time was the idea of separate spheres. In this, women should ideally dominate in the realm of the domestic life – which is what Catherine is shown to achieve as she gains control over the Lintons residence – Thrushcross Grange. Brontë suggest how the society that she created the characters in, influenced them to act accordingly – as Catherine leaned towards domestic stability and achieving high social status, and Heathcliff being from humble beginnings, leaned towards gaining the one thing that held meaning to him – Catherine.

Another concept brought forth by Brontë and Fitzgerald is how idealised love leads to obsession Gatsby describes Daisy’s voice as “full of money – that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it” (Fitzgerald, 127). Through this metaphor, Fitzgerald suggests the promise of status and old money that her voice brings for Gatsby; she is the symbol of the dream that Gatsby ventures for, as emphasised through the recurring motif of the “green light” at the end of Daisy’s dock. This light can be a representation of the dream experienced by society in the twenties. The colour ‘green’ depicts a sense of envy and greed to achieve something greater. To support the idea of Gatsby desiring affluence, critic Fahey writes that Gatsby has “lived not for himself, but for his dream, for his vision of the good life inspired by the beauty of a lovely rich girl”.

Through this statement it can be seen that, perhaps Fitzgerald is suggesting how Gatsby’s idealised view of His relationship with Daisy led him to become obsessed with gaining a ‘good life’, emphasising his longing to be due to the American dream. The mere idea of Daisy promises him a life of satisfaction “safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor” (Fitzgerald, 142). His idealised view of their past love for each other has not allowed him to differentiate between the past and the present, as he is still set on their ‘perfect’ future together. Therefore, it can be seen that Fitzgerald is showcasing how Gatsby’s longing is due to the class division, and the presence of the American dream during the twenties. Since the concept itself led to a fascination with achieving something greater, Fitzgerald criticises it as even after accumulating all this wealth, Gatsby could not make Daisy truly want him and love him.
On one hand where Fitzgerald conveys how an idealised view of love leads to an obsession with acquiring wealth, Brontë depicts how idealism leads to a type of love called ‘mania’. In this type of love, an individual craves love and can not live without it. This is clearly emphasised through the characterisation of Heathcliff who displays uncontrolled passion which is manifested in violent ways. The height of his madness is shown through the use of necrophilia – as he digs up Catherine’s grave to see her once more. The love that he idealised with Catherine leads him to become obsessed with the idea that he needs Catherine to stay alive. He exclaims that he “cannot live” without his soul which is encased in Catherine – or to say, she is his soul. Brontë emphasises this ‘mania’ when Heathcliff then goes on to curse Catherine to “haunt” him, to “be with (him) always – take any form – drive (him) mad!”; since he idealised their bond, their love became an addiction for him – leading him to destroy all those around him, including Catherine. Heathcliff also displays the trait of codependency, another characteristic of ‘mania’ love. This is shown as he is heavily dependent on Catherine for love and acceptance as a source of gratification; since addiction wants possession of the lover regardless of how they feel, which is a central part in the depiction of Heathcliff, as his idealised love was in fact self – centred and selfish as he put his own needs above everyone else.

Likewise, Fitzgerald also insinuates the magnitude of Gatsby’s obsession when even Daisy “tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusions” (Fitzgerald, 92). The noun ‘illusion’ elucidates the impression that Gatsby’s distorted view on love has led him to become obsessed with his childhood dream of achieving what he desires – which is the old money status and his dream girl. He sees his world through the eyes of Daisy, but the discrepancy between their views on love means that his own dreams cannot reach their fulfilment as he could not get her to accept him for who he is.

Fitzgerald further criticised the American dream, since its concept was the promise of something greater than what a person already has. He employs his critique through Gatsby, who’s “heart was in a constant, turbulent riot…a universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the washstand and the moon soaked with wet light” (Fitzgerald, 95). The fact that his heart is described through the adjective ‘turbulent’ and being in a riot, suggests that Gatsby will never be satisfied – he is insatiable. The use of the noun ‘moon’ is symbolic of being a reminder of the past that Gatsby lives in, the moon is constantly in a cycle, which mirrors him wanting to repeat the past that he has idealised. Critics Gholiphour and Sanahmadi describe the characters in the novel as “exploit(ing) the scopes of gratification offered by ego, the world of reality”(52). The ‘ego’ which refers to a psychological finding, is the centre of an individual’s libido and works on the pleasure principle. This supports the idea of Gatsby being encompassed by his dream of winning Daisy and achieving the ideal life that he envisioned with her.

Hence, both Brontë and Fitzgerald convey how idealised love leads to an obsession with feeling the same sensation once felt in the past repeatedly. This type of ‘mania’ love is what the authors discourage, as on the pursuit of this idealism, an individual loses themself, and is led on a path of destruction.


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