F.Scott Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The GreatGatsby’ and Angela Carter’s ‘TheBloody Chamber’ explores modern secular capitalist societies whileaddressing the misplaced importance on false idols and symbols. The two novelsconsider what it means to be ‘self-actualised’ and how society’s intrinsicallyflawed ideals in the forms of money, status and patriarchal power prevent onefrom being truly fulfilled; spiritually or otherwise.
Carter and Fitzgeraldexplore the ways the quest for spiritual fulfilment and self-actualization isput in jeopardy in favour of superficial influences such as consumerism and secularisationof society. The issue of wealth in particular is a recurring motif and in lightof this obsession with money, opens the floodgates for a society more concernedwith their economic disposition as opposed to the pursuit of spiritualfulfilment. According the hierarchy of needs, Maslow believes that a ‘self-actualizingman not as an ordinary man with something added, but rather as the ordinary manwith nothing taken away.’ It may be perceived that both Fitzgerald and Carterdetermine that this emphasis on shallow endeavours such as materialism preventhumanity from reaching self-actualisation which could be widely accreditedthrough relinquishing authenticity in favour of finding a place in society.’The Bloody Chamber’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ demonstrate society asbeing powered by men.
In both texts, the on-going obsession with physicalappearances in addition to the strict confines of society ,which drive to givemen more rights than women, prevent self-actualisation as they are unable toprogress past ‘safety’ in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is due to thepropotent nature of Maslow’s theory which decrees that the bottom tiers(consisting of ‘physiological’ and ‘safety’) must be met before higher levelssuch as ‘belonging’ and ‘esteem’ can be attained. In the re-working of the Grimm brothersoriginal ‘Snow White’, through theuses of similes, The Count in ‘The SnowChild’ wishes for a girl “as white assnow…red as blood… black as that bird’s raven feather”. By being grantedhis wishes, Carter alludes to wider society where patriarchal norms dictatethat the female body is created in-order to appease male desires. LauraMuvley’s theory of the ‘male gaze’ looks at the ways in which women arepresented as the object of desire through the perspective of a male spectator.This allowed writers such as Carter to criticise the representations andtreatment of women in male dominated societies. This is evident through thelack of detail on the Count’s appearance compared to the explicit descriptionsof the Countess who wore ‘scarlet heels’and ‘high, black, shining boots’ toportray an image of evil and sin, and The Snow Child who is pictured to have’white skin’ with a ‘red mouth’ referring to the idea of purity and hiddensexuality.
This double standard enforces the idea that desire is manifested inthe women and is often evaded by men as depicted in traditional portrayals inliterature. This narrative is also shared in Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ where the appearance of Daisy and Myrtle aredistinct: Daisy is portrayed as vacuous and pure given the semantic feel of air,clothed in whites and creams with ‘pearls’ and ‘fluttery dresses’ whereasMyrtle is presented as ‘smouldering’, buzzing with ‘intense vitality’ given thedark tight-fitted clothes she wears which emphasise her ‘surplus flesh’. Thevulgar animalistic descriptions of Myrtle and innocent virginal imagery ofDaisy is recurring theme in the novel whereas the appearances of the malecharacters lack the objectification. There is a clear juxtaposition of the symbolismsfire and air when describing Myrtle and Daisy. Fraud would refer to ‘The Great Gatsby’ as a classic literaryexample of the ‘Madonna- Whore Dichotomy’, of which the characters Myrtle andDaisy being the prime example of the dysfunctional notion that in order to oneto survive, the other must die. This is evident in Myrtle’s brutal death at theend of the book, where the yellow car (symbolic of inauthenticity given thefake gold aesthetic) effectively puts an end to Myrtle’s life in sexuallyexplicit means.
Fitzgerald uses violent language to highlight the vulgarity ofMyrtle’s death, with her breast ‘ripped open’ symbolic of Myrtles femininity beingviscerally attacked. This may allude to Fitzgerald’s own relationship with hiswife Zelda. It was widely known in Hollywood of Zelda’s infidelity, andFitzgerald may have used catharsis to let his opinions be known through thefictional characters, Myrtle in this case a representation of his wife. In the’Snow Child’, the Countess remarks on “how shall she be rid of her?” sheddinglight on this constant battle between female characters for the little powerthey hold.
The idea of spiritual fulfilment relies heavily on one’sself-assurance and ability to act as an individual. In ‘The Great Gatsby’, the characters of Daisy and Myrtle are entirelydependent on men and their desire for them. Neither Myrtle nor Daisy thereforeare able to become spiritually fulfilled given their lack of authenticity. Carter,in bolder terms, outlines the aggression of opposing female characters throughthe Countess immediate thought of the Snow Child as a threat to be dealt with.
Shehyperbolises this toxic relationship between female characters and uses satireto shed light on the absurdity of this recurring trope predominant inliterature. Fitzgerald, in 1920’s America, may have embodied and internalised thepatriarchal standard due to his content being structured around the desires ofthe male viewer as he himself is a male. Therefore, it is likely to assume thatFitzgerald may not be aware of this subtle objectification and systematicjudgment on women whereas Angela Carter, a feminist writing in the midst ofsecond wave feminism in the 1970’s, recognises and furthermore hyperbolisesthis to reveal the absurdity in this traditional form of storytelling. ThoughFrauds view on the ‘Madonna-Whore Dichotomy’ is consistent in both ‘The BloodyChamber’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’, Laura Mulvey’s theory of the ‘Male Gaze’ ischallenged in Carter’s short story ‘TheTiger’s Bride’. Regardless of the controlling nature of the title given thepossessive pronoun of ‘Tiger’s’ and lack of name for the female protagonist,the male character shares the same objectification as the women character. TheTiger initiates the nakedness, with the valet cautioning the Bride, asking her “to prepare herself for the sight of hismaster naked,” Carter subverts the male gaze and in doing so satirises anddeconstructs the idea that sexual desire is one-sided as perceived to be. Loveand Belonging as termed by Maslow in his hierarchy of needs includes feeling ofsexual intimacy. This intimacy is intended to be mutual, which Carter gratifiesin her reworking of ‘Beauty and The Beast’.
In doing so, the characters areable to be self-actualised as revealed in the end of the book where both TheTiger and Beauty are free from constraints of society which dictate desire for femalesare shameful and taboo. This sentiment is not shared in ‘The Great Gatsby’however, where characters are controlled by a society that turns away at femaledesires, preventing the characters from being self-actualised. Both texts consider the progressing hedonistic,morally corrupt lifestyle that prevent self-actualisation. In doing so, thecharacters have forsaken their identity and allowed their morals todeteriorate. In ‘The Bloody Chamber’,Carter exposes the obscure core content of fairy tales, and draws upon thesuperficial symbols in society that in order to be seen as powerful man, onemust indulge in sexual gratifications in order to establish his status. This isevident through the depraved sexual primacy of the Count in ‘The Snow Child’.
The Count in lewd andmorally offensive actions “thrusts his virile member into the dead girl”. Thisis an act of dominance, and in doing so in sight of his wife, furtherestablishes his power. The Countess is perceived to have power, however thatauthority is merely an illusion as The Count can take it away at any moment,evidenced through The Count rendering her to a state of “undress” when hewishes; he bestows and withdraws her cultural status at his will. UnlikeCarter, Fitzgerald openly criticises relationships of infidelity and exposesthe decay in morale of those who take part- regardless of status. In ‘TheGreat Gatsby’, social status is a fundamental element and is portrayedthrough the actions of the characters belonging in different social classes.
Fitzgerald depiction of Tom beings with an evaluation of his superior strength.The reader is presented with an impressive physical specimen, “a brute of aman,” as Daisy remarks. He is the physical manifestation of masculinity in theeyes of the narrator, described as having “arrogant eyes that establisheddominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaningaggressively forward”. Tom is seen to be the archetypal male alpha characterwho takes part in sexual endeavours. Upon first glance, a superficial view mayperceive Tom’s interest for Myrtle is due to her overt sexuality, the “intensevitality” due to her physique alone may have been the catalyst for Tom’sattention. However a more likely interpretation would suggest that his choiceof Myrtle’s isn’t due to her physical features; as she is described as having”no facet or gleam of beauty “.
Upon closer analysis, it would seem that Tompurposely sought out women with a lower status then himself to establish hisdominance in all aspects as well as sexually. Their powerlessness elevates hissuperiority that being with Daisy couldn’t satisfy due to their equality interms of social class. By cavorting with Myrtle, who is of much lower statusthen himself, Tom is able to perpetuate the illusion of pre-eminence that isun-paralleled by Myrtle and fuels his god-complex. By paying for the apartmentin New York and spending money on clothes for Myrtle, there is no mistakingTom’s dominance. Her dependence on Tom inexplicitly permits Tom to have theupper hand in both sexual and violent terms. Tom assaults her, breaking hernose with a “short, deft movement” as a result of Myrtle mentioninghis infidelity. The curt impassive language used by Fitzgerald discloses Tom’sindifference towards act of violence. Fitzgerald portrays Tom as a pridefulman, formulated given his ancestral old money heritage.
Therefore a man ofTom’s calibre would disparage comments concerning his short-comings. Thiscreates an unequal relationship between them and puts Myrtle in an inferiorposition. Being with a woman who aspires to be in his class heightens hisself-esteem and allows him to reinforce the idea that he is envied and playsinto the increasing narcissistic society.
Both Carter and Fitzgerald expose theego-centric society and the decay in morale in forms of violence and sexualobjectification that ensues, which impediments self-actualisation and spiritualfulfilment. Fitzgeralduses the American Dream as a means of social criticism of the moralimplications that accompany great wealth and material excess. The misplacedimportance on false idols and symbols results in the self-destruction of thecharacters. This self-destruction strays away from the path of spiritualfulfilment. Angela Carter, in a similar fashion in her work ‘The Bloody Chamber’, establishes theconsequences of drawing upon falsities to gain happiness. How can one beself-actualised when the focus is on insignificant commodities? The pursuit ofthe American Dream is indubitably the most prominent theme in ‘The Great Gatsby’. The main characterGatsby represents idealism; the motif of the ‘single green light’ acts as ametaphysical reminder of the “unattainable dream,” given the physicalboundaries that separate them.
The colour of ‘green light’ situated at the endof Daisy’s East Egg dock may refer to money, greed, capitalism, all branches ofThe American Dream. Tanner remarks on this symbolism stating that “thegreen light offers Gatsby a suitably inaccessible focus for his yearning”.Fitzgerald remarks on the disillusions of Gatsby through his misguided desiresin life.
This is further evidenced by Gatsby’s rise to immense wealth whichserve as an allusion to an ‘unattainable dream’. The hypocrisy however lies inthe corrupt nature of his dream which has maligned the authenticity of thepursuit of happiness and moulded it into a hysterical quest for wealth andmaterial accumulation. Fitzgerald, witnessing the increasing consumer societyliving in the midst of the nineteen-twenties, became aware of the growingeuphemism that masquerades as the American Dream- material possession equalledhappiness, and that buying more things would increase the quality of life.Fitzgerald was extremely critical of this capitalist society and made thatclear through the discourses of Gatsby. Wealth is not a requirement in Maslow’shierarchy of needs which entails that Gatsby’s disillusion on his longing formoney prevent him from being self-actualised. The focus on material gainprevent self-actualisation and Gatsby’s bootlegging of alcohol further straysGatsby away from the path of self-actualisation and spiritual fulfilment.
In oneof the more active stories in ‘The Bloody Chamber’, ‘Tigers Bride’ uncovers adynamic unique relationship between Beauty and the Tiger. The Beauty comes froma cynical world where her father is an avid gambler, obsessed over materialgain. The juxtaposition of the economically fanatical parent and disturbinglynatural environment she now resides translates the struggle in society betweenauthenticity and prosperity. This is apparent in the Tigers desire to seeBeauty naked. An unlikely analysis of the Tigers persistence to Beauty nakedcould be due to the overarching male desire the Tiger embodies. Too overcomewith lust, his desire for her can be seen as unpleasant voyeurism on herbehalf. However, it would be more appropriate to suggest that Carter does thison purpose to expose the flawed ideals in society that sexuality should behidden and be seen shameful, ironically stating how ‘it is not natural forhuman kind to go naked’. Through this ridiculous statement, Carter illustrateshow society’s ideals have been hard-wired intensively, that we are no more’comfortable in our own skin’.
The Beauty has internalised this due to herupbringing and is adamant that the Tiger wants her for his carnal desires. Inreality, the Tiger longs to see her as she really is, without the confines ofher clothing acting as a metaphor for restrictions of society. This struggle ofauthority between the supressed Id and the imperious superego is evident in’The Tigers Bride’ where the Tiger is described to be struggling to ‘remainupright, as if fighting a battle with himself’. The Beast must accept theanimal instincts in pursuance of freedom in the human world with its socialparadigms and conventions.
He sees Beauty in the same strict confines (that ofclothing) and longs to liberate her. Freud would remark of this ‘battle’ as astruggle between the repressed id and the ego. The repressed Id and true selflongs to be exposed yet the Tiger temporarily denies his id.
This initialinauthenticity acts as an obstruction to self-actualisation as the Tiger isdenying his true self. When considering inauthenticity as an obstruction ofauthenticity, the character of Gatsby is perceived to be the most ambivalentand elusive identity in the ‘The Great Gatsby’, with Fitzgerald unveiling hisorigins in fragments throughout the novel. The defining moment of Gatsby’schange in character can be drawn back to his change in name, from Jay Gats toGatsby. In doing so, Gatsby has officially abandoned his origins a thus markingthe beginning of his modification.
Gatsby’s intends to construct a new identityis evident in his demanding ‘Schedule’ which includes ‘general resolves’ suchas ‘study needed inventions’, an aim which may either hint to his fascinationof the period of technological progress or more interestingly, allude to hisown self-invention. Fitzgerald hints at the concept that the self is able to bemanipulated and altered rather than a fixed quality irrespective of change. Thisis a manipulation of Maslow’s initial theory of self-improvement, Gatsby insteadintends to create a façade and effectively destroy any features of his trueself. Fitzgerald, through the character of Gatsby, goes against Freudian valueswhich decree that despite any changes in character, the repressed subconsciouswill always strive to make itself known. Gatsby, unlike what Freud suggested,has completely wiped away any traces of his former self, he has internalisedthe façade and in doing so prevents his self-actualisation as he is never ableto feel solace in his true self. His downfall is due to him denying hisrepressed Id and former self. Unlike ‘The Great Gatsby’, both the Beauty andThe Tiger in Angela Carters ‘Tigers Bride’ eventually are able to becomeself-actualised as they have not allowed society to hold a strong influence.
Thereciprocal nature of their undressing suggests how power and delicacy, desire andbeauty, man and woman can coexist. In Carter’s version it is not the lion whichlies down with the lamb, but the lamb which must ‘learn to run with thetigers’. In stripping humanity back to its bare, physical essentials there is atrue grasp of what it is to be human, rather than the polished and falseversion which has emerged out of centuries of society’s strictures. So Beautyhas her ‘skin stripped away’, the dressy earrings return to the natural beautyof water as she undergoes a sort of baptism back into a natural existence.
Similarly, the Tiger has reverted to his natural state, liberated by Beauty’saccepting response.Humanitiesquest for spiritual fulfilment and self-actualisation are challengedby social paradigms and fear of rejection. This quest for self-actualisation isoften misinterpreted as evidenced in both ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The BloodyChamber’ and neglected in favour of temporary commodities. Society, despite itsdouble standard and absurdity governs between right and wrong and code ofrighteousness differs greatly from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It can beconcluded therefore that self-actualisation cannot be reached in conservativesociety. It can be said that there is an absence in truly spiritually fulfilledcharacters in ‘The Great Gatsby’.
The characters in Fitzgerald’s work, to someextent, hold prejudices in going against social conventions and in doing soprevent their own pursuit of happiness. The ‘Bloody Chamber’ includes manyshort stories of varying characters which all but one lack absolute spiritualfulfilment. In the last short story in Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’,the story of ‘Wolf Alice’ illustrates a character that is free from socialfrivolities. In many of Carter’s stories, the protagonists embrace theirbestial or sexual nature in perusal of enlightenment; in “The Tiger’sBride,” the heroine even transforms into a beast. Wolf-Alice’s developmentis contradictory from these heroines’ as she begins as a de facto beast andprogressively becomes human. Carter calls into question on what defines a humanthrough the character of Wolf-Alice who possess both human and inhumanattributes. Carter regards the idea that it reduces down to biology accreditsfor humanness as Wolf Alice is an example of a person who is not quite humannor animal. Carter points to several things that distinguish humans fromanimals: knowledge of our mortality, the ability to feel shame and subsequentdesire to wear clothing, and the belief that we are more important than, and stewardsof the environment.
All of these human characteristics are latent inWolf-Alice, but she cannot realize them until she is in the presence of humanthings: a house, a mirror, a dress. Wolf-Alice is a somewhat bracing reminderthat we are mere beasts without our culture. As the narrator admits, thetownspeople “feared her imperfection because it showed them whatthey might have been.
” Carter has intentionally placed the story ofWolf-Alice at the end of the book. Self-actualisation is not dictated by materialwealth, lustful desires nor inauthentic personalities. Spiritual fulfilment andself-actualisation rely heavily on what it means to be a human, and the truepurpose of existence.