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A Comparison of The Theme of Obsession in The Great Gatsby and a Farewell to Arms

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Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby revolve around one primary character who serves as a vessel that reveals the major theme of the book. The Great Gatsby chronicles Jay Gatsby’s pursuit of love, while Farewell to Arms is the story of Frederic Henry, a man caught in the midst of love and war. Both Fitzgerald and Hemingway portray these characters, respectively, as detached individuals absorbed by one ideal, but each writer does so in his own distinct style. Fitzgerald exposes Gatsby in a sensual, poetic manner primarily through intricately woven prose. Hemingway, on the other hand, reveals Frederic’s character in a realistic and concrete sense through a combination of literary elements such as dialogue, structure, and form, and through events that transpire in the book.

The two authors’ styles are revealed immediately upon the introduction of each character in the novel. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald describes Gatsby as a man who had a “heightened sensitivity to life” but at the same time was so detached from everything that during the lavish parties he threw he “[stood] alone on the marble steps looking from group to group with approving eyes” (Fitzgerald 6, 54). Here, it is immediately established that Gatsby had a sense of vitality within him that did not involve the hedonism and pleasure he surrounds himself with and he himself perpetuates. Furthermore, Fitzgerald describes Gatsby’s smile as one having “an eternal quality of reassurance,” but despite this no one interacted with him, “no one swooned backwards on [him] and no French bob touched [his] shoulder” (52, 55). Through the paradoxical description of Gatsby using poetic and unconventional diction, Fitzgerald establishes an impression of Gatsby that provides the reader a glimpse of his aloof, yet absorbed personality, that persists throughout the book.

Hemingway introduces Henry’s character in a different way. The story is written from Henry’s perspective; therefore, there is no explicit or formal description of Henry’s character. Instead, the reader obtains pieces of information through the events that occur at the beginning of the book and the way in which they are constructed. Hemingway gives the reader a deeper glimpse into Henry’s personality as he reveals Henry’s thoughts while he was drunk: “I had gone to no place where the snow was dry and powder [but instead] to the smoke of cafes and nights when the room whirled…” (Hemingway 13). This line serves two purposes. First, it reveals Henry’s guilt over choosing a hedonistic escape over a spiritual one. As Henry describes how he “felt badly” and “could not understand why he had not gone,” Hemingway reveals the slight moral conflict that occurred within Henry as well as how he lacked structure in his life (13). Later on, this lack of structure will result in his strong reliance on Catherine. By revealing the aimless way he lived his life pre-Catherine, Hemingway enhances the importance Henry placed on their relationship. Also, this line reveals how Hemingway employs structure to reveal Henry’s mindset: Henry’s fragmented thought pattern while he was drunk was reflected in the disjointed sentences and words in the passage.

In contrast to Fitzgerald, Hemingway uses very simple language-straightforward and concise-in revealing Henry’s thoughts and emotions. He also employs structure to reveal a facet of his character’s mind that is raw and uncensored. Both Fitzgerald and Hemingway provide the reader with glimpses of their characters’ detachment right from the beginning, but Fitzgerald does so in a way that is poetic and emotional while Hemingway accomplishes the task by providing realities such as events and thoughts from which the reader can draw conclusions.

Fitzgerald and Hemingway continue to develop their characters throughout the book through various, distinct ways. Fitzgerald reveals Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy numerous times and conveys this obsession to the reader via the character Nick, the narrator and a character who observes the events as they occur. As the book progresses, the reader sees just how much Gatsby loves Daisy, how he was so “consumed by wonder at Daisy’s presence” that he “revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes” (Fitzgerald 97). Nick’s observations provide the reader with a sense of just how enamored Gatsby was with Daisy while Fitzgerald’s lyrical articulation of these observations invokes relative feelings in the reader.

Similarly, Hemingway develops Henry’s character much like Gatsby in a sense that both characters’ lives were dominated by one thing: their love for a woman. Henry’s devotion to Catherine is evident in his conversations with where he says that he wants her to “ruin him” and when he repeatedly says that “if [she isn’t] with [him], [he] hasn’t a thing in the world” (Hemingway 250 257). The frequency of these conversations and thoughts of how “he felt faint from loving her so much” reveals to the reader the intensity of Henry’s love for Catherine. Hemingway does not dwell on description to convey the characters’ emotions; instead, he states these emotions directly via dialogue and insight into the character’s minds. Henry’s love for Catherine is reminiscent of Gatsby but each character’s love is exposed in different ways – Fitzgerald’s style is elaborate and poetic, while Hemingway’s is straightforward and realistic.

As the stories of both characters conclude, their respective decisions to commit themselves to one sole ideal and disconnect themselves from everything finally takes a toll on them. In The Great Gatsby this toll may first appear to be Gatsby’s death, but upon deeper inspection, that which most affected him was the crumbling of his dream-his loss of Daisy. Even though “the dead dream fought on… trying to touch what was no longer tangible,” Daisy “[drew] further and further into herself,” leaving Gatsby with nothing despite having invested everything (Fitzgerald 142). Gatsby’s death was actually a fitting conclusion to the end of his enormous dream. Fitzgerald reveals how Gatsby “paid a high price for living too long with a single dream” through Gatsby’s eventual corruption and the vivid, profound, and slightly elegiac description of it (167).

Henry’s story ended on a tragic note as well, and his fate and Gatsby’s bear a slight resemblance to each other. Both men were left with nothing in the end because they invested everything they had on one thing. When Henry abandoned the war, he did not do so solely for Catherine; however, he poured all his attentions on her, including that which he had already committed to the war. To Henry, “all other things were unreal” except for him and Catherine (Hemingway 249). As Catherine approached death, Henry rambled in his head: “And what if she should die? She won’t die…yes but what if she should die? She won’t die” (320). These lines reveal the vague distortion in Henry’s head and, once more, Hemingway’s style of reflecting the characters’ thoughts in the novel’s structure that provides the reader with an explicit view of what is in the character’s head. Upon Catherine’s death, Henry left her as though leaving a “statue”, then “walked back to his hotel in the rain” (332). Henry being emerged in the rain, a clear symbol of death and grief in the novel, represented the tragedy and pain he was immersed in. Now that Catherine was nothing but sort of a “statue,” he had nothing and was left purposeless. Although the sad ends of Gatsby and Henry occurred in different ways, both are similar in the sense that they were left empty and unfulfilled. Fitzgerald reveals this emptiness through the personification of the death of Gatsby’s dream, metaphoric language and elaborate prose, while Henry enhances this emptiness through the way Henry’s distraught mindset is written and the concluding visual of Henry in the rain.

All in all, both Fitzgerald and Hemingway effectively portray their characters as individuals so overly dominated by love that they were no longer in tune with reality. Through each author’s unique style, however, Gatsby and Henry emerged as two clearly distinct characters developed in two different ways: Gatsby in a poetic and emotional one and Henry in a realistic and straightforward manner. As both characters are unraveled in their respective novels, the reader finds himself engrossed in the characters because of their multi-faceted personalities enhanced by each author’s individual style.

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A Comparison of the Theme of Obsession in the Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms. (2018, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/gatsby-and-henry-obsession-viewed-in-two-different-lenses/
“A Comparison of the Theme of Obsession in the Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms.” GradesFixer, 29 Apr. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/gatsby-and-henry-obsession-viewed-in-two-different-lenses/
A Comparison of the Theme of Obsession in the Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/gatsby-and-henry-obsession-viewed-in-two-different-lenses/> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2022].
A Comparison of the Theme of Obsession in the Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Apr 29 [cited 2022 Sept 22]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/gatsby-and-henry-obsession-viewed-in-two-different-lenses/
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