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The Use of an Inferno as Manifested in The Great Gatsby

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F. Scott Fitzgerald writes The Great Gatsby as a manifestation of the literary Inferno, a metaphorical world filled with a lack of grace and love. For example, the relationships throughout the book are marred with romantic affairs and the victimization of women. Furthermore, these connections notably lack love and grace, as everyone forms relationships for self-advancement rather than emotional bonds. Finally, narrator Nick Caraway falls short in his role as caretaker and guardian of the community when he fails to protect the women of the story and eventually withdraws from the community altogether as he moves back out West. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the actions and relationships of the main characters create a world filled with the major themes found in the Inferno, a metaphorical place of selfishness and an utter lack of love.

In The Great Gatsby, the defiling of an already loveless marriage through romantic affairs as well as the abuse of Daisy Buchanan by both her husband and Jay Gatsby create an atmosphere similar to that of the Inferno. For example, Tom and Daisy Buchanan partake in an empty relationship where Tom engages in an affair with Daisy’s full knowledge, as demonstrated by the fact that Myrtle Wilson, his mistress, calls Tom in the middle of dinner and Daisy remains unfazed. Marital relationships, especially in the early 20th century, traditionally intend to be strictly monogamous; this blatant violation of this expectation clearly defiles the Buchanans’ marriage and reminds the reader of the metaphorical Inferno. Later in the book, Daisy continues to further desecrate her relationship with Tom through her affair with Gatsby, rekindling emotional attachment to him at tea at Nick’s house and Gatsby’s parties. At this point the Buchanans’ marriage deteriorates even further as both members engage in extramarital relationships, marking the defiling of marriage as a major theme in The Great Gatsby. Finally, both Tom and Gatsby victimize Daisy in the famous scene where they both demand that she only loves one or the other, all while refusing to allow her to voice her opinion on the matter. Both men attempt to force her into a relationship without her full consent while forcing her into silence on this choice which will greatly impact her life; this clear oppression of the woman also finds a place in the Inferno. Fitzgerald begins to illustrate an obvious manifestation of the literary Inferno through his use of the defiling of the Buchanans’ marriage and the abuse of Daisy.

Another major aspect of the Inferno emerges throughout The Great Gatsby: the absence of love and grace in almost all relationships between the major characters. Most noticeably, Daisy did not wait for Gatsby to return from the war so she could marry him; rather, she married Tom Buchanan, a rich man from old money, apparently for the status and wealth that accompanies marriage to such a man. From either viewpoint, Daisy’s choice shows a lack of love for both men; she does not marry the man she cares for but rather chooses to marry a man she does not feel affection for simply to increase her affluence. Along those lines, while Gatsby thinks his love for Daisy originates from their fling five years previously, his true intentions reveal themselves when he famously declares “her voice is full of money!” No matter how he attempts to rationalize it, Gatsby merely wants Daisy for her social status, which he lacks; this is yet another time a main character chooses his or her selfish ambitions over the love and grace of an honest relationship. This occurs on a platonic level as well as the obvious romantic level; Gatsby initially continues his friendship with Nick in order to get closer to Daisy, such as when Nick invites both Gatsby and Daisy over to tea. Gatsby’s chief intention in this relationship does not lie in an innocent connection with Nick, but rather ulterior motives to further his own goal of reuniting with Daisy, thus increasing the lack of love in the relationships on West and East Egg. Through the absence of love and grace in the characters’ interactions, Fitzgerald continues writing The Great Gatsby as the Inferno.

Most importantly, the Inferno’s story comes to an end when the guardian of the community fails in his duties and ultimately withdraws. Even before Nick withdraws entirely and isolates himself from the surviving characters, he does not act adequately as the community’s caretaker and allows Daisy and Jordan Baker to endanger themselves on multiple occasions. For example, Nick enables both the Buchanans’ affairs and does nothing to stop either, going so far as to encourage them by keeping quiet about Tom and Myrtle Wilson and allowing Gatsby and Daisy to meet at his house. Tom’s affair with Myrtle and Daisy’s affair with Gatsby harm their marriage and therefore hurt both the people in the relationship, yet Nick fails in his role as protector and caretaker and allows the pain to occur. Later in the story, Nick is driving with his girlfriend Jordan Baker and comments on her reckless behavior behind the wheel, to which she replies that she can act carelessly since other drivers pay attention to the road, and Nick does not stop or correct her in any way. By allowing Jordan to drive dangerously and potentially endanger herself and others, Nick yet again fall short in his quest to protect and guard the community. After Gatsby’s funeral, Nick abandons West Egg and moves back to his home in the West. This literal withdrawal of the guardian from the community completes the idea of the world of The Great Gatsby as a manifestation of the Inferno.

Fitzgerald sums up his theme of the Inferno in this book by writing Nick as the guardian of the community that fails in his duties and withdraws. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, he uses the relationships and interactions of the main characters to create a world of selfishness that mimics the metaphorical Inferno. First, he exaggerates the defiling of marriage and abuse of the woman by having one marriage result in two affairs and having both men in the relationships victimize and silence Daisy. Fitzgerald continues this thought through increasing the lack of love in these already loveless relationships, marking self-gain as the intention of all these connections. Finally, Nick fails in his responsibility to protect and guard the community by allowing Daisy and Jordan to potentially harm themselves and ultimately withdrawing from the group of people for whom he must care. Through the clear themes written in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald creates a manifestation of the Inferno in the worlds of West and East Egg.

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The Use of an Inferno as Manifested in the Great Gatsby. (2018, April 23). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from
“The Use of an Inferno as Manifested in the Great Gatsby.” GradesFixer, 23 Apr. 2018,
The Use of an Inferno as Manifested in the Great Gatsby. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 9 Dec. 2021].
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