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Jay Gatsby and Macbeth are in many ways responsible for their own downfalls, though I believe that Macbeth contributes more directly to his downfall than the comparatively indirect actions of Gatsby. Both characters are in some ways also to blame for the demise of other characters and their unrealistic hopes, dreams and ambitions bring about their untimely death. Moreover, the influence of key characters, especially women, whom are associated with Macbeth and Gatsby contribute to some extent to the two protagonists’ downfalls.
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By records, Macbeth is thought to have been written by William Shakespeare around 1603 and 1607, during the reign of James I, who became king in 1603. James was one of Shakespeare’s playing company’s patrons, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and this play shows Shakespeare’s thoughts towards the king. Fitzgerald began ‘The Great Gatsby’ in June 1922. It was written and takes place during the ‘Roaring Twenties’ in a post World War One America, described as “a time when gin was the national drink and sex was the national obsession”. The novel was finally finished and published in 1925.
The presentation of Gatsby and Macbeth at the start of their stories to the reader are contrasting to that at the end. The fist mention of Macbeth at the start of the play is by witches. To the audience, this automatically associates Macbeth with evil and witchcraft. To amplify this connection, Macbeth is given similar lines to the witches, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (1:1:10) from the witches and “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” from Macbeth to Banquo. Yet Macbeth is described by the bloody captain as a valiant and brave soldier on the battlefield, like “Valour’s minion” (1:2:19) and whose sword “smoked with bloody execution” (1:2:18); showing that Macbeth is worthy of the name “brave Macbeth” (1:2:16). But through the play, the character of Macbeth gradually deteriorates into a frail, cowardly man who is profoundly disillusioned, totally in contrast to the portrayal of him by the bloody captain.
A similar change occurs during ‘The Great Gatsby’, where initially the character of Jay Gatsby is portrayed by Fitzgerald as “mysterious”, and who represented to Nick “everything for which I have an unaffected scorn”. Throughout the novel, Gatsby comes across as forlorn and lonely, and this feeling of isolation is emphasised during Gatsby’s party at the beginning of chapter three in which he invites other lonely aristocrats, in the off chance that Daisy might appear. Nick feels as though there is more to this man than the stories Gatsby tells him of a gallant war hero, saying that “every Allied government” gave him a “decoration – even Montenegro”, whom earned millions in the liquor business. But Gatsby is only cheating himself as he lies about his past, his family and his travels around the world. As the story goes on, Gatsby’s goal becomes ever clearer, eventually reaching a point in which is similar to that of Macbeth; pathetic, dishonest, and desperate.
The influence of women in the characters’ lives contributes towards the initial rise and then breakdown of their hopes, dreams and ambitions. During ‘The Great Gatsby’, the influence of Daisy plays on Gatsby’s mind until his death. In a past life, Gatsby and Daisy had very strong feelings for each other before she and Tom became married. These feelings have long since left Daisy yet she still has a strong influence in Gatsby’s life bringing to light the ultimate reason for his downfall. Fitzgerald uses Gatsby waiting at his phone and lurking outside his house as a metaphor for his and Daisy’s relationship. Gatsby’s feelings for her are not realistic or worthy but this is what drives him on through life and it comes across that he would do anything to have her love him again. Nick observes “He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you'”. Nick states that Gatsby found “what a grotesque thing a rose is”, a rose usually being relating to beauty, which despite Gatsby telling Daisy that he loved her for other reasons, would have effected Gatsby’s thoughts towards Daisy.
Macbeth, though initially worthy of his title of Thane of Cawdor, is ironically overwhelmed by the great power that his wife, Lady Macbeth, has upon him. She comes across as a very influential woman of great strength and determination as of act three scene two in which the viscous plan of convincing Macbeth to kill Duncan is masterminded. But around act three, scene two, Lady Macbeth undertakes a dramatic change to take the appearance of a friendlier character towards Macbeth. Her level of influence over Macbeth gradually deteriorates and the guilt manifests inside her, turning her mad, eventually leading to a break down when she commits suicide. To ensure and emphasise the hopes and ambitions of Macbeth, the witches also play a direct role in influencing Macbeth by creating a prediction of the future. An example of these predictions is the title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’ that Macbeth is to receive “All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee Thane of Cawdor!” at which Macbeth replies in disbelief “But how of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives”. The witches also foresee Macbeth becoming king, which Macbeth uses to convince himself to make this happen.
Ultimately the gradual decline of the characters leads directly onto their deaths. The way in which Macbeth falls is crucial to his isolation in the castle during the attack. The most significant factor to which contributed to Macbeth’s downfall was paranoia. The fact that Macbeth had committed treason by killing Duncan fed his paranoia and could only ensure his safety by more action. Macbeth was aware that Banquo could suspect him of committing this crime and could not afford to let him be which lead only to one conclusion, the death of him and his family. In this way Macbeth takes on a more tyrannical view towards those he believes might succeed or even kill him. By the attack of the castle near the end of the play, there are few who would stand for Macbeth during the battle. Shakespeare then gives the reader a sense for Macbeth’s situation using very poetic language in the unlikely situation of combat, “I have liv’d long enough. My way of life is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf, and that which should accompany old age.” This shows that Macbeth realises that he has brought about his own downfall, and realises that there is little or no point in trying to redeem himself of his sins other than being killed and therefore almost allows Macduff to kill him. But he is proud at death.
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In some ways, the way in which Gatsby falls is similar to that of Macbeth in the sense of dishonesty. Yet the most significant aspect of it is the continuing build up of lie upon lie by Gatsby to those around him and himself. His life and livelihood are based upon his hopes and ambitions of once again being together with Daisy. Gatsby does not really see Daisy for who she is, but has rather built up an idealistic image of her. This build up of lies leads Mr Wilson to believe that Gatsby is the one that is having an affair with Myrtle and to Tom implying that he ran her down in the street, and therefore these rumours lead Mr Wilson to kill Gatsby for what he thinks Gatsby has done. Gatsby’s romantic feelings are lost for Daisy by her rejection, and so death is more or less accepted by Gatsby.
For Macbeth, Banquo is another influence, but in contrast to the influence of the witches and Lady Macbeth. In act one, scene three, after the predictions of Macbeth’s future are made, the witches foresee the future for Banquo as well, comparing it to that of Macbeth “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater”, “Not so happy, yet much happier” and “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none” Later in the play Macbeth portrays these predictions as a danger to his power, foreseeing them as a betrayal by Banquo. This fuels Macbeth’s paranoia and leads to the slaughter of Banquo and his family “And the right-valiant Banquo walked too late; whom, you may say, if’t please you, Fleance killed, for Fleance fled”. This paranoia eventually leads to Macbeth’s downfall.
Another influence in Gatsby’s life is the mysterious character of Meyer Wolfsheim. The reader is not presented much about this character, but from Nick’s observations we see that he has had business relations with Gatsby. From what we do know, he is involved in the liquor business, of which Gatsby also seems to be a part of. To Gatsby, Meyer Wolfsheim is his apparent mentor, who could possibly have influenced Gatsby into his business. But it becomes apparent that Meyer Wolfsheim is involved in illegal businesses, taking fixing the World Series for example, which brings to light the possible truth behind Gatsby’s fortune.
In summary, the similar effects of the characters allowing themselves be influenced by women, and the characters’ unrealistic and unworthy hopes, dreams, and ambitions are the ways in which they are responsible for and gradually lead to the deaths of other characters around them and to the downfall and eventual untimely demise of the characters themselves.
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