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The one character in literature that has influenced the way I think about my life more than any other is Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby is the archetype of a self-made man in the roaring 1920s. Gatsby was able to buy his way into high society, but he could never fit in.
Jay Gatsby's real name in the novel is James "Jimmy" Gatz. He came from a poor family in North Dakota where he lived in shame because of his family's impoverished lifestyle. I relate to Gatsby in that I grew up poor. I know what it is like to have to go without and not fit in with the other kids because my clothes were hand-me downs.
What I have learned from the character of Jay Gatsby is what not to be like in life. The shame of his past haunted Gatsby until his death. At college age he enrolled in St. Olaf College in Minnesota, but his pride forced him to quite simply because he was ashamed at having to work as a janitor to pay his tuition. I understand that college is a character building experience and that in order to better myself education is a must and having to work to pay for it is a part of the character building experience of higher education.
I have also learned for Jay Gatsby that I follow myself where ever I go. It doesn't matter if I change my name or move to a different part of the country I will still be me. This lesson escaped Jay Gatsby to the very end of his life. When he was cheated by Dan Cody's mistress out of his inheritance he was still that poor boy from Minnesota who could stand up for himself and fight. The fact that he changed his name didn't help his character at all.
It was in the military that Jay Gatsby began to develop character. He rose in ranks in the army to Major and learned how to lead men and to gain their respect and admiration. Jay Gatsby meets Daisy before he learns how to life his life as a man of respect, self-respect. From my own reflection on my life I am able to see that a relationship with others is doomed for failure unless I can respect myself and love myself. Even with all the changes made to his identity I am not sure he respected and loved himself. I think he respected and loved the image he created for himself.
Jay Gatsby spent the rest of his life trying to become someone who could win Daisy's love. Daisy was rich and needed to marry someone in her own East Coast social class if she was to be accepted by society. Jay Gatsby never accepted that clothes, cars, money and houses didn't change where he came from or who he really was: a poor boy from Minnesota.
In my life I have learned that in order to find happiness from within I must accept the person I am. Jay Gatsby is a tragic hero in my mind. He is has everything a man or woman could want on the outside, but on the inside he struggled to believe his own lies. I have learned that honesty about self is always the best recipe for happiness.
Jay Gatsby is also a symbol of how money corrupts. Jimmy Gatz was not raised to be a gangster or bootlegger, but that is what his lust led him to become. The only way Jay Gatsby could earn the vast wealth that Daisy was a part of and married was to become a self-made man through illegal means. I have learned from Gatsby that the ends do not justify the means and when I have to reject myself for the love and affection of another I always lose. In the end, Gatsby's corruption destroyed the innocence and purity that made Daisy fall in love with him in Minnesota.
I have also learned form reading about how Jay Gatsby tries to force his own fate and the fate of Daisy that that is not the recipe for a happy life. When anything is forced it breaks with too much pressure. Gatsby broke under the force of his will, he hurt Daisy as well.
The Great Gatsby changed my life when I read it in ninth grade. I learned what I didn't want to become from the character of Jay Gatsby. I learned that money doesn't always equal happiness and I learned that if I don't love and respect myself then I will not be fit for anyone else to love and respect.