Gatsby and Barrett-Browning Sonnets Comparison
English Essay ???Gatsby & Sonnets???
???Texts from different times can vary in their context but in many ways share parallels in regards to themes such as spirituality, aspirations; and identity.???
Discuss and analyse this in regard to F. Scott Fitzgerald??™s ???The Great Gatsby??? and Elizabeth Barrett Browning??™s ???Sonnets from the Portugese.???
???The Great Gatsby??? was written in America 1920??™s and the Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnets were written in Britain 1840??™s but they share similar parallels in regard to their themes. The two texts have different contexts, as they were written so far apart yet there are common themes.
In ???Gatsby??? the intricate love story between the characters plays off against the setting of America 1920. The different classes in society are portrayed; the working class, upper class and middle class. All of these classes are aspiring to, or think they have attained, the American Dream. The characters lack religion and spirituality, as this time in America was neither of these, unlike Barrett-Browning??™s time. This lack of religion and spirituality is highlighted through the way they cheat on their partners. During this time there was also wealth being found through crime. The character or Meyer Wolfshiem is part of organised crime having ???fixed the World??™s Series back in 1919??? (p.73). Wealth is something in this time that people aspired to, because they felt that with wealth came status and happiness. Nick moves to West Egg to find wealth. Although Gatsby has already attained wealth here he is still searching for happiness.
The Sonnets from the Portugese were written in the early 1800??™s during time when there was poverty in society. This period was highly religious and traditional. Barrett-Browning has been sheltered away by her father and is excited about finally seeing the world.
Although the texts were written at different times both composers write about a patriarchal (male dominated) society. The female characters are rarely treated well by their partners in ???Gatsby??? and Barrett-Browning was hiding her love for fear of her father. Women in Victorian times were not really recognised by the law and basically belonged to their husbands once they were married. Husbands were able to have sex outside of the marriage, yet a woman??™s infidelity was unforgivable. Her sonnets are written for personal use, directed to Robert Browning. The personal nature of the poems mean??™s that society??™s morality is not her primary focus.
The main theme that is shown in both texts is spirituality. In ???Gatsby??? there is no sense or belief by the characters of an afterlife. Nothing after death. The death of both Myrtle and Gatsby show this and nobody attends Gatsby??™s funeral. Life goes on as if nothing has happened.
The eyes of T.J. Eckleburg watch over the moral decay of the American Society. They are representative of God. ???But above the grey land??¦ ??¦But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground??? (p.23). The eyes are looking down and judging an immoral wasteland. George Wilson is the only character in the book who actually sees the eyes as God. He looks up at the eyes after Myrtle??™s death and says, ???God knows what you??™ve been doing. Everything you??™ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can??™t fool God!??? (p.152).
In contrast to this, in the Sonnets Barrett-Browning has strong themes of spirituality as at that time society was very religious. She feels that death is not final, and a greater peace and happiness can be found in an afterlife. ???I shall be love thee better after death??? (Sonnet 43) shows that she believes in heaven and that she??™ll still find love there. ???I love thee??? is repeated and shows her desperation and the power of her love. ???Thee??? being Robert.
???For the ends of Being and ideal Grace??? (sonnet 43), the capitalisation of Being and Grace gives religious connotations implying a deep spiritual connection between the couple. Their love is spiritual. Throughout the Sonnets there are religious allusions, showing the devout Christian faith. In sonnet 22 she mentions ???souls??™, ???angels??™ and ???pure spirits??™ all of which have strong religious connotations. The religious values of the Victorian Era are also highlighted in sonnet 32, ???great souls, at one stroke???.
The setting in ???Gatsby??? is used to show the lack of spirituality. The Valley of the Ashes is a working class, industrial area which is depicted as dull, lifeless and grey. At some point this area must be travelled through by the characters to get to New York and other settings. The Valley is described in the book as ???a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens??? (p.23). Fitzgerald uses alliteration (fantastic farm), simile (grow like wheat), metaphor and personification (ashes grow) here to show the decay and greyness of the valley. The Valley symbolises death, despair and immorality. This draws attention to the immorality of society at the time.
Relationships between characters are not honoured and partners cheat, for instance Tom??™s affair with Myrtle. They do not honour the promises and vows taken before God. The love between characters and the relationships are not wholesome and are sexual, based on lust or greed. The characters flaunt their immoral and unspiritual behaviours rather than hide them. The setting of New York shows society??™s immorality as it is a place of absolute debauchery. Affairs happen there between characters.
Barrett-Browning??™s ideas of love in the Sonnets is a pure love. Sonnet 28 is the only one which communicates a sense of sexual desire. ???To come and touch my hand??¦ a simple thing, Yet I wept for it!??? shows her desire for Robert??™s touch yet it is still controlled within the iambic pentameter rhythm. The relationship with Browning is based on a pure love, unlike in the novel the sexual tension between Gatsby and Daisy.
Aspirations are what people aspire to, or wish for, in life. The characters in ???Gatsby??? have aspirations relating to the context of the book. The 1920??™s was a time of growing wealth and commercialism with the beginnings of mass production lines. The American Dream becomes increasingly important. This dream was based on the premise that anyone could become successful through hard work and then with that success would come improved social status. Most of the characters, except maybe George, are after some form of status in society. Apart from the American Dream, each of the characters aspires for wealth.
Jay Gatsby aspires for love and happiness with Daisy, however unlike Barrett-Browning??™s aspirations for love, is based on material and commercial gain. Gatsby??™s desire for Daisy is symbolised by the green light he can see across the bay. Gatsby is after Daisy and puts on a facade after his initial relationship with her. ???He had intended, probably, to take what he could and go- but now he found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail.??? (p.142).
The love and hope presented in Sonnet 21 that Barrett-Browning has for Robert provides her with happiness unlike that she has experience before. ???Say over again, and yet once over again, that thou dost love me.??? With the repetition of over again her love is shown. This sense of fulfilment can only come from love and not by attaining the American Dream, which the characters in ???Gatsby??? think.
The aspirations in the sonnets are pure love, wholesome love and spiritual growth, all things which reflect the context of the Victorian Era. The intense love in sonnet 13 cannot be spoken, like how Daisy cannot admit she loves Gatsby. There is also a contextual reference in this sonnet of the treatment of women at the time, ???let the silence of my womanhood commend my woman-love to thy belief???. Even though (???the love I bear thee, finding words enough???) she can??™t find the words to tell Robert of her love she still aspires to this pure love.
Barrett-Browning??™s outpouring of emotion in the sonnets is constrained within the Petrarchan model; rigid rhyme and iambic pentameter. This can relate to the context of the treatment of women at the time and the fact she did not want her father to discover her love.
The aspirations of the characters in Gatsby are based on ???self??™ rather than others and everything is done for their own personal gain.
Romanticism in the sonnets have connections to nature. ???A day in spring??? (sonnet 28) and ???Comes the fresh Spring??? (sonnet 21) both have connections to nature, using the word spring, implying new life and hope. This relates to her aspirations for love and morality.
The contexts of the two texts are very different, but through the themes parallels can be made. The ideas of religion and spirituality and the aspirations of society are themes that run through ???The Great Gatsby??? and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning??™s Sonnets from the Portugese.