The Great Gatsby, an autobiography?

Some critics of The Great Gatsby have proposed that the novel is actually an autobiography, Nick Carraway being F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I think this is a really interesting idea and an analysis from this perspective would provide good insights about Fitzgerald.

Both Carraway and Fitzgerald come from Midwestern upbringings.  Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota while Carraway states that he comes from a “Middle Western city for three generations,” (Fitzgerald 3).  In the early part of Fitzgerald’s life, he joined the army but was never deployed.  Carraway, however, truly participated in the war and was a veteran as well, “I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War” (pg).  Both become unsatisfied with their Midwestern style of living and move to New York City.  Fitzgerald “moved to New York City hoping to launch a career in advertising,” while Carraway wished to get into the bond business (“F. Scott Fitzgerald”).

Nick may represent Fitzgerald’s moral side.  But what about the other side? The part of Nick that is corrupted and enjoys the fast-paced, riotous life in New York perhaps speaks to a latentaspect of Fitzgerald’s personality.  “I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye,” (Fitzgerald 56).  The pleasure Carraway takes in  New York comes with the development of a drinking habit.  As illustrated by Fitzgerald, after Nick’s arrival in New York, his innocence was shattered by the lure of alcohol, “I have been drunk just twice in my life, and the second time was that afternoon; so everything that happened has a dim, hazy cast over it,” (Fitzgerald 29).  Fitzgerald was much the same but Carraway exhibited just a glimpse of Fitzgerald’s drinking habit, “a heavy drinker, he progressed steadily into alcoholism and suffered prolonged bouts of writer’s block,” (“F. Scott Fitzgerald”).  Alcoholism being one of the many facets of Fitzgerald’s life, appears subconsciously in The Great Gatsby—whether it be in Nick’s drinking habits, the roaring parties held at Gatsby’s mansion, or Gatsby’s true occupation as a bootlegger.

The Great Gatsby may not be a true autobiography of Fitzgerald but the textual evidence above shows intense similarities between Fitzgerald and his narrator, Nick Carraway.  Perhaps Fitzgerald used The Great Gatsby as an outlet to reflect on his hidden vices which society would have looked down upon.  However one may look at it, the appreciation of Carraway’s character and his struggles is important to fully grasp the underlying message Fitzgerald was implanting.

– Jenna P.

Sources

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 1925. Print.

F. Scott Fitzgerald.” 2013. The Biography Channel website. Dec 03 2013, 05:25

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in learning more about the life and times of Fitzgerald, consider checking out some of the following biographies – all available through the UW Libraries. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (HarperCollins, 1994), Invented Lives: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald by James R. Mellow (Houghton Mifflin, 1984), or this brand new volume of essays called F. Scott Fitzgerald in Context, edited by Bryant Mangum and published this year by Cambridge University Press.       

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5 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby, an autobiography?

  1. When I read Gatsby I always wonder if Fitzgerald didn’t base both of his characters on himself. Gatsby himself wasn’t always the high-society man he is during the novel. Nick never really shoots into the world, and there is no doubt that Fitzgerald did. I saw Nick as the pre-Gatsby version of James Gatz. Perhaps Nick was a portrait of Fitzgerald’s life, but I think Gatsby may be a mirror of his life after fame. Maybe he used Gatsby to mirror how he felt about his own fame? Famous people may never know who their real friends are, and perhaps Fitzgerald was concerned that nobody would attend his own funeral.

  2. I really liked this blog post because I actually did not know of the idea that “Gatsby” could be an autobiography. So thank you for opening my eyes to something new! It did teach me that I don’t know much about Fitzgerald himself. I definitely see why some people may think this way thanks to the examples you provided. I am wondering if Fitzgerald did this specifically on purpose, or if it is just an example of how writers get so involved in their works that they end up being reflected in them in the end. Overall this is just a fun topic to consider.

  3. I think it’s interesting to say that “Gatsby” could go as far as being an autobiography of Fitzgerald. I especially like how you think the novel may have been a way for the author to “reflect on his hidden vices which society would have looked down upon” because it does seem plausible – fiction would be the perfect outlet for someone to admit truths of themselves that they otherwise can’t say. However, it is a stretch to say that this book is Fitzgerald’s autobiography. Any author pulls information from his or her personal life in order to write a story that is realistic. I think Fitzgerald might have used elements from his own life to inspire Carraway’s character, but to say it is an “autobiography” is probably taking it too far.

  4. I think this is intensely fascinating given that Fitzgerald wrote this book so close to his current generation. It wouldn’t surprise me if he based his main characters off of himself. Getting close to a work can cause a writer to continue to stay close in setting and character as well.

  5. I feel like most writers write a lot of stories based on experience. I don’t think the story was necessarily an autobiography, but I’m sure Fitzgerald pulled experiences out of his life that he then dramticized and then put into the story. I do think the reflections that Nick had were also Fitzgerald’s own reflections on culture, and on high society. Side note, I believe that the novel is easy to be taught in high schools because it has a lot of elements from a cliche high school movie, but ends in tragedy, which is a great introduction into tragedy actually. Take for example, Daisy is the hot cheerleader. Tom is the buff captain of the football team. Gatsby is the nerdy kid, who happens to get cool and “get” the cheerleader. And Nick is his best friend who watches all this happen. The quiet one. Just some food for thought. I also think the fact that Nick is quiet a lot is also a reflection of Fitzgerald. I feel like the quiet people, the “watchers”, usually make good writers. Maybe its just me, but I think that reflects him as well.

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