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Ambition In ”The Great Gatsby” and ”Macbeth”

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In the walk of life, ambition is the path to success; and persistence, the substance of ignition required to propel it. When harnessed with unmitigated precision, ambition is a force which can alone endow one with the jewels of life. However, if overmastered by ambition, it is not but a sign of doom and destruction, resulting ultimately in one’s premature demise. In Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, many similarities and differences may be exhibited in the characters of the respective protagonists – Gatsby and Macbeth – through the recurring theme of ambition. Three pivotal facets found in both works of literature are – firstly – of the immense influence of a woman upon the decisions of each protagonist, the underlying insecurity and vulnerability of character of the two men, and the presence of towering ambition in both characters. The collusion of these three continuing themes impels the protagonists of the respective works to perilous heights, resulting eventually, in their inevitable demise.

One point of commonness found in both works is the manner in which the lives of Gatsby and Macbeth are constantly toyed with – in one way or another – by a woman. In The Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan – Gatsby’s eternal love – becomes the sole motivation for Gatsby to live. Upon being rejected by her during his youth, he scrupulously reinvents himself as a cultured millionaire of high society in an attempt to court Daisy’s approval. However, despite attaining an immense fortune, he fails to mould with the old aristocratic nobilities of America, thereby being rejected by Daisy yet again. His judgment, hindered by his love for Daisy, fails to indicate to him that Daisy is in fact a low and vulgar young woman who values wealth, social privilege, and status far ahead of the love he wishes to share with her. Her love for Gatsby pales in comparison to her love for the elite and wealthy upper class of America.

Similarly, in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth’s meticulously planned out words of trickery and manipulation eventually compel Macbeth to kill Duncan in order to prove his manliness. To accomplish her ploy of stirring Macbeth into murder, Lady Macbeth taunts Macbeth continually about his womanly cowardice saying, “And, to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man.” (I, 7, 50-51) Although she takes a back seat in the latter scenes, her initial influence on Macbeth cannot be undermined; by convincing Macbeth into committing this first great crime, she introduces him to evil, later driving him to commit similar treacherous crimes, leading to his descent into savagery, and his eventual downfall. This similarity between the works, however, coexists with a difference concerning very much the same topic of discussion. That is, while a woman plays a large role in both works, in The Great Gatsby, Daisy does not share a common vision with Gatsby of being one with him.

In fact, she treats his desires with disregard in that she rejects him because although he has grand wealth, he is still socially inferior to Tom; her criteria for judging men is only constituent of two factors – wealth and social status. Her character shows the disintegration of the American dream into a mere quest for wealth and she is a by-product of the morally decadent, elite classes of America. Daisy’s moral decay and obduracy is particularly evident when she lets Gatsby take the blame for Myrtle’s death; instead of displaying responsibility, or perhaps just appreciation for Gatsby’s admirable love, she decides it best for her lover to harbor the weight of her crimes while she makes it out clean. Contrarily, in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and her husband aspire for the same objective – obtaining the throne of Scotland. When they first meet in the play, Lady Macbeth says, “Thy letters have transported me beyond this ignorant present, and I feel now the future is in the instant.” (I, 5, 56-58) Unlike in The Great Gatsby, Macbeth and his Lady are bound together by a strong bond of love and as evident in the excerpt quoted, both wish to share a common, charming future.

Another similarity found in the works of Scott Fitzgerald and William Shakespeare is that although the protagonist of each respective work appears to be self-assured and successful on the outside, internally, he in fact exhibits a dire weakness and vulnerability of character. In the first work, Gatsby’s attainment of every possible worldly desire – but Daisy – leaves him with the feeling that despite having everything, he has got nothing. He continues to appear, however, as a man of wealth, status, and privilege. His opulent parties are host to the some of the wealthiest of America, and yet, they are nothing more than an elaborate theatrical presentation designed to portray a perception. Nick correctly points out that Gatsby himself is just “a mere observer of his own parties.” While the guests use an outward show of opulence to hide their inner corruption and moral decay, Gatsby uses his parties in such a way as to erase his poor past and establish his wealth and status in the eyes of others, specifically Daisy. His spectacularly marvelous parties are not but a tool designed to force an impression of his wealth and superiority in the eyes of his lifelong love Daisy.

Through Gatsby’s lavish parties and outward show of opulence, it is evident that he feels insecure and apprehensive about his underprivileged past and tries constantly to curtain it with his current wealth. Similarly, in Shakespeare’s work, Macbeth’s attainment of kingship should serve to put his “vaulting ambition” at peace. Nonetheless, the guilt of his evil actions starts to manifest itself in the forms of horrid nightmares and ghostly hallucinations. He cannot find peace and fulfillment anywhere and in fact envies Duncan, for he faced death once and for all, after which his soul ascended to a place of peace and harmony. Macbeth, elucidating on his own psychological illness says, “Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!”(III, 2, 39) He has come to recognize that nature’s justice is impartial and the retribution of his tyrannous actions will return to torture him. Paralleling this realization is also one of the need to veil his sickness of mind from the lords and nobles of the country so as to avoid arousing suspicion.

Through the actions and thoughts of Gatsby and Macbeth, it can be deciphered that both, although having attained an enormous amount of stature and success, are insecure, fearful, and ill at mind about the underlying truths which torture their beings. In contrasting their similarity, one will discover that while Gatsby oppresses and veils his true feelings by excluding himself from his own parties, Macbeth intends to do the same by playing a welcoming and convivial host to the lords and nobles of Scotland. Whereas Gatsby isolates his emotions from the world, Macbeth tries an outward show of happiness and joy to overcome the fear of the exposition of his truth. As Macbeth starts to slip into anger and worry in the presence of guests, Lady Macbeth reminds him, “My royal lord, you do not give the cheer.” (III, 4, 34) Because Gatsby and Macbeth are weighed down so heavily by their weakness and insecurity of mind, both work tediously in creating illusions to hide themselves from those around them. Their attempts, however, are in vein and only serve to arouse more suspicion.

The last and critical common trait embossed in the characters of Gatsby and Macbeth is the willingness of both to indulge in actions of wrongfulness to fulfill their ambitions. They do not leave any stone unturned in their struggle to attain the object of their desires. Gatsby is so patient and perseverant in inching his way into Daisy’s life that he is deserving of being called the veritable epitome of sangfroid. Although he does indulge in bootlegging to attain his fortune, he is notably admirable for the manner in which he plans out everything to the last little bit, and extraneously perfects all visible shortcomings so as to leave Daisy no room for disapproval. Similarly, Macbeth becomes the slave of his ambition as he tyrannously murders many innocent, vulnerable, and defenseless people to render it certain that nothing may bring his downfall and no one may prevent him from establishing a dynasty.

Gatsby and Macbeth are superfluous in attempting to carve out their fates against the will of destiny; however, there is contrast between the two in that where as Gatsby pursues his ambition by indulging in illegal corporate crime, Macbeth strips the basic human rights of innocent beings and imposes oppression and tyranny on an entire nation just to satisfy his ambition. To ensure that no force might oppose him, he cruelly plans the murder of Macduff’s family: “Then live, Macduff. What need I fear of thee? But yet I’ll make assurance double sure, And take a bond of fate. Thou shalt not live.” (IV, 1, 85-87) Contrastingly though, Gatsby commits no such actions which may cause harm to innocent people. Nonetheless, the two protagonists display an unerring desire for the completion and fulfillment of their ambition and go to staggering heights to master their dreams.

Success in life is ultimately achieved through harnessed ambition driven by sturdy perseverance and commitment. In Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a range of similarities and differences are found in the characters of Gatsby and Macbeth through the common theme of ambition. Both works of literature use a woman who drives the actions and decisions of the protagonist, both reveal the protagonist as an apparently successful person but an internally insecure and weak being, and both also display a burning passion in the protagonist to behold his dream and conquer all that stands between him and it. These recurring themes eventually possess the lives of Gatsby and Macbeth, ultimately resulting in their tragic demise.

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