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The Great Gatsby vs. Cambridge

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Complex Characters Cambridge and The Great Gatsby are two novels which have been dubbed as successes by critics. “An American classic” raves critic John Greene about Gatsby “I think this is the best of Caryl Phillips’ novels, a brilliant story of the ambivalences and contradictions and hypocrisies in a slave-owning colonial society.” says Garrett Wilkes. These are just a few of the positive receptions these literary works. In most of these criticisms that they mentioned nothing about “complex characters” which simply means that there must be other things which make it interesting, other things which supplement or even overshadow that aspect. This will be discussed in this essay. Cambridge I believe arguable has two of the most complex characters I have come across. Emily and Cambridge though from opposite spectrums of society are juxtaposed with one another. First, I will analyze Emily. When examining Emily one must treat her not as one but two different characters as she experiences a metamorphosis in the epilogue. The Emily we are presented with in the Prologue and Chapter one is one who is a slave to her own prejudices.

She is the quintessential 19th century Victorian woman who asserts her ‘Englishness’ as a sign of superiority over the ‘othered people’ other Europeans, Creole whites and Africans. Though she acts as if she has authority she really doesn’t as she too is ‘othered’ as a woman. She seemingly and forcibly accepts this label and tries her best to live by the feminine standards of the day, however she breaks them as seen the Epilogue where it is revealed that Emily had a romantic affair with Mr. Brown, the creolized overseer and has a child before getting married with the child being stillborn. In this point in time Emily has become creolized herself and seems to experience a sort of identity crisis as she is conflicted with who she was and what she has become. The character Cambridge suffers a similar plight. Cambridge is an educated Christian slave who was illegally captured and resold into slavery.

Cambridge being African is another othered character but seems to for the most part accept his condition however he seems to maintain a sense superiority in his European upbringing as seen on page 143 “..for already Africa spoke only to me of a barbarity I had fortunately fled.” His very existence as a characters addresses several themes such as identity and counter-discourse. Cambridge like Emily is conflicted within himself however his battles are a bit more intricate… He represents the polarizations in early English societies: Black vs. White and Free persons vs. Slave. Cambridge is physically and psychologically all of these in one. One way in which he grapples with this is in his multiple name changes; firstly, during his youth in Africa he was called Olumide, then when brought to England he was called Tom, after he renamed himself David Henderson and lastly, as a slave, Cambridge. These names bear significance as it represents the metaphoric birth and death during periods of his live and it can be postulated that the manner in which he got each of these names are significant.

‘Olumide’ was his African name, the only name he knew which highlights his youthful naivety, ‘Thomas’ or ‘Tom’ which was essentially imposed upon him by John Williams is representative of his forceful introduction to European culture, him calling himself ‘David Henderson’ shows that he has fully adapted the European way of life as his own, feeling as if he has become equal to any Englishman however in the twilight of his life he is reminded of his social standing when he is forcibly given the name Cambridge. Conversely, in The Great Gatsby complex characters are present namely Daisy Buchannan and Jay Gatsby. Daisy Buchannan is a cousin of the narrator Nick Carraway ,the wife of the affluent Tom Buchannan and a former love interest for Gatsby. She puts on a mask of ignorance to hide her knowledge of what was really going on. It can be assumed that Daisy is aware that Tom is having an extramarital affair and choose to ignore it and hopes her newborn daughter remains blind to all the realities of this world as seen by when she famously says on page 18 “And I hope she’s a fool. That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool”. The most intriguing character in the story is perhaps Gatsby.

A veteran soldier-cum-wealthy socialite the complexity of his condition is heightened by the mystery he is initially shrouded in. He according to Nick served in the First World War and was romantically involved with Daisy. However John Green believes that “It is unclear whether or not Gatsby was in love with Daisy or her money.” In the first chapters of the novel Gatsby origins and the origins of his money are unclear however it is revealed in Chapter 4 that his money was less than honourable as he was a bootlegger. Therefore it can be argued that Gatsby drive for wealth was so great that he would do anything to attain it, even break the law.” Though complex characters do aid in the success of a novel it is not the deciding factor. Both Phillips and Fitzgerald style and language should be commended. In Cambridge style is used to accentuate the themes and narrative. The contrast between Emily and Cambridge’s syntax and diction turns the tables of social polarization around as it turns out that Cambridge’s vocabulary was more sophisticated and advanced than he own. A reason for this is possibly Cambridge is of the school of thought that believes in order to compensate for his blackness (which was at that time seen as a natural deficiency) he must show his mastery of the English language more so than everyone else.

Syntax is also crucial to the communication of themes. Emily’s syntax in the prologue and Chapter one stand in stark contrast with her syntax in the epilogue. In the latter her sentence where long and continuous and flowed with ease which can be representative of how thoughts simply flowed through her mind however the Emily of the epilogue used shorter sentences scattered haphazardly throughout the page, this is sign of her mental state. Just as she writes erratically her thoughts have become erratic , irrational and show some level of confusion which highlights the theme of identity as she is confused. Even Phillip’s use of the dual narrative is a major contributor to the story’s success as it emphasizes Emily’s and Cambridge’s juxtaposition with one another. Critic Mijra Kuurola believe that in doing so Phillips creates the main communication dynamic in the novel. The dual narrative also serves in giving a voice to the voiceless others characters much like Emily who is a woman and Cambridge who is a slave.

Likewise in the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s language and how he brings the across his theme is something to behold. “A Piasco with words!” he is dubbed as by Erica Carle. His diction expresses clearly what he wants to express for example in Chapter one when Tom “compels “ Nick to turn around. It is clear to see that Nick was being forced by Tom to turn his attention to something else. Fitzgerald uses vivid symbolism to bring across some of his themes. The use of the two ‘Eggs’ is one such case. By contrasting these two landforms the reader is aware of the conflict between the ‘Old Money’ (those who are born into traditionally wealthy families) and the “New Money” (those who have made their wealth) placing them parallel to one another only highlights the extreme stratification which takes place among these bourgeois people. These are just to name a few. In conclusion there are many thing to consider other than complex characters when judging the success of a prose fiction work. One must also take into account the element of prose used and how it is expressed in the work. In the case of Cambridge and The Great Gatsby elements such as style and theme compliments the complexity of the characters and thus could be ignore. With this being said I believe the statement given is not true.

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