How is loss of innocence a theme in the Great Gatsby? Where is this theme portrayed throughout the novel?

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How is loss of innocence a theme in the Great Gatsby? Where is this theme portrayed throughout the novel?

The Great Gatsby shows the loss of innocence through the characters’ relationships and actions.

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Loss of innocence is an important theme in The Great Gatsby. In a general sense, society has lost its innocence, and many of the characters have done so as well. The narrator, Nick Carraway, frequently alludes to the effects of World War I; those who survived it and wondered how to rebuild society after such destruction are often called the “lost generation.” Therefore, while some of the characters’ losses occur during the novel’s action, many of them had already happened by the time Nick arrives in West Egg.

The fact that Gatsby is clinging to the past, even insisting that one can relive it, shows his denial of that loss. Because he had been separated from Daisy before their relationship fully developed, he invests in her the concept of innocence or purity. His terrible wartime experiences can be set aside, he believes, if he can recover what they once had. Daisy’s innocence was lost, however, after she married Tom and realized that he was an unfaithful boor. The entire novel also can be read as Nick’s loss of innocence, as he gets to know Gatsby and gains an understanding of corruption in economy and society. From Gatsby’s occupation as a bootlegger and Wolfsheim’s role in fixing the World Series to Daisy’s abandonment of Gatsby after the accident, Nick is confronted with loose morals and the “careless” behavior of others. He must also face his own ethical lapses, such as leading on the girl back home.

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The loss of innocence is one of the most prominent themes in The Great Gatsby, and the theme comes up several times in the novel. The whole novel has a tone of disillusionment and sadness that is common to the modernist movement. The loss of innocence comes up several times throughout the text in connection with several of the main characters, and it is also prominent in the way that Nick narrates the overall story.

Nick begins his narration in chapter one by stating what he loved about Gatsby:

[He had] an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No—Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men (Fitzgerald, chapter 1).

Nick’s overall opinion of the characters in The Great Gatsby is that they are all terrible people. When Nick leaves New York at the end of the novel, he is tired, disgusted, and disillusioned. However, he believes that somehow Gatsby maintained his sense of innocence and hope, and this makes Nick love and admire him.

Daisy lost her innocence sometime after marrying Tom. When she meets Nick in chapter one, she tells him in regard to her daughter growing up, “I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (Fitzgerald, chapter 1). Daisy confesses to Nick that she has “a very bad time, Nick, and I’m pretty cynical about everything” (Fitzgerald, chapter 1). Daisy has lost her innocence, but she hopes that her daughter can maintain her oblivion and stay innocent and foolish her entire life.

Despite Nick’s claims that Gatsby maintained his “romantic readiness,” Gatsby also goes through his own loss of innocence, although he stubbornly tries to believe that it still exists. When Gatsby is reunited with Daisy, Nick says that Gatsby could longer believe in the mystical quality of the green light and that “now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one” (Fitzgerald, chapter 5). Nick comments on the afternoon of their reunion:

There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart (Fitzgerald, chapter 5).

Although Gatsby maintains his romantic vision, Nick admits that the colossal nature of this vision is diminished and tarnished. The overall tone of the novel reinforces the theme of the loss of innocence.

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