If we are going to explore The Great Gatsby as a Grail Quest, one of the first tasks would be to identify the Grail Knight. Fortunately, Fitzgerald has done all of the heavy lifting for us when he tells us that Gatsby found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail (156). It could not be clearer.
Also, we know that the glasses in which champagne served at Gatsby’s parties was likened to large finger bowls (51). These finger bowls symbolize this same Grail that Gatsby followed. This is Fitzgerald’s way of telling the reader how Gatsby perused this Grail. The parties, like all of Gatsby’s possessions, were a means of obtaining Daisy and everything that entailed.
In 1961, W.H. Auden wrote an article called “The Quest Hero.” While it largely dealt with The Lord Of The Ring, its standards may be used to meter Gatsby as a legitimate Quest hero. Auden listed the following components as elements of a Quest legend:
- A cherished Object or Person to be obtained.
- A long Journey that takes a long time to complete.
- A worthy Hero.
- A Test to demonstrate worthiness.
- The Guardians of the Object who must be overcome.
- The Helpers of the hero.
The Great Gatsby meets all of these benchmarks, and can be considered a matter of Quest lore. Daisy is the cherished person to be obtained, although she is not the Grail. Gatsby’s journey took him from Louisville to the European theatre of the Great War, and to Oxford. Eventually Gatsby ends up in Chicago only to move to New York. Here he works for Meyer Wolfshiem bootlegging grain alcohol, and in three years he has the money to buy his mansion on West Egg. All of this in four and half years. Gatsby’s worthiness comes about by no other means than his wealth, for that is all he needs to win Daisy. The tour of his mansion after the tea party is the test, and he passes with literally flying colors (his shirts). Tom is the Guardian to be overcome, while Nick and Jordan are the helpers who aid in arranging the tea party and its reunion.
Based upon this, Gatsby is a Quest hero, but so are Odysseus and Jason. But neither of these two Greek are Grail heroes. This particular story structure rides on a horse of a slightly different color. Not only must there be a legitimate quest hero, but there must also be a wounded king who presides over a waste land, and whose infertility may be cured by the obtaining of the Holy Grail. That puts little more on the plate that our hero needs to eat. Identifying the King and the Grail will be matters for subsequent articles coming in the next few weeks.
Here are other articles regarding The Great Gatsby:
- “The Reliability Of Nick Carraway: Part One – The Naysaying Narrator” (10.9.12)
- “The Reliability Of Nick Carraway: Part Two – The Drive To Lunch” (10.11.12)
- “Why The Great Gatsby Is The Best American Novel” (6.21.12)
- “What Made Daisy Faye Buchanan & Jay Gatsby So Attractive And Attracted To Each Other?” (8.28.12)
- “Who Shot Jay Gatsby?” (3.4.13)