Main Conflicts in The Great Gatsby: A Complete Analysis

Last Updated: November 7th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

While most people would like to think that The Great Gatsby is a tragic love story, the truth is that this American classic is full of conflict.

The Great Gatsby Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the glittering world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary classic The Great Gatsby, conflicts simmer beneath the surface of opulence and extravagance.

Set against the backdrop of the Roaring 20s, this timeless tale unravels the intricacies of human desire, ambition, and the elusive American Dream.

More than an unrequited love story, the novel at its heart is a mosaic of conflicts mirroring the tumultuous era it portrays.

From the mysterious Jay Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of unrequited love to the stark contrast between old and new money and the great divide between East Egg and West Egg, Fitzgerald weaves a narrative rich with tension, contradictions, and moral dilemmas.

Great Gatsby conflicts includes Jay Gatsby's relentless pursuit of Daisy

Let’s explore the depths of these conflicts, as we dissect the characters, settings, and themes that make The Great Gatsby a masterpiece of American literature, revealing the enduring relevance of its timeless struggles and societal commentary.

What Types of Conflicts Are There in The Great Gatsby?

Conflicts are the name of the game in this historic novel, and at its core, the story explores the conflict between illusion and reality, as characters grapple with their idealized dreams and the harsh truths of their lives.

Jay Gatsby dancing with Daisy Buchanan with mansion in the background

Jay Gatsby, the little-known and mysterious millionaire, embodies this conflict as he tirelessly pursues the illusion of recapturing his past love, Daisy Buchanan, and the extravagant lifestyle he associates with her.

Another prevalent conflict is the clash between the old and new worlds, symbolized by the East Egg and West Egg. The entrenched wealth and aristocracy of the Buchanan family in East Egg stand in stark contrast to the nouveau riche, like Gatsby, residing in West Egg.

This social divide highlights the tension between tradition and modernity, the struggle between the middle class and upper class, and the pursuit of social status.

The Real-life Inspiration Behind The Great Gatsby’s East & West Egg

The Great Gatsby also delves into the conflict between individual desires and societal expectations. Daisy, trapped in a loveless marriage, grapples with her love for Gatsby versus the expectations placed upon her as a woman of her social standing. This inner conflict ultimately leads to tragic consequences.

In addition, this novel explores moral conflicts and the corruption of the American Dream. Characters engage in questionable actions to achieve their desires, revealing the moral decay of the era. Tom Buchanan’s affair with Myrtle Wilson, Daisy’s affair with Gatsby, and Gatsby’s illegal business dealings exemplify this moral quagmire.

Lastly, the novel presents a conflict between past and present, as characters are haunted by their pasts and struggle to reconcile them with their current lives. Gatsby’s obsession with recreating the past and Nick Carraway’s nostalgic reflection on his summer in Long Island highlight this tension.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, as narrated by Nick Carraway

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald artfully weaves together conflicts of illusion and reality, old and new wealth, individual desires and societal expectations, moral decay, and the haunting past. This creates a rich and multi-layered narrative that continues to captivate readers with its exploration of these enduring human struggles.

What Is the Biggest Conflict in The Great Gatsby?

While everyone may have their own opinion on this matter, it appears that the most significant conflict in The Great Gatsby can be argued to be the conflict between illusion and reality.

This overarching theme permeates the entire novel and is personified through the character of Jay Gatsby.

the great gatsby - jay gatsby and daisy buchanan dancing at a party

Gatsby’s entire existence revolves around the illusion he has created, namely the idea that he can recreate the past and win back his lost love, Daisy, who is married to the character Tom Buchanan.

He throws extravagant parties, accumulates immense wealth through questionable means, and constructs a fictionalized identity, all in pursuit of this illusion.

Gatsby’s conflict is emblematic of the broader societal illusion during the Roaring Twenties, where the American Dream was distorted into a shallow pursuit of material wealth and social status.

The era was marked by ostentatious displays of opulence, yet beneath the surface, there was an underlying emptiness and moral decay.

As the story unfolds, it becomes evident to everyone except Gatsby that his dream is unattainable, and his illusion crumbles in the face of reality. His tragic demise underscores the futility of living a life solely based on illusion and the inability to escape the past.

This conflict between illusion and reality serves as a profound commentary on the American Dream itself, revealing the hollowness of superficial success and the tragic consequences of fixating on an unattainable fantasy.

External and Internal Conflicts in The Great Gatsby?

This timeless American classic is full of both internal and external conflicts that drive the narrative and shape the characters’ destinies.

External and Internal Conflicts in The Great Gatsby - infographic

Examples of Internal Conflicts in The Great Gatsby

Jay Gatsby’s Internal Conflict:

The main character, Jay Gatsby, grapples with a profound internal conflict throughout the novel. On one hand, he is driven by his unrequited love for Daisy Buchanan and his relentless pursuit of the American Dream. On the other hand, Gatsby is tormented by the tension between his past and present, his idealized vision of the past, and the stark reality of the present. His internal struggle reflects the conflict between aspiration and reality.

Daisy Buchanan’s Internal Conflict:

Daisy is torn between her desire for true love and her societal obligations. She’s internally conflicted about her feelings for Gatsby and her responsibilities as a wife and mother. Her internal struggle highlights the conflict between personal desire and societal expectations.

Examples of External Conflicts in The Great Gatsby

Class Conflict:

One of the central external conflicts in the novel is the clash between social classes. The Buchanans, representing old money, and Gatsby, the nouveau riche, exemplify this tension. The stark contrast between East Egg and West Egg underscores the divide between established aristocracy and newly acquired wealth.

Love Triangle Conflict:

The love triangle between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom Buchanan serves as a key external conflict. Gatsby and Tom vie for Daisy’s affection, leading to tension and confrontations throughout the story.

Moral Conflict:

Several characters engage in morally questionable actions. Tom’s affair with Myrtle Wilson (wife to George Wilson), Gatsby’s illegal business dealings, Daisy’s affair with Gatsby, and her reckless driving are all sources of external moral conflict.

Conflict with the Past:

The characters in the novel are haunted by their pasts. Gatsby’s obsession with recreating the past and Nick Carraway’s struggle to reconcile his experiences with his Midwestern values are external conflicts underscoring the theme of the past’s influence on the present.

In The Great Gatsby, these internal and external conflicts intertwine, creating a rich tapestry of human drama and societal critique, making it a masterpiece of American literature that continues to resonate with readers.

Major Conflict Between Gatsby and Tom Buchanan?

Daisy's quote about Being Torn Between Tom and Gatsby

The primary conflict between Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” revolves around their competing claims to the affections of Daisy Buchanan, Tom’s wife and Gatsby’s former lover.

On one side, we have the mysterious and nouveau-riche millionaire Jay Gatsby who, despite his newly obtained wealth and lavish parties, remains an outsider in the upper-class circles of East Egg.

He has spent years amassing wealth and creating a new persona to win back the love of his life, Daisy, whom he met and fell in love with during World War I. Gatsby believes in the power of his unending devotion and vision of a perfect future with Daisy.

On the other side, there’s Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, the father of their child, and a representative of the old-money aristocracy. Tom is domineering and aggressive, and exhibits a sense of entitlement. He’s also having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, which further complicates matters.

Tom’s Conflict with Gatsby

Tom’s conflict with Gatsby stems from his jealousy and possessiveness over Daisy, as well as his disdain for Gatsby’s social ascent. Tom’s old-money privilege and Gatsby’s nouveau-riche status clash in their pursuit of Daisy’s love, leading to tense confrontations and ultimately culminating in a tragic climax that highlights the irreconcilable differences between them.

This major conflict serves as a microcosm of the broader themes in the novel, including the tension between old and new wealth and the elusive nature of the American Dream.

What Is the Main Conflict Nick Experiences in The Great Gatsby?

The major conflict that Nick Carraway experiences in The Great Gatsby is an internal one, stemming from his dual role as both a participant and an observer in the extravagant world of East Egg and West Egg.

Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway

Nick, the novel’s narrator, is torn between his initial fascination with the opulent lifestyles of his wealthy neighbors, his cousin Daisy and her husband, and his growing disillusionment with their superficiality, moral decay, and ethical ambiguity.

As an outsider from the Midwest, Nick is drawn to the allure of the East Coast elite, especially his enigmatic neighbor Jay Gatsby. He becomes an active participant in Gatsby’s world, attending his lavish parties and becoming privy to his obsessive pursuit of Daisy Buchanan.

However, as Nick becomes more entangled in the lives of his acquaintances, he begins to witness the dark underbelly of their decadence, including Tom Buchanan’s infidelity, Daisy’s affair with Gatsby, and the overall reckless behavior of not only the Buchanans but also the majority of the wealthy class.

This internal conflict within Nick underscores his struggle to reconcile his own moral values and principles with the amoral and hedonistic society he finds himself in.

Ultimately, Nick becomes a disillusioned and morally conflicted character, serving as a lens through which readers can view the excesses and moral bankruptcy of the Jazz Age. His internal conflict serves as a reflection of the broader societal conflicts and themes explored in the novel.

To Wrap Things Up

It’s easy to see how F. Scott Fitzgerald uses his characters to create an intricate web of conflicts that shape this literary masterpiece.

At its core, the novel portrays a world rife with tensions, both internal and external, mirroring the tumultuous era of the Roaring Twenties.

Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan in the novel The Great Gatsby

The central conflict revolves around Jay Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of the American Dream and his unrequited love for Daisy Buchanan, exploring the dichotomy between illusion and reality.

It also highlights the clash between old and new wealth, as well as the moral decay and societal hypocrisy lurking beneath the facade of opulence.

The conflicts in The Great Gatsby offer profound insights into the human condition and the consequences of the pursuit of the elusive American dream.

Main Conflicts in The Great Gatsby: A Complete Analysis
Main Conflicts in The Great Gatsby: A Complete Analysis
Explore the tangled web of conflicts in The Great Gatsby – from love and ambition to wealth and deception. Uncover Fitzgerald's literary masterpiece.
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