In a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, dated 20 December, 1924 (the year before Scribners published The Great Gatsby, and before he had finally settled on the novel’s title), in response to Perkins’s comments that “Gatsby is somewhat vague” and “everything about Gatsby is more or less a mystery . . . and this may be somewhat of an artistic intention,” F. Scott Fitzgerald responded: “I myself didn’t know what Gatsby looked like or was engaged in.” Fitzgerald returned to his manuscript draft to develop Gatsby’s into the character, the figure, the protagonist, the novel’s hero, that we know in the published novel, while keeping certain aspects of his identity mysterious, one might even say mythical.
To assist our discussion of characters and characterization/character development in the novel, I have included a helpful overview in the link below. Although what it addresses in explaining different types of characters in fiction for fiction writers, the online article is also informative for readers and students of fiction. If you activate your Hypothes.is extension while reading it, you’ll be able to annotate it!
“All the Different Types of Characters in Literature” from Master Class
Here is an excerpt to get you thinking about possible ways to identify the characters in The Great Gatsby by “kind” or “type” of character: “There are three ways to categorize character types. One is via archetypes—broad descriptions of the different types of characters that populate human storytelling. Another way is to group characters by the role they play over the course of the story. The third method is to group characters by quality, spelling out the way they change or stay the same within a narrative.”
The “archetype” will be especially relevant in Unit 2 when we explore the myth-like aspects of the novel and of its titular character, the mythologizing of Nick as the narrator, and the myths about America that F. Scott Fitzgerald seems to be exploring to show, in part, how such myth-making happens, to demythologize or demystify those myths, critique our investment in myth, etc.
The Gatsby Jam groups can refer to this article if it helps their Jam, though the information in this article will be relevant to all of you in the Unit 1 longform writing assignment you will be working on beginning with Freewrite 3 on Asynchronous Friday. The descriptions of the kinds of characters are rather broad, so I also suggest a quick wiki search if you are interested in writing more about characters-character development- characterization in relation to human nature/the human condition, society, etc. in your assignment.
For example, the Wikipedia explanation of “Foil” both echoes what Master Class explains, elaborates slightly, and also provides some etymological information, i.e. an original definition, “. . . the word foil comes from the old practice of backing gems with foil to make them shine more brightly. . .” and adds even more examples from a variety of fictional works.
In closing, I’ve decided to let a few writers have that last word in this blog post:
“You can never know enough about your characters.” W. Somerset Maugham
On the reciprocal relationship between character + plot: “Plot grows out of character. If you focus on who the people in your story are, something is bound to happen.” Anne Lamott
On creating characters who are not merely stereotypes or caricatures: “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. — Ernest Hemingway, from Death in the Afternoon
On the relationship between fictional characters and ordinary people: “The character that lasts is an ordinary guy with some extraordinary qualities.” — Raymond Chandler
“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.” ―Stephen King
On the significance of minor characters (I mentioned this Wednesday) in class: “It is sometimes the minor, not the major, characters in a novel who hold the author’s affection longest. It may be that one loses affection for the major characters because they suck off so much energy as one pushes them through their lives.” –Larry McMurtry
On characters as either likeable or unlikeable: “Creating characters is like throwing together ingredients for a recipe. I take characteristics I like and dislike in real people I know, or know of, and use them to embellish and define characters.” –Cassandra Clare
Lastly, “Characters must not brood too long. They must not waste time running up and down ladders in their own insides.” –E.M. Forster. Is this why some people don’t like Nick Carraway? Not just because he is the narrator but because he is too much in his own headspace (though he is, arguable, not always transparent and honest. But, is this what happens when a character does this who is also the narrator? Does that connect to their unreliability?