In May 1924, when the Fitzgeralds moved to the Riviera to complete The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald wrote to Thomas Boyd, “I’m going to read nothing but Homer + Homeric literature—and history 540–1200 A.D. until I finish my novel, + I hope to God I don’t see a soul for six months.” Reading Gatsby in the context of the Iliad and the Odyssey reveals a number of thematically significant parallels and contrasts between Fitzgerald’s characters and the major figures in the Homeric epics. Jay Gatsby, as Fitzgerald traces his life from beginning to end, is a type of both Achilles, a mythic culture hero in a long quest to realize his destiny, and Odysseus, who works to “repeat the past” after a twenty-year absence. Daisy is the Penelope who determines the end of Gatsby’s/Odysseus’s quest; Tom is Antinous, the suitor who disrupts the hero’s house, and, in a major inversion in the novel, destroys the hero’s return. Most conspicuous is the parallel between Nick Carraway, a lost figure who finds a renewal of the promise of life in Gatsby, and Telemachus, the son in search of his father. Taken together, these parallels and contrasts reveal the dramatic functions of Fitzgerald’s characters, their relationships, their sometimes stark actions and responses to one another, and Fitzgerald’s epic theme of American aspiration in the 1920s.

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