Among great literary heroes lies Jay Gatsby, the tragic hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s "Great Gatsby." Aristotle coined the term tragic hero as “a man of noble stature who makes an error of judgment that leads to his downfall.” According to Aristotle, a tragic hero must have a flaw that leads to his social or economic demise.
Gatsby is the penultimate example of a tragic hero. His life starts as James Gatz, a hard-working young man who pursues wealth to satisfy the lifestyle of his dream girl, Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby came from a poor family in North Dakota and was drafted into the military. Before heading off to war, Gatsby finds himself in Daisy’s house as a “penniless young man without a past... [with] the invisible cloak of his uniform” supporting his facade as someone who could be a potential husband for Daisy (Fitzgerald 149).
After meeting Daisy, he becomes exhilarated with her beauty and wealth and wishes to make her his wife. In this scene, Gatsby knows he is not enough for Daisy and uses his status as a soldier to woo her. His love for her is too deep and he vows to become wealthy enough to marry her. Fitzgerald emphasizes Gatsby’s good intentions from his childhood; he wants to leave his family and make a life for himself in the East, which he does through odd jobs such as working for Dan Cody.
Gatsby’s flaw in judgement arises from the blindness of his love for Daisy as he becomes too trusting of her reciprocated love. Gatsby internalizes the idea that Daisy’s love will always be there for him if he meets a certain criteria: wealth. Gatsby fails to account for Daisy’s urge to settle down when he goes off to war and later, he ignores the fact that she is married to another man. In Gatsby's eyes, Daisy’s love is only for him, and it cannot wane, which this is untrue as her marriage with Tom develops a different type of love and trust.
In fact, when confronted about her relationship by her two lovers, she states to Gatsby, “I love you now — isn’t that enough? I did love him once — but I loved you too” (Fitzgerald 132). Daisy admits that even though Tom was not her first lover, her marriage has strengthened her relationship with Tom in a way that can only come from a matrimony. She also acknowledges her past love life with Gatsby before he went off to war. Daisy’s confession of her love shatters Gatsby’s American Dream: being married to Daisy.
After realizing that she does not love him as she once did, Gatsby’s world loses meaning. His wealth, his home, and his possessions are useless because they do not and cannot acquire Daisy’s love anymore. As his life loses meaning, Gatsby loses his will to live and tries to attach to the past.
Ultimately, Gatsby’s love for Daisy and his deep-set need to meet her socioeconomic status drives him to his figurative death because he could not marry her.