Comparing Hamlet to The Great Gatsby and The Yellow Wallpaper
Happiness, love, insanity and ultimately tragedy are four major themes within Shakespeare's’ Hamlet, however these themes are also heavily present within the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the novel by Scott F Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. Throughout Hamlet, The Yellow Wallpaper and The Great Gatsby, the discussion of happiness and different ways in which the characters believe they will find happiness is extremely relevant. There is importance with the concept of love and how it is presented and is shown within the stories, as well as insanity and mental health issues. These themes are based around each different authors’ beliefs and their perceptions of life, happiness and purpose. They are shown in many resembling ways however, we also see a great deal of contrast within the three pieces of literature.
First diving into the theme of love, within all these different stories, one will notice love, not a kind love, but a toxic or unrequited love. Hamlet falls deeply for Ophelia, however in his attempts to protect her says: “We are arrant knaves, all. Believe none of us. Go the ways to a nunnery.” (Act 3.1.129-130). This causes Ophelia to pull away and makes her truly believe that Hamlet is undeniably insane. Hamlet felt betrayed, for he did love Ophelia, however she denied his love and spied on him. Hamlet had already lost faith in many of those around him, and losing Ophelia seemed to be the last straw. However, when she died, those feelings remained. “I lov’d Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?” (Act 5.1.285-287) This is similar to the love Jay Gatsby felt for Daisy; he had loved her for many years. Everything he had done was ultimately for her. His wealth, success, power and fame were all to win her over and get her to love him again. When they reunite, we see the extent of Jay’s obsession, "We haven't met for many years," said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-fact as it could ever be. "Five years next November." (5.69-70). Daisy had long forgotten or lost care for Gatsby. He however, knew the exact month of their separation, counting down the days till they were to reunite. Gatsby had at this point completely idolized a version of Daisy, and though she did love him did not. “His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch, she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”(6.134) Gatsby was undoubtedly infatuated with Daisy, however the feelings were not reciprocated. She denies the relationship with Gatsby and instead stays with Tom. “ “Oh, you want too much!" She cried to Gatsby. "I love you now—isn't that enough? I can't help what's past." She began to sob helplessly. "I did love him once—but I loved you too." Gatsby's eyes opened and closed. "You loved me too?" he repeated.” (7.264-66) Jay couldn't fathom loving someone more than Daisy, so how could she love both him and Tom?
By the end, since Gatsby no longer had any hope of his one true love, Daisy, we once again saw tragedy. Within the third story, there is a similar tale of infatuation with the partner. The Yellow Wallpaper tells the story from a woman’s perspective. Within both The Great Gatsby and Hamlet, women seem to be nothing but someone for a man to claim.
In the Yellow Wallpaper, however, Jane is being mistreated by her husband “John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.” (28). Even with this, Jane continues to see him as nothing but a sorrowful husband whom she does not want to burden, talking about him as if he has done nothing but be a kind husband. “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.” (Gilman 320) as well as, “Dear John! He loves me dearly, and hates to have me sick.” (Gilman 324). The reality of this though, is that he continues to ignore the severity of her illness, yet she still believes she is being treated as a wife should be, as shown in the next excerpt: “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.” (24).
Focusing on this within all the stories, it is almost as if women have little to no control over their lives. Daisy is clearly in a toxic relationship with a cheating Tom; Myrtle gets beat by her husband when he finds out she’s cheating, and Ophelia and Gertrude both get beaten down and disrespected by Hamlet. Jane's emotional abuse from her husband, John. The male characters claim they have love for the women within the stories, yet do not seem to show it in a healthy way, instead using anger and physical intimidation. Love is a strange concept within all of these stories, as they are nothing but tragic.
Insanity and mental health are among the largest themes within the stories.
These characters are ultimately driven to insanity and tragedy. The causes are heavily related to the theme of love, leading to heartbreak, abuse, trauma, as well as the impact of the society around them. Hamlet is driven to madness, when he has no one left to trust, Ophelia has lied, his father has died, his mother and friends have betrayed him. He has nothing left to care for and nothing left to lose. We see how the world around him impacts him in this dive into madness, While in England, talking to a Captain of troops sent by Fortinbras, Hamlet discovers that the troops are invading a small piece of land: “That hath in it no profit but the name.” (V.v.). After this he states, “Oh, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” (Act 4.4.64-65). He allows the actions of others within his society to completely change his way of thinking and making decisions, rather than allowing his own morals to control what he will and will not do. Hamlet is believed to have a mental illness, although during the time of writing, mental sanity and health issues were nowhere near being considered. It is theorized that perhaps both Hamlet and Shakespeare struggled with depression or another type of mental illness, There is also a well-known theory that Ophelia suffers from psychosis. However, none can be fully proven.
Jane from The Yellow Wallpaper also ends up becoming mad. She loses all forms of self-expression and is forced into a room which drives her insanity. Being unable to express her thoughts and being isolated from everyone but her husband and sister, she loses sense of herself and the world around her, which ends in her being completely deep in madness and insanity. The Yellow Wallpaper is based off of Charlotte's mental health struggle which she describes as: “severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia–and beyond,” Both Hamlet and Gatsby lost someone they believed to have loved: Daisy and Ophelia. Within The Great Gatsby, Jay seems to struggle with extreme obsession with wealth and success with the goal of getting Daisy. However, during this, Gatsby loses his sense of ethics and becomes careless with his actions ex;selling liquor illegally and trading stolen securities.
Like many authors, similarities of characters with the author are noticeable with The Great Gatsby and F. Scott Fitzgerald, like Nick, struggled with alcoholism and depression for many years. Gatsby, Jane and Hamlet all tend to focus heavily on the past and how things used to be. With both Hamlet and Gatsby, this disables them from finding happiness, like described in, “Why we're Unhappy” -- the expectation gap by Nat Ware, the two tend to follow these expectations from their past and from their imaginations, which lead to a negative impact bias, when things don't go their way. These stories and struggles ultimately lead to each of the tragic endings, James madness and hamlets and Gatsby’s deaths.
The realities that these characters live in are nothing easy to go through, the loss of a father, unrequited love and abuse. As Phillip K Dick said No man is infinitely strong; for every creature that runs, flies, hops or crawls there is a terminal nemesis which he will not circumvent, which will finally do him in. ” The struggles and themes of happiness, sadness, and hopeless love affect everything in all three of these texts. Each author has their own struggles and beliefs, which change the context of the story, and how they decide to deal with these struggles. The characters within these stories see similar issues and themes, and they play a major role in not only the depth and actions of the characters but ultimately how each story ends, in tragedy.
Dick, Philip K. Valis. Vol. 1, Bantam Books, 1981.