Comparing The Great Gatsby and The Truman Show

January 31, 2009

The Penguin Classic Gatsby

Do you love teaching The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald but want to freshen up your approach? Try teaming it with a study of Peter Weir’s film, The Truman Show (starring Peter Carey). At their heart, both explore the corruption of the American Dream.

The table below provides an outline of some interesting parallels between the contemporary film and classic novel.

Obviously, the two stories are executed very differently, but the table offers a starting point for a comparative study.

The Great Gatsby

The Truman Show

Central character: Jay Gatsby Central character: Truman Burbank
The name is a fiction which he created as part of a larger re-invention of his own life. The name if fiction, granted to Truman at birth as part of a larger invention and control of his entire life.
‘Father’ dead; no contact with parents. ‘Father’ dead.
Living the American Dream, but unfulfilled. Living the American Dream, but is dissatisfied. His ‘dream’ wife is corrupt – paid to live with him and interrupts their lives with commercial endorsements.
Daisy Buchanan who lives across the bay is Gatsby’s object of desire. Wears white. Lauren who supposedly lives across the seas in Fiji is Truman’s object of desire, even though he is ostensibly married. Lauren is wearing a white top when we first meet her.
This object of desire is symbolized by the greenlight at the end of Daisy’s pier. This object of desire is symbolized by the green, tropical island of Fiji..
Everything about Gatbsy’s world is an illusion – largely of his own creation. Everything about Truman’s world is an illusion – he is part of a massive, reality television program run by a commercial media organization.
Poverty is hidden and/or ignored in Gatsby’s world. Christof’s society has no place for poverty or vagrants.
The eyes of Dr T. J. Eckleberg (God?) loom over Gatsby’s world, ever watchful. Christof (Christ?), the shows director and creator, looks down on Truman’s world, ever watchful.
Ultimately, Gatsby’s world is corrupt and crumbles. The fabric of illusion can’t be held together and reality inevitably breaks through (the accident, and George Wilson and his gun). Ultimately, Truman’s world is corrupt and crumbles. The fabric of illusion can’t be held together and reality inevitably breaks through (the light that falls from the ‘sky’).
Gatsby is unable to escape the consequences of the ‘foul dust’ that floats in the wake of his dreams. Truman eventually wakes up to the illusion and escapes.

For good measure, you might also like to throw in Peter Carey’s early short story, ‘American Dreams’. It tells the (ultimately tragic) story of what happens in a small, country town in Australia when the townsfolk’s dreams of fame and fortune come true. A copy of this story can be found in The fat man in history (first published in 1974 by the University of Queensland Press).

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2 Responses to “Comparing The Great Gatsby and The Truman Show”

  1. ashmita saha on February 5th, 2009 3:58 am

    This is a very interesting comparision. I have read The Great Gatsby twice and I felt that the second read was so much more enjoyable than the first one. I understood the book much better the second time. You may want to have a look at my review of the book at

  2. Sara on June 7th, 2011 9:53 pm

    Really great comparison. You were able to catch things that i didn’t even realize could connect the two characters.
    Nice job

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