People often incorporate the word tragedy with a single unfortunate occurrence, such as the events of September 11. Although there is no doubt that the loss of several thousand innocent lives is appalling, the literary world has formulated it own definition as to what tragedy really means. In prose fiction, a tragic plot contains many aspects other than just one sad occurrence. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one example of an archetypical tragic plot that contains many of the characteristics of a literary tragedy.
To follow an archetypical tragic plot, a work of fiction must depict the central character as a tragic hero. Protagonist Jay Gatsby undoubtedly fulfills the requirements to achieve tragic figure status. As an emblem of the American Dream, Jay Gatsby was able to transform himself from the son of a poor farmer to an "Oxford man;" from James Gatz, an ordinary young man, to Jay Gatsby, a man of great wealth and ambition.
As an acquaintance of Gatsby, narrator Nick Carraway notes that "Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprung from his Platonic conception of himself" (138). He is the ideal self-made man who was successfully able to improve himself into the model character he had envisioned for himself as a young man- "from the Platonic conception of himself." As a tragic hero Gatsby displays much power and influence over colleagues; he is also subject to much admiration from many secondary characters, especially from Nick. Upon meeting Gatsby for the first time, Nick describes his smile as "one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you come across four or five times in life...and [his smile] assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at very best, you hoped to convey" (68).