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Gatsby & Jean Valjean Compare and Contrast Essay

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Updated: Nov 13th, 2021


In the book The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is the main character and the protagonist who acquires wealth illegally by trading in stolen securities, crime, and illegal distribution of alcohol. According to Fitzgerald, Gatsby is “a mysterious and wealthy thirty-year-old man who holds extravagant parties every Saturday in his Gothic mansion situated in West Egg” (12).

In his turn, Jean Valjean is the title character and protagonist in the book Les Miserables. Jean Valjean comes out as an ex-convict who is struggling with the society’s acceptance after the criminal activities that he had committed before. This paper will compare and contrast the two characters, namely Gatsby in the book The Great Gatsby and Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.

Jay Gatsby & Jean Valjean: Characters Comparison

Every weekend, Gatsby’s followers stream in his West Egg mansion to be entertained. He is a mysterious person, and no one exactly knows his origins and the ways he used to acquire his fortune. Later, his friend Nick discovers his real name as James Gatz, who was born to an impoverished family in North Dakota.

From his youth days, Gatsby has always despised poverty. This makes him develop the character trait of determination to enable him to achieve the dream of being wealthy. He has always looked forward to the day when he would be a wealthy man. At seventeen, Gatsby leaves his parents, terming them as “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people” to search for wealth (Fitzgerald 12). He struggles very much, working one time as a sailor, army man, and a salesman as well.

His desire for sophistication and wealth drives him to organize crimes and distribute illegal alcohol to achieve this goal. This demonstrates his determination to leave poverty livelihood. Gatsby is a calculating man, as evidenced by his motivation to acquire wealth to please his love Daisy. Daisy is graceful, luxurious, and charming. Gatsby has to lie about his background to have her convinced he is suitable for her (Tunc 69).

From Nick Caraway, the reader gets to know Gatsby as a flawed, vulgar, and a dishonest man who has extraordinary power and optimism which helps him transform “his dreams into reality” (Fitzgerald 24). Examining the character traits of Gatsby, one cannot help but realize that he is really a compulsive liar.

Gatsby lies to his closest friend Nick and his love Daisy about his background. The most popular and notorious lie which Gatsby tells his friend is that he has studied at Oxford, as this was their family tradition. All the same, Gatsby is gentle at heart; he does not willfully harm the people. Jay also stands up for Daisy when she kills Myrtle accidentally. His gentleness is further demonstrated when he gives a new gown to one of his party guests when her dress is accidentally torn.

Gatsby shows a vulnerable characteristic simply because of the way he can consistently weave lies to act as a shield of protection. For this reason, he does not have any close friends; Gatsby may seem romantic, but the author presents his idea of romance as rotten. Gatsby falls in love with Daisy because “she was the first nice girl he had ever known” (Fitzgerald 56).

He also loves Daisy because she symbolizes the rich future he wants. Gatsby says: “Daisy gleaming like silver, safe, and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.” For this reason, he sets out to look for money to win Daisy’s affection.

In the end, Gatsby squanders his own life in the pursuit of Daisy’s love and affection. He had believed that she could be won by the money and wealth he has accumulated over time, forgetting that she is already a married woman. When Daisy moves with her husband to an undisclosed place without reciprocating his love, Gatsby’s wealth becomes naught.

More about The Great Gatsby

In the book Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is the main protagonist who is an ex-convict trying to win society’s affection. Just like Gatsby, Jean Valjean comes from a poor peasant family. His parents die when he is still young, forcing him to move in with his older sister. Valjean is illustrated as a man of strength and great virtue. This is seen when he steals a loaf of bread so as to feed the sister and the rest of the family.

After stealing, Valjean is arrested, and after several attempts to escape prison, he ends up serving nineteen years. Being in jail hardens Valjean, and when he comes out, the bishop tries to redeem him. The bishop tells him, “be an honest man, be an honest woman” (Hugo 90).

Immediately he becomes Father Madeleine and a mayor; he tries saving Fantine and, as a result, gets arrested.
Valjean escapes, and to demonstrate his strength and virtue; he goes on to rescue Cosette with whom they escape to Paris. A clear observation of Valjean’s character illustrates him as an amazing person who somehow seems to be unsure about who he is. Most of the time, Valjean is low, bruised, and broken; his desperation is seen when he leaves prison.

Valjean’s encounter with Myriel makes him an honest man, and he opens up to testify about compassion and the power of love. He strikes as a hard-working person, thus transforming the Montreuil-sur-Mer town into a thriving business and manufacturing center. As a mayor, Valjean learns the values of being a philanthropist (Hugo 96).

When compared to Gatsby, Valjean has genuine love towards Cosette; he learns to love Cosette when he takes care of her. His physical strength makes him exceptional, and his willingness to do what is right makes him a hero in the eyes of the reader. He saves many people who happen to be in danger and becomes their friend.

It is a fact that Valjean is a slate that is molded by the circumstances and his thrilling encounters (Hutchinson 199). His ability to make changes in his life and the surrounding symbolizes hope in that if he can suffer so much injustice and yet love and give to charity anyone else also can.

Both Gatsby and Valjean are determined people; while Gatsby works hard to find the material wealth he has always desired, Valjean is determined to change the view of the people around him. Even in his death bed, Valjean’s quest is for redemption.

Even though a victim of injustice, Valjean tries to love and help the people around him; on the other hand, Gatsby is the opposite of Valjean, for he uses illegal means to acquire a vast amount of wealth. Valjean is driven by love, while Gatsby is driven by greed and the love of a woman who can never return this love.


Gatsby is an extravagant person, as evidenced by the parties in his house every Saturday night. He comes out as a criminal who crosses all boundaries without caring for his actions for what he cares is to be rich. Unlike Valjean, who is honest, Gatsby is dishonest, and he lies about every aspect of his life. Valjean suffers a lot of pain for being a mistaken identity, and he is determined to prove that he is loyal, selfless, and trustworthy and not a criminal.

Works Cited

Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. Sioux Falls, SD: NuVision Publications, 2008. Print.

Hugo, Victor, and Isabel F. Hapgood. Les Misérables: Vol. Iii & Iv. Fairfield, IA: 1st WorldLibrary, 2007. Print.

Hutchinson, Anthony. “Les Miserables Redux: Law and the Poor.” S. Cal. Interdisc. LJ 2. 1 (1993): 199. Print.

Tunc, Titus. “The Great Gatsby.” The American dream 1. 1 (2009):69. Print.

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