A Piagetian Reading of "The Great Gatsby". Gatsby's Character and Augmented Reality

by Marie H. (Author)

Term Paper 2014 11 Pages

American Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Piaget’s Model of Cognitive Development Stages
2.1 An Introduction to the Theory
2.2 The Sensorimotor Stage

3 Jay Gatsby’s Egocentrism

4 Conclusion

5 Works Cited

1. Introduction

The Great Gatsby is a novel dated in the 1920’s by Francis Scott Fitzgerald. One of the main characters and eponym of the book is Jay Gatsby, who is described by the protagonist Nick Carraway.

The paper at hand first will give an outlook on Piaget’s development stages. It will focus especially on the second one: the preoperational stage, which covers children around the age of three. Subsequently, the character of Jay Gatsby will be analyzed. Does Gatsby act like a three year old boy, and in how far does this affect his reality?

One question, answered in the conclusion is, if it is possible to analyze Gatsby only considering his egocentrism, and is Piaget is the right theorist to use as a base. In how far can Gatsby be reduced to only one of his attributes?

The most important literature that will be used is the novel The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald, as well as three publications written by Piaget: Meine Theorie der Geistigen Entwicklung (eng. My Theory of Mental Development), Possibility and Necessity Vol. 1: the Role of Possibility in Cognitive Development, and Theorien und Methoden der Modernen Erziehung.(eng. Theories and Methods of Modern Education). Those three publications are used, because they are primary literature, as well as relevant to the topic, since they cover almost everything needed for this term paper.

This literature and such more will first give a definition of what the preoperational stage includes, especially focusing on the egocentrism, which will then build the base for the character analysis.

By analyzing Gatsby’s character I want to ascertain his obvious egocentrism.. All in all I believe, that Piaget is a start to analyze Gatsby’s psyche. He is not the usual theorist used for character analysis, since he focused his research on children. Yet, I believe Piaget is the right choice for this topic. I chose him as the foundation of the paper, to point out Gatsby’s inner child.

2. Piaget’s Model of Cognitive Development Stages

Piaget’s model of cognitive development stages differs from models by other theorists like Freud, in incorporating two necessary conditions: the stage definition ensures a constant order and allows a progressive construction without implying a total preformation (Piaget Meine Theorie der geistigen Entwicklung 63). Piaget points out that those two conditions are needed, because learning through experience is a part of cognition (63-64). The following two subchapters first will give an overview on Piaget’s model and then deepen on the preoperational stage.

2.1. An Introduction to the Theory

As said before, Piaget states that cognitive stages have a fixed order. Consequently, each stage is necessary for the following stage (65). The three most important phases are as followed: the sensorimotor, the preoperational, and the concrete- and formal-operational stage (65-66).

Children that are up to one and a half years old are in the sensorimotor stage (65). This stage is split into two phases: in the first phase the child focuses on its own body until its seven to nine months old (65). The second phase objectifies plans of first proper intelligence as well as accommodates them to the areal requirements (65-66).

The preoperational stage can be split into two phases as well. The first phase starts at the age of one and a half or two years, by developing semiotic processes such as language and inner images (66). At the age of seven or eight, children begin to operational differentiate between concrete shapes and different kinds of preservation (66). All in all the preoperational stage leads to concrete operations - classes, relations, and numbers are bound to objects (66).

Finally, the stage of formal operations is also split into two phases: the first one lasts from age eleven to thirteen (66). At first the children learn to arrange operations; in the second phase the common combinatorics is formed, as well as the INCR-Group1 (66).

Since the paper at hand focuses on augmented reality (which is a part of the mental development of children in the preoperational stage), the following subchapter takes a closer look at the children’s mind-development at the age of about three years.

2.2. The Preoperational Stage

During the preoperational stage, cognitive schemes diversify into category groups (Kasten 41). This process becomes possible, because children develop the capability to substitute an object or phenomenon by symbols (41). On the other hand the symbols are eventually substituted by signs, e.g. words or numbers (41). By way of illustration: at first the child labels all round objects (e.g. balls, globes, marbles) as balls, subsequently it will describe those objects with the word “round” (41). This development vastly broadens the child’s mind, since it is no longer bound to the instantly perceived object and action, but can actually use its mind to operate (41). Furthermore, language allows contents to be saved past the present and to be recalled in the future when necessary (41).

At the beginning of the preoperational stage, the two-year-old children still find it difficult to comprehend the arbitrariness of the relationship between an object and its name: if one would ask them why a cherry is called cherry, they would answer, that a cherry is called a cherry, because it tastes like one (41). This phenomenon vanishes with time and children begin to understand, that different objects may even have the same name - glasses for instance, describe cups made of glass, as well as spectacles (41-42).

However, how children see the world also changes throughout the preoperational stage. They become more and more independent from the present as they think, remember, and forestall (42). Nevertheless, the children are still bound to their own mind and have not yet developed empathy; meaning that they cannot distinguish their opponent’s wishes and feelings from their own (Kasten 42). Additionally, they believe that everybody sees the world as they do (42). Piaget described these physical, social, and emotional phenomena as egocentrism (42).

Phenomena that are part of the childish egocentrism are animism, finalism, and artificialism. Animism and finalism result from an assimilation2 of things to the own activity (Piaget Theorien und Methoden der modernen Erziehung 173). They express a confusion or non-segregation of a subjective world and physic universe, which means, that the child does not know to separate his or her thoughts from reality (173).


1 The INCR (Identity, Negation, Correlativity, and Reciprocity) Group describes an operation to classify classifications (Piaget Meine Theorie der geistigen Entwicklung 116).

2 Assimilation is a process “that function[s] in the immediate present and lead[s] to success” (Piaget Possibility and Necessity: The Role of Possibility in Cognitive Development 151).


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RWTH Aachen University – Institut für Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Romanistik
piagetian reading great gatsby character augmented reality


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    Marie H. (Author)


Title: A Piagetian Reading of "The Great Gatsby". Gatsby's Character and Augmented Reality