(Spoiler warning for The Great Gatsby and Game of Thrones up until Season 7.)
He is a man who came from humble beginnings, and luckily managed to share the company of a beautiful girl from the aristocracy in his youth. However, division in social classes prevented him from marrying her. Through his own wits and certain dubious means, he spent the next few years after the war climbing up the social ladder, getting more and more power and wealth, equal to or perhaps even surpassing the same high class folk that denied him his fulfilment previously. In order to finally achieve what he wanted, he tried to cause discord between the woman she loved and her family, finally leading to his abandonment and tragic death.
I’m talking about one of the most popular characters in fiction: Jay Gatsby. But the same things can be said about Littlefinger, Game of Thrones‘ most intelligent figure, the master of knowledge and manipulation. Ok, so that’s it. Comparison over, nothing more to talk about.
Except it’s not over. The Great Gatsby, although introduced to me in Literature, remains one of my favourite novels, with its beautiful lyricism and realistic, unlikeable characters. I hadn’t really noticed the parallels between Littlefinger and Gatsby, until he was killed, and I reflected on his whole life until that point. Both characters do have several similarities in their life stories, don’t they? But we end up hating Littlefinger so much, while we end up sympathising with Gatsby. Both of them don’t have a clean moral record, and while Gatsby hadn’t murdered people or conspired to dispose of the second most powerful man in the nation, he did commit adultery and make his money through bootlegging.
In the end, while both do have a way with words, they both have different, yet similar, aims. Littlefinger mentioned he wanted to “sit on the Iron Throne, with [Sansa] by [his] side.” He wanted the most absolute form of power in the form of the Iron Throne, and he wanted the love that was denied to him through Sansa. In his “own twisted way”, he loved her, just like he had loved her mother. But, would you sell the woman you love to the most inhuman man in the nation? Would you betray the husband of the woman you love and cause his eventual death? Would you react to the passing of the woman you love by falling for her daughter instead? His way of love was twisted indeed, and yet it was the only love that could work in the twisted world of Game of Thrones. He definitely achieved a lot of success in his lifetime, but he only managed to do so through the perversion of the love he felt. After nearly dying to the duel with Brandon Stark over Catelyn Tully, his love became corrupted with ambition, the desire for power. While he succeeded at getting power and wealth, he failed to obtain what he had wanted in the first place. In the end, he was outsmarted only with a supernatural Wikipedia-made-human Bran Stark, and his twisted love was never returned.
On the other hand, Gatsby’s love wasn’t corrupted. Ironically, despite the dodgy ways he obtained his wealth and power, his love for Daisy remained not only pure, but also absolute, having painfully complete faith in her loyalty to him. He couldn’t think about the worst that could happen, and his unrealistic hope eventually resulted in his tragic demise. Gatsby’s hope was so idealistic and beautiful, that we cannot help but be sympathetic towards him. The “foul dust [that] floated on the wake of his dreams” makes us feel sorry at his demise, despite his moral flaws.
While of course there are more technical reasons why Gatsby and Littlefinger are viewed so differently, I think it is important to recognise the different nature of their love and ambition. Littlefinger could play the game, twisting his desires to fit the unforgiving mould of society, while Gatsby could remain true to his love, only using his money as a means to an end, failing to play the game of social stratification that eventually would cause his death. Both died effectively shunned by the ones they loved, but in our minds, only one of them truly did deserve it. GRRM loved The Great Gatsby, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that he wanted his own more practical, more realistic version of the great fictional hero.