In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald portrays a society in which wealth, love and social status are inextricably linked

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Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is set in post-war America and portrays a multitude of important themes surrounding the American Dream, which is personified by Gatsby himself. The novel investigates the validity of the American Dream “in the pursuit of happiness” (1). Fitzgerald creates a world in which society places an immeasurable importance on social status and wealth and attempts to undermine “the implicit separation of love and money” (2).

At first it appears that the plot surrounds the disenchanted love between a man and a woman, however, the journey of the novel follows an extremely vast and less romantic distance. Fitzgerald presents his readers with a world in which love and social hierarchy are in huge conflict with each other and his intentions are to show that nothing was able to triumph over the materialism which dominated and moulded the values of a 1920’s American Society.

This conflict is explored throughout the novel using the relationships between not only Gatsby and Daisy, but also the love triangle between Tom, Daisy and Myrtle, of which the two female characters are from extremely different social backgrounds. Jay Gatsby has a dream of romantic idealism which defines his character. Inextricably linked to his love for Daisy is his “quest”, a world that suggests his idealism, for social self-improvement. The love that drives his dream blossomed from his introduction to Daisy many years previously when Gatsby was poor and had no place in society.

Gatsby’s goal then becomes his pursuit of Daisy, making money and building himself a new life, trying to create a world that would be perfect in her eyes. This in itself shows the materialism that consumes Daisy’s character, Gatsby knowing that she merely values things that she can see and touch. One thing that Gatsby is unable to build for himself is the ‘old’ American Family name that would give him a firm and high placing in the social hierarchy of East-Egg, Long Island.

Fitzgerald presents his readers with a situation with a world in which love can survive or be demoralized according to a character’s position in the hierarchal system, when the ages of money is all-important. Fitzgerald, having lived on Long Island at one point in his life, would have had a great awareness of the gap between his society and that of the ‘old’ society, families such as the Guggenheims, who lived on the other side of the peninsular, owned grand houses and lived lavish lifestyles.

This theme is also explored in A Streetcar Named Desire a play that was written over the same time period as Fitzgerald’s novel. It is clear from reading both texts that there was uneasiness between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’, the ‘Dubois’ and the ‘Kowalski’s’ and that the ‘new money’ making its mark in the social circles, were looked upon as unworthy by the ‘old money’. In The Great Gatsby, the society of West Egg represent the ‘new’ as Stanley Kowalski does in A Streetcar Named Desire.

The Inhabitants of West Egg are symbolic of the rebels who started to break away from old restrictions that society placed on them in the 1920’s. On the other hand, East Egg’s inhabitants uphold the moral and social laws of formality, at least superficially. Working in conflict with these two ideas are Gatsby’s parties which illustrate the materialism of West Egg’s society and the ‘vacuous laughter’ of the guests at these parties shows their artificial nature and illustrate the extravagant materialism of West Egg.

There are very few, if any, moral differences that can be identified to set these two societies apart, yet the community of East Egg has a concrete respectability that is not present in Gatsby’s world. The superficiality of the society is shown through the guest’s “vacuous laughter” an the carelessness displayed in the car crash display a violent and damaging element to their way of life. Fitzgerald uses the symbolic image of the “moth” to illustrate the parasitical self-destructive character of the West Egg society.

The hypocrisy of the society of East Egg is shown through Tom’s comment “nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and institutions”, despite his adulterous activities, he feels that he can take the moral high ground because of his social status. Neither love or money are able to surpass the social prejudices because of this snobbery and Gatsby tragically refuses to accept this. The American Dream, as it arose in the earliest point with the American settlers was based upon the hypothesis that any man, no matter his origins could succeed in life based solely upon their skill and effort.

The vast majority of the characters within the novel are “Midwesterners” who have travelled to the East, the power seat of the American Empire, looking for money, fame, success, glamour and excitement. Tom and Daisy, for instance, must have a huge house with a stable of polo ponies and friends in Europe in order to show their high status in a unrestrained community. Consequently, Gatsby feels as though he has to possess a huge mansion before he can feel confident that he may be able to recapture the love that he and Daisy once had, drawing her away from the lavish lifestyle that he knew she shared with Tom.

This was where the idealism of the American Dream began to die with Gatsby. He enters a world where money takes priority over morals and materialism has begun to overshadow the spiritual side of the American Dream, allowing materialism to overpower his pursuit of love. Gatsby’s house, the boldest representation of his wealth, was bought only because of its location. Gatsby saw it as a way of getting closer to the society that he wanted to get closer to.

Nick describes the mansion as “a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy”, Gatsby feels that the “Hotel” gives him a higher ranking in the society and it is for this reason that Daisy’s reaction to the house is so important to him. The themes of love and money are significant characteristics of all American fiction, especially those written in the ‘roaring twenties’, the post war period. The Great Gatsby is no exception to this as Gatsby’s desire to gain wealth is designed to rekindle the love of his Daisy.

Wealth and prosperity appear to be fundamental to every relationship in the novel; Gatsby’s acquisition of wealth in order to re-establish Daisy in his life, Tom Buchanan’s money provides Daisy with a stability that means she will remain with him. At the same time this also provides Myrtle with a dream of escaping her world. Whilst George Wilson’s lack of money destroys his marriage with Myrtle, despite the love he feels for his wife, she thirsts the glamour and glitz that Tom and his money can provide her with. The most significant character for examining the relationship of love and money is Gatsby himself.

Gatsby designs his life solely with Daisy’s reaction in mind, as are his parties which are exclusively intended for her appearance. It is tragic however that all that Gatsby has created falls disapprovingly in Daisy’s eye in Chapter seven. Fitzgerald’s description of Daisy as Gatsby’s “grail” emphasises this. One of the most applicable examples of Gatsby linking his love with money is his portrayal of Daisy: “Her voice is full of money” and shows Gatsby’s understanding of the link between love and money and the value he places on Daisy.

Only Gatsby could have presented the readers with this description of Daisy. It is a remark from somebody alive to the possibilities of love yet also aware of monetary aspects, and sensitive to them. Because Tom’s attraction to daisy has nothing to do with wealth and due to the fact that he is habituated to wealth, he could have never given us this description of her. Gatsby’s pursuit of money can be said to be a substitute for love. Gatsby is a dreamer and a romantic.

Daisy, the focus of Gatsby’s dream is, as most of the characters in The Great Gatsby, in love with money. She was unable to leave money for ‘real’ love, and unable to marry for love when there was no money. Her decision to marry Tom proved that her true love is money instead of the previously underprivileged Gatsby with a low social status. Yet, when Gatsby reappears in Daisy’s life, this time with plentiful money having pulled himself up the extremely harsh ladder of social status, Daisy seemed to believe that her decision to marry Tom had been the wrong one.

However, Daisy becomes a changed person and realises that to leave her husband would be morally wrong, and that she does indeed love the man that she chose to marry. Daisy’s outburst “I did love him once, but I loved you too” brings Gatsby to repeat what he has just heard, with apparent emphasis on the word “too”. This brings Gatsby to his realisation that the love between Daisy and himself is an inferior one, in that it came after Daisy married Tom, and perhaps more importantly, after he gained his wealth. This causes Gatsby to truly understand the huge significance of money in Daisy’s life.

He had previously noted it, which is shown by his actions throughout the novel and his eagerness to show Daisy his mansion, his car and his coloured shirts; however, it becomes obvious here that he was not aware of the full extent of Daisy’s materialism. He was naive enough to expect Daisy to leave Tom for him, believing his money to be a simple tool in attracting Daisy, yet not realising that this was infact the source of Daisy’s love. Her “low thrilling voice” lends an essence to her otherwise superficial character which is indicated by her physical instability (illustrated by the author’s use of balloon imagery).

The fact that Gatsby has achieved his wealth through criminal activities is not important to Daisy, all she sees is the wealth and objects that Gatsby possess. Nick sides with Gatsby although he disapproves of his morals and belief that the end justifies the means. Nick recognises in Gatsby a wonderful trait that if present in everyone would make the world a better place. Gatsby has an innocence about him; a desperate plea to the world to treat him in the way he believes it should, and that appeals to Nick, “You’re worth the whole damn lot of them put together,” says Nick to Gatsby.

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