The Great Gatsby 16 Essay, Research Paper
In his novel The Great Gatsby (1925) F. S. Fitzgerald introduces the reader to a set of characters that stand on the different levels of socioeconomic ladder and by destiny s will share each other s lives. Reading the novel one can see that Fitzgerald puts a huge emphasis on money: its presence or absence is the deciding factor in shaping the lives and personalities of the characters. The novel takes place in New York, in the early 1920s. One might notice that the financial situation with the East and West Eggs bears an uncanny resemblance to the situation with the East and West Sides in the city. The narrator himself introduces the reader to this idea: I lived at West Egg, the — well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them (9). In the city families who have been wealthy for several generations occupy the sophisticated East Side; in order to buy an apartment there one must provide good recommendations. West Side is less sophisticated and therefore less desirable for it is open to the new money. By creating this setting Fitzgerald is trying to make the reader understand that a character like Gatsby needs a certain environment to exist. Although Gatsby s persona is surrounded by different rumors, and contemporary legends such as the underground pipe-line to Canada attached themselves to his name, people come to his parties. Money can buy one popularity and friends, at least temporarily. Most likely many of Gatsby s friends knew where the money came from, yet it did not seem to be a good enough reason for them to stop socializing with him. Money can also buy tolerance for breaking the law. In order for Gatsby to be able to have his lavish parties where in the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten (44), he had to have the entire police department on the payroll. The 1920s were the years of Prohibition the sale and purchase of alcohol was forbidden in the United States. Gatsby s money bought him an unspoken permission to have those parties. Gatsby acknowledges his friendly relationship with the commissioner to Nick. He says that he was able to do the commissioner a favor once, and he sends me a Christmas card every year. Fitzgerald completely trashes the power of the laws when Gatsby was stopped for speeding and acknowledged himself, the policeman said: Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse me! (72). What message is he trying to convey? Is the power of money infinite? Fitzgerald divides his characters into two categories: those who have been negatively affected by money and those who have been affected by it to a lesser degree. It is very important for the reader to understand that there are no positive characters in this novel. Nick Carraway is the only character in the novel who has to work for his money. Throughout the novel the reader can also see that Nick is probably the only one who has good moral values. It seems that Fitzgerald uses Nick s character for contrast. The goodness of Nick s character emphasizes the negative qualities of others. Jordan Baker s character is shaped not so much around money, but the issue of social standing. Since Jordan was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth, she makes her living by playing golf. It would be fair to say that money is important to Jordan, since her life revolves in circles where one s social standing is determined by his wealth. It is also evident from Jordan s own story (79-83) that even when she was young, she admired that wealthy society and wanted to be a part of it. She understood that Daisy s popularity was not based solely on her good looks, but rather on what her family s money made her to be: a beautiful rich girl. However, to be a part of that society one has to sacrifice certain things moral values and feelings. Throughout the novel Fitzgerald shows the reader that Jordan Baker succeeded at that. It is interesting that Gatsby is the only character who is although very rich, is not depicted as a bad person. Money, or rather the initial absence of it has shaped Gatsby s life. It was because of him being poor that he could not ask Daisy to marry him back in Louisville. Although his ways of making money might be considered inappropriate and even illegal, yet his character still appeals to the reader. Fitzgerald shows the reader what makes Gatsby so different from the rest of the character Gatsby did not become rich out of self-love, but to get the woman he loves.Jay Gatsby has a soul. He proves it to the reader in the end of the novel, when he shows his willingness to sacrifice himself for Daisy. Yes, he said after a moment, but of course I ll say I was [driving] (151) after so carefully concealing his past Jay Gatsby is willing to risk the exposure just to save Daisy. Fitzgerald also shows the reader the other kind of people those who do not have a soul. When introduced to Daisy and Tom Buchanan, the first thing that the reader learns about them is their financial status: His [Tom Buchanan s] family were enormously wealthy even in college his freedom with money was a matter for reproach but now he d left Chicago and come east in a fashion that rather took your breath away: for instance he d brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that. (10) Fitzgerald portrays Tom Buchanan as a very arrogant and overly confident man. This confidence however, does not come from his personal achievements, but from his wealth. Tom believes that he is above all moral and earthly laws, and puts himself on the pedestal made of his own arrogance. His self-presumed dominance is evident from his behavior, his manner of talking in a peremptory tone that borders with rudeness, and even from his description: His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked … Now, don t think my opinion on these matters is final, he seemed to say, just because I m stronger and more of a man than you are (11). Tom s need for a mistress does not come from dissatisfaction with Daisy, but from the feeling of power that it gives him. In order to satisfy his vain ego Tom has to feel above the moral values that hold the society intact. Although Daisy Buchanan is not arrogant like Tom, she is affected by the money too. Daisy grew up around money and is used to the material comfort that comes with it. To her any other kind of life would be unimaginable. Even Gatsby, who loves her, understands what kind of person Daisy really is: She s got an indiscreet voice, I remarked. It s full of —– I hesitated. Her voice is full of money, he said suddenly. That was it. I d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals song of it . High in a white palace the king s daughter, the golden girl . (127). Since Daisy never had to strive for anything in her life, she does not know the value of things; she never learned to appreciate anything. She is like a sunny winter day beautiful, but extremely cold. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made (187-88). In those few words Fitzgerald summarizes the essence of Tom and Daisy s entire being. Another character whose entire being revolves around money is Myrtle Wilson. Myrtle stands at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder and money seems to be her only desire in life. She makes it abundantly clear when she speaks of her wedding: The only crazy I was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake. He borrowed somebody s best suit to get married in and never even told me about it, and the man came after it one day when he was out (39). Myrtle has hoped for money however, all that her husband gave her was eleven years of miserable life in poverty. Although Fitzgerald does not shed any light on Myrtle s feelings for Tom, it is obvious that it is not love. It is only natural to suspect that her relationship with Tom is based on money. Tom might not love her, but he provides her with the kind of lifestyle that she longed for all her life. It might seem confusing at first, but in the end the reader understands that this novel is not about love. It is about that rotting effect that the money has on the society. Fitzgerald depicts the society as a faceless, drunk, and demoralized mass: I see it as a night scene by El Greco: a hundred houses, at once conventional, overhanging sky and lusterless moon. In the foreground four solemn men in dress suits are walking along the sidewalk with a stretcher on which lies a drunken woman in a white evening dress. Her hand, which dangles over the side, sparkles cold with jewels. Gravely the men turn in at a house — the wrong house. But no one knows the woman s name, and no one cares. (185) In this society money is the most important thing. Moral values are being bought and sold: the more money one has, the more tolerance people have for his mistakes. Money is a parasite that infests people and destroys their soul. People have lost sight of what is truly important in life. Love, passion, and friendship those feelings seem to be forgotten. Only select few still know what those feelings are. Fitzgerald is trying to tell the society to come to its senses and save itself. .