F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby may appear to be a simple tragic romance; however, within the text, Fitzgerald identifies and defines social gaps and the importance of wealth. He also presents women within a very separate space as the men. The Great Gatsby allows the reader to enter into the world of wealth and experience the joys and tragedies of being within this certain class. In the novel, Fitzgerald criticizes American society in the 1920s for its emphasis on money, superficial relationships, and obsession over class; as well as allowing the reader to interpret the position of gender inside the class.
Society has, indeed, a great part to play in shaping the identities of individuals. “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he [my father] told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had” (1). This quote was probably the backbone of the narrator’s actions and character. Throughout the novel, the characters that he came into contact with were immediately associated with their money and their association with their given level of wealth.
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Jay Gatsby is the center character in Fitzgerald’s novel. Gatsby tells Nick that from his childhood in the Midwest and his youth, he got to know Cody from whom he learned how to struggle through life and get money. He is totally self-taught and tells Nick that he had been in the drug business and later in the oil business. Throughout the novel there is an overall absence of the lower class; however, ironically, the only character that lower wealth was associated with was Gatsby. He was the most prestigious when compared to all of the other characters, yet was the only one to have the absence of money in his past. With this, Fitzgerald proves that the current existence of money justifies the acceptance of character, reiterating the idea of social levels of money.
In addition, everything Jay Gatsby has done and does is for Daisy. Also, his identity as a “great” man is shaped because of Daisy. His money, wealth and status were all simply so he could win Daisy back. He believes that if he is able to achieve what society deems to be great, then he will be able to impress Daisy and will win her love once again. That is why he asks Jordan Baker and Nick to invite Daisy over for tea so when she does come, he can show off all his clothes for her and all his wealth in order to impress her. “He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel” (89). The narrator exceedingly describes the materialistic aspects of Gatsby and his belongings, as well as the guests to his home. This proves the superficiality associated with their relationship
On the other hand, Daisy was, of course, impressed with Gatsby’s collection and his house. This only went on to speak about the character of Daisy, and how affected by money she is. Although she was infatuated and perhaps in love with Gatsby when she was younger, the narrator describes her now as having a “voice full of money” (127). Unfortunately, her love of money drove her to seek out other things and forget Gatsby, finally marrying Tom, again focusing on money and building a superficial relationship. On the outside, Daisy Buchanan is fresh and bright, yet fragile just like the flower she is named after. She is a ‘golden girl’, beautiful, rich, innocent, and pure.
However, in reality, she is just like money in that she promises more than she gives. She is very much affected and talked about in relation to money. It is her love of money and wealth, and the inability to step out of comfort for what she desires or loves, which causes her in the end to marry Tom. Because of this decision, Daisy can be said to be false, superficial, dishonest and careless. She is the one who will do anything for herself, without bothering about others, as can be seen by the fact that she kills Myrtle Wilson towards the end of the novel.
Her husband Tom belongs to the traditional moneyed class and simply lives off his wealth. Once again, money and society have managed to shape the identity of individuals, namely Tom, in this case. He is arrogant, self-confident and a totally careless and brutal man. He boasts about his home saying, “I’ve got a nice place here” (13) and an example of his brutality and carelessness towards others is when he punches his mistress Myrtle. “Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand” (39). Tom is also unfaithful towards Daisy seeing this woman Myrtle Wilson.
Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s mistress hates her husband George who is lifeless. She also hates her cheerless and wretched life at the gas station in the valley of ashes and wants to fly into the city full of gayness, money and glamour. She says, “you can’t live forever; you can’t live forever” (38) and displays her vitality here. She and her husband George come from the bottom of the industrialization process, and because of the focus on class, this is not good enough for Myrtle. Myrtle is a very sensuous and vital woman and thus uses this to gain Tom’s attention.
She has allowed society to shape her desires and thus her identity. Her modern apartment is an attempt to turn herself into a Daisy-like modern society lady by mimicking what she has read in Town Tattle and trashy gossip novels. Her pet dog, her party- mannerisms and behaviour, her manufactured furniture with rugs with “tapestry scenes of Versailles” (42). However, in the end, she loses it all when she is killed by the car that Daisy, being the careless person she is, was recklessly driving. Her husband George has worked his whole life trying to make her happy but is unfortunately unable to do so and also loses all for her in the end.
On a separate level, Fitzgerald gives a slight critique of gender roles in the class. He describes women’s feministic characteristics and their united lifelong struggle for equality in a man’s society. Another person whose life can be said to be have been shaped by society would be Daisy’s friend, Jordan Baker. She is a very famous and popular golf player. She is described as a feministic woman by Fitzgerald when Gatsby says, “Miss Baker’s a great sportswoman you know, and she’d never do anything that wasn’t all right” (72).
Her opinionated, strong-willed, and stubborn qualities are all those of a feministic woman. She is a woman fighting against years and years of male domination. Another example of her feministic qualities can be seen in her conversation with Nick about her careless driving. “You’re a rotten driver, either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all”. “No you’re not”. “Well, other people are,” [Jordan] said lightly. “What’s that got to do with it?” “They’ll keep out of my way, ” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.” “Suppose you met somebody as careless as yourself.” “I hope I never will, ” she answered. “I hate careless people. That’s why I like you” (50). Jordan’s extreme feministic attitude shines through in this dialogue.
Her stubbornness and strong mind make her have a subtle yet blunt way about her. The quote shows how a feminist is different from an “ordinary” woman who lets her opinions be washed away by the force of a male. She had her own specific needs and beliefs, and she was not in any way afraid to express them to anyone. Throughout Jordan’s life, she learned to deal with what came along but to choose only the best. Jordan Baker displays the typical feminist, and the character’s personality was that of a struggling but very independent woman. This type of personality was key to change the way of American society at the time that this book was written.
The Great Gatsby was a novel that embraced two of the most critically analyzed facets of literature. Almost all of the characters portrayed in the novel are perhaps in one way or another influenced by society and what society deems to be desirable. Though sometimes subtle, Fitzgerald either defines the popular, and current at the times of his writing, practices, and thoughts or he completely redefines them. By doing so, the novel takes on a new identity separate from its tragic romantic cover. Social status and feminism tower over lost and found love that encompasses this novel.
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