The title character of The Great Gatsby is a young man, around thirty years old, who rose from an impoverished childhood in rural North Dakota to become fabulously wealthy. Indeed, Gatsby has become famous around New York for the elaborate parties held every weekend at his mansion, ostentatious spectacles to which people long to be invited. And yet, Nick Carraway’s description of the protagonist asserts that Gatsby seems curiously out of place among the ‘whole damn bunch’ which inhabit this lavish, showy world. Indeed, despite the aura of criminality surrounding his occupation, his love and loyalty to Daisy Buchanan and ultimately his capacity to dream, set him apart from the inhabitants of East Egg and West Egg.
A key criticism made in Nick’s first person, self-aware and retrospective narration is that the ‘whole damn bunch’ entertained by Gatsby lives in extravagance. In Chapter Three, comparative adjectives and adverbs allude to the idea that the parties they attend grow ever increasingly lavish; the narrator expresses how ‘laughter is easier’, an ‘opera of voices pitches a key higher’ and ‘groups change more quickly’. In fact, the sheer scale of the operation required to keep them excited is emphasised by details that Nick gives, including ‘a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.’
But the ‘vacuous bursts of laughter’ and the dancing ‘in eternal graceless circles’ lend a degree of artificiality to the proceedings. Indeed, the tone of the narration reveals another major shortcoming, suggesting that this outward show of opulence by the inhabitants of West Egg and East Egg is used to cover up their inner corruption and moral decay. This decadence is first exemplified by the length of festivities. Nick states that after ‘the first supper’, ‘there would be another one after midnight.’ Society’s moral compass seems to invert completely, Nick ironically asserting that there were ‘two deplorably sober men’. Being drunk appears to be proper behaviour at such a party. Moreover, Fitzgerald’s comical use of voice suggests that being sober is more than just frowned upon, ‘their highly indignant wives’ exclaiming that they ‘have never heard anything so selfish in my life.’ But other guests contribute to this air of corruption; for example, the predatory nature of ‘Young Englishmen’ selling bonds is stressed by anaphora: ‘all well-dressed, all looking a little bit hungry, and all talking in low, earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans.’ Such obsession with money is further emphasised by musical language and assonance; they were ‘agonizingly aware of the easy money and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key.’
And as time passes, such vices become ever more apparent. Increasingly ‘women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands’, ‘said to be’ suggesting that some may have brought mistresses rather than partners. Nick observes one man philandering with ‘a young actress’, with his wife present. Her anger is humorously emphasised by simile, the narrator comparing her to ‘an angry diamond’. She ‘broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks’, reduced to hissing into his ear, ‘You promised!’ By the end, the function had turned into ‘violent confusion’.
Fitzgerald’s use of characterisation also emphasises the flaws of those immediately around Gatsby, Tom Buchanan in particular. Tom is Daisy’s husband, an extremely wealthy man, a brute, and an athlete. And his vices become apparent from the beginning of the book. His ignorance is brought out when he praises the ridiculous notions of ‘The Rise of the Coloured Empires’ that ‘the white race’, which is ‘the dominant race’ has to ‘watch out or other races will have control of things.’ The way he refers to it as...