The Theme of Class and the Evolution of the American Dream in the Great Gatsby

Topics: F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby Pages: 7 (2817 words) Published: December 19, 2007
Written in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald's, ‘The Great Gatsby' is often referred to as ‘The Great American Novel' and as the quintessential work, which captures the mood of the ‘Jazz Age'. In this paper I will examine how class is an articulation of insecurities felt by the American people in the years following the First World War. I will also be writing about the idea of the American dream and corruption of this dream by avarice. The ‘roaring twenties' is the collective name for these significant years, which would ultimately culminate in The Great Depression (the great depression refers to the collapse of the American economy in 1929. It was an event whose reverberations were felt the world over.) America, which had just returned from the war, was quite shaken up by what it had witnessed on the war front. Therefore on returning home, people gave themselves up to a culture of decadence and revelry to compensate for the hardships undergone. They could well afford to do so. Unlike its allies, America had entered the First World War towards the end and did not suffer much economic loss. Americans had also sold costly war supplies to its allies. The European economy was in shambles and in the wake of the disruption of its industries; America became the leading exporter of goods. The dizzying rise of the stock market, government policies, low taxes, Prohibition and easy credit led to a consumer culture. Public demand increased for things like cars, electrical products, and domestic goods. This lead to the setting up of industries on a massive scale, which in turn created more jobs and opportunities. Clearly the 1920s was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity for the U.S.

Class as it appears in ‘The Great Gatsby' is in the form of a hierarchy at three levels. Those who are in possession of ‘old wealth' occupy the top rung. These are the inhabitants of East Egg as represented by Daisy and Tom Buchanan. The nouveau riche occupies the middle rung, they are ‘upstarts' who have come into sudden wealth because of the war. Jay Gatsby of West Egg primarily represents the middle rung. Languishing at the bottom are the have-nots represented by Myrtle and George Wilson in the valley of ashes. Common to all three levels is an insecurity and anxiety about their standing in society. The ‘East Eggers' while turning their noses down at the West Eggers are also apprehensive of this new generation of people who have become rich all of a sudden. They feel somewhat threatened by this group. Therefore they dismiss the West Eggers as vulgar upstarts and make every effort possible to distinguish themselves from their ‘less respectable' counterparts. The inhabitants of the West Egg have newly come into money and they make an ostentatious display of it. This is symbolic of their insecurity as a fledgling class with no historical respectability. It also indicates their anxiety to prove that they have ‘arrived.' Those at the bottom, too have their own class aspirations (Myrtle Wilson is a good example)

Daisy and Tom Buchanan are the representative East Eggers. Tom Buchanan belongs to a rich family yet Nick Carraway wonders about him, "It was hard to realize that a man of my generation was wealthy enough to..." Indeed it is true, the 1920s or the New Era as it is called made it possible for the rich to become richer. The desire to flaunt these riches is evident-Tom of his own accord aggressively comments to Nick about his house "I've got a nice place belonged to Delmaine the oil man". He also wants to know about the nature of Nick's work and the people whom he works with. When Nick tells him, Tom comments decisively, "Never heard of them." Even at Gatsby's party at West Egg, which is complete with celebrities, Tom insists that he does not recognize anyone. Tom's attitude can be interpreted as a refusal to concede or acknowledge the successful upward mobility of the West Eggers. Tom is to be seen not only as an individual but also as a...
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