Theme Analysis: The Great Gatsby

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The Great Gatsby portrays three different social classes: “old money” (Tomand Daisy Buchanan); “new money” (Gatsby); and a class that might be called “no money” (George and Myrtle Wilson). “Old money” families have fortunes dating from the 19th century or before, have built up powerful and influential social connections, and tend to hide their wealth and superiority behind a veneer of civility. The “new money” class made their fortunes in the 1920s boom and therefore have no social connections and tend to overcompensate for this lack with lavish displays of wealth. The Great Gatsby shows the newly developing class rivalry between “old” and “new” money in the struggle between Gatsby and Tom over Daisy. As usual, the “no money” class gets overlooked by the struggle at the top, leaving middle and lower class people like George Wilson forgotten or ignored.

The Great Gatsby is set among wealthy, educated people, who have lots of leisure time and little concern about people who are not in their social milieu. Nobody’s concerned about politics or spiritual matters but everybody cares about how they are perceived socially. Those who do come from other classes seek and envy the glamour and lifestyle that they see in the elite. Jay Gatsby, the protagonist, is able to attain a certain amount of wealth, but he cannot fake education or social behaviors that only come with "old money." The novel’s two main locales, West Egg and East Egg, are distinguished also by class. East Egg represents "old money" while West Egg represents the nouveau riche. East Eggers consistently look down on West Eggers for precisely this fact. Class and wealth are virtually indistinguishable from each other, but if a person lacks education, then he is clearly not part of the upper echelon. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic twentieth-century story of Jay Gatsby's quest for Daisy Buchanan, examines and critiques Gatsby's particular vision of the 1920's American Dream. Written in 1925, the novel serves as a bridge between World War I and the Great Depression of the early 1930's. Although Fitzgerald was an avid participant in the stereotypical "Roaring Twenties" lifestyle of wild partying and bootleg liquor, he was also an astute critic of his time period. The Great Gatsby certainly serves more to detail society's failure to fulfill its potential than it does to glamorize Fitzgerald's "Jazz Age." Fitzgerald's social insight in The Great Gatsby focuses on a select group: priviliged young people between the ages of 20 and 30. In doing so, Fitzgerald provides a vision of the "youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves" (157). Throughout the novel Nick finds himself surrounded by lavish mansions, fancy cars, and an endless supply of material possessions. A drawback to the seemingly limitless excess Nick sees in the Buchanans, for instance, is a throwaway mentality extending past material goods. Nick explains, "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made" (188). Part of the mess left in the Buchanan's wake at the end of the novel includes the literal and figurative death of the title character, Jay Gatsby. Certainly, his undeserved murder at the hands of a despondent George Wilson evokes sympathy; the true tragedy, however, lies in the destruction of an ultimate American idealist. The idealism evident in Gatsby's constant aspirations helps define what Fitzgerald saw as the basis for the American Character. Gatsby is a firm believer in the American Dream of self-made success: he has, after all, not only invented and self-promoted a whole new persona for himself, but has succeeded both financially and societally. In spite of his success, Gatsby's primary ideological shortcoming becomes evident as he makes Daisy Buchanan the sole focus of his...