How does The Great Gatsby prove that materialism lead to moral decay?
The 1920’s is widely perceived as the decade of materialism. It was a time of economic prosperity. In his book, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald illustrates how the obsession of material wealth leads to moral decay. He uses characters actions such as Myrtles choice to stay with Tom despite the abuse, locations such as the valley of ashes to represent the moral decay underneath the wealth of the two main cities, as well as the consumption of alcohol even though, at the time, it was illegal, to represent the decline of morality that can occur due to wealthy circumstances.
Fitzgerald depicts the moral decay of the upper class with the use of many characters throughout the novel. (Smith) Myrtle Wilson’s attraction to Tom Buchanan is based on what he can buy her instead of love. On their first night out with Nick present, Tom buys her “…a copy of ‘Town Tattle’ and a moving picture magazine and…some cold cream and a small flask of perfume” (Fitzgerald 31). Soon after, at a party in Tom’s apartment, Myrtle keeps saying the name of Tom’s wife “Daisy” over and over to provoke him. Tom then breaks Myrtles nose. Yet after this abuse she decides to continue her relationship with him because she does not want to let go of her fantasy of having anything she wants – everything her working class husband cannot get her. This incident depicts the moral decay of Myrtle as well as Tom. Tom’s status and class makes him believe that women are beneath him and he has the right to do what he wants.
Gatsby’s willingness to commit crimes to obtain money in order to acquire the women of his dreams is another example of how wealth can lead to moral decay. (Smith) Like Tom, Jay Gatsby uses money to secure a married woman’s affection. Further investigation on Tom’s part reveals exactly how Gatsby got his money. Gatsby realizes that in order to gain Daisy’s attention, he needs great wealth. To obtain this wealth, Gatsby willingly breaks the Prohibition law and “…sold alcohol over the counter” (Fitzgerald 141). Not only does Gatsby become a bootlegger to obtain the wealth he needs, but after his death, a phone call is made that indicates his affiliation with bond swindling as well. “They picked him up when he handed the bonds over the counter” (Fitzgerald 174).
Another example of how wealthy conditions can lead to moral decay is that after all that happened to Nick in Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby; it never crosses his mind to report the criminal activity of all of the people he meets to the police (Smith). Nick is the only character who knows the truth of the criminal activities that have taken place by the end of the novel and in the end he decides to leave the East Coast. Nick not reporting the criminal activity to the police suggests that he himself has been tainted by the immorality of his friends and that he, as a narrator, is probably not as reliable as one would believe him to be.
Fitzgerald not only uses his character’s actions, but the locations expressed within the novel to illustrate the decline of morality as well. The Valley of Ashes represents the moral decay that had taken place in society due to people’s desire to become rich. “This is a strip of land between the West Egg and New York City…” (Bret Harwell) The Valley of Ashes has become a place where immoral acts such as Myrtle’s death take place. One of the main immoral acts that take place in The Valley of Ashes is Tom’s affair with Myrtle. Nick states that the abundance of immoral acts in the Valley of Ashes is "a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat..." (Fitzgerald 25).
East Egg is another location that illustrates how wealthy conditions can lead to moral decay. (Mina) East Egg, especially Daisy and Tom, represents the established aristocracy and taste, however, many of them are careless people who use their money simply to ease their minds and not worry about hurting others. “What the old...
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