integrity for material gain

This loss of integrity for material gain is shown through characters Rose and Key in another Fitzgerald text: May Day from The Diamond as Big as the Ritz. They drunkenly break a journalist’s leg when they storm a newspaper’s headquarters, despite being described as “darn good guy[s]”. Another contribution to the vastly increasing accessibility of the American dream was the ascension of the post-war stock market. This increased national wealth, in turn encouraging materialism throughout the country.

Newfound prosperity gave birth to an age where ordinary men could achieve the American dream if only they “run faster” and “stretch out [their] arms farther”. However, these self-made men were the ‘nouveau riche’ and caused a clash between themselves and established old money, which is portrayed in the geography of TGG. The East Egg holds the superior aristocracy, like Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and is “condescending to West Egg”, “the less fashionable of the two” and home to the nouveau riche like Gatsby.

The American dream Fitzgerald’s characters embody is the desire for something greater, which is exactly what the previously ordinary but presently ‘great’ Gatsby achieves. He began life as James Gatz, the son of “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people”, whose dreams of “ineffable gaudiness” spurred him to become the “Platonic conception of himself”. One critic notes that “this talent for self-invention is what gives Gatsby his quality of greatness” [1].

His transformation reflects that of the American dream: comes from humble beginnings, like the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island seeking refuge, but ends in materialism. Fitzgerald represents the original, untarnished American dream by contrasting the “green of the light on a dock” that Gatsby sees with the immigrants seeing the green statue of Liberty on their arrival. Although both see green as something representative of hope, the immigrants strived for a new beginning, whereas Gatsby strives after Daisy Buchanan.

The green light, symbolic of “the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us”, has more simplistic interpretations. One is that Fitzgerald uses the green light to convey the character’s desperation; finding hope in insignificant objects. The light being green could also be construed as displaying Gatsby’s jealously over Daisy’s husband, Tom; the social context of green being the colour of envy. Another interpretation of the choice of green is as symbolising the green dollar: money. Fitzgerald describes Gatsby as longing after Daisy, the personification of money.

Her shallowness depicts her as a caricature of affluence; Fitzgerald even writes that “her voice is full of money”. This brings fresh connotations to Gatsby’s desire for Daisy, showing he longs after money, like the other characters in the text. Fitzgerald does this to exaggerate the problems posed by a Capitalist society; the characters are so busy pursuing wealth, they don’t care who they “[smash] up” on their way. However, like money, Daisy never truly fulfils his desire to “fix everything just the way it was before”.

Although he achieves Daisy’s love, she only loves him for his money. Her superficial interest in him is echoed by his friends. Despite throwing parties for them, they take no real interest in him. Instead, they indulge in scandals that surround him – like “he was a German spy during the war” – which are spread by other ‘friends’. This lavish lifestyle is shown to bring nothing but loneliness to Gatsby; he had more honest companionship before wealth, with Dan Cody. His American dream is superficially achieved, yet brings no good with it.

Fitzgerald does this to reflect the transformation of the American dream, a once unmaterialistic settler’s dream now replaced with ambitions of what is “material without being real”. Gatsby’s quest for wealth/Daisy represents this sullied American dream, and the negative repercussions of it; his dream results in his death. Devotion to the American dream ending tragically is also shown in TDABATR, when the Washington family’s home becomes a “smoking pile” of “flaming fragments”. The destruction of their home is what one critic calls a “result of their single-minded pursuit”.

This indicates that the decline of the American dream can only end badly. [2] Fitzgerald displays that the root of Gatsby’s downfall, and other characters’ too, is greed. Greed is chosen as a source of tragedy to imply that greed doesn’t go unpunished. Gatsby, Tom and Daisy are the characters whose greed Fitzgerald portrays. Their individual greed factor in death. Daisy’s greed is displayed by her betrayal of Tom to pursue the wealth Gatsby offers. The author conveys the shallowness of the upper class through Daisy’s awestruck reaction at Gatsby’s displays of wealth, such as his “beautiful shirts”.

Fitzgerald describes her “[bending] her head into the shirts” that Gatsby is casually “throwing” and “[crying] stormily”. She becomes so overwhelmed with something more than the trivial shirts themselves: the promise of wealth they convey. The luxury of the “thick silk” showcases the extent of his wealth, and the dismissive way he treats them indicates that his wealth is completely at his disposal. Roger Lewis comments that although Daisy’s “sentiments are genuine, they are formulated in monetary terms”, symbolising a “postwar America… society that consumes”. [3] As well as shallow, the character of Daisy is illustrated as “careless”. Whilst driving Gatsby’s car, Daisy “violently [extinguishes]” the life of Myrtle Wilson and lets Gatsby take the blame for her “vast carelessness”. His devotion to Daisy leads him to declare “of course I’ll say I was [driving]”, which results in his death. Fitzgerald demonstrates in his unfortunate end how those who are unconditionally dedicated to the American dream, like Gatsby, will pay “a high price for living too long with a single dream”.

This disapproval of the aristocracy and their materialism is also seen in Fitzgerald’s uses of gold and yellow imagery. He decouples the notion of gold – a colour representative of money – being associated with greatness, instead replacing it with decay, corruption and death. The vehicle which kills Myrtle is Gatsby’s “big yellow car”, and Myrtle lives in a yellow house. The events related to the yellow car and the yellow house – sins such as adultery and murder – both ultimately lead to negative consequences, which could also construed as punishment.

The “enormous yellow spectacles” of Dr T. J. Eckleburg “look out” over Myrtle’s town, the Valley of Ashes, and witness the sinful events which unfold. In this sense, Dr T. J. Eckleburg could be interpreted as a representation of God, witnessing and punishing the decay of America. His eyes are described as being “dimmed a little by many paintless days”, implying that if one is to construe Eckleburg as being symbolic of God, this shows how America has forgotten God – and Christian morality – in their superficial pilgrimage for the new American dream.

Before her untimely demise, the character of Myrtle held significance. She is depicted as desperate to leave her penniless husband, who made her cry by “borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in”. His borrowing of the suit conveys their poverty, and her upset about it shows her shallowness; shallowness which drives her into Tom’s arms. Gatsby has epitomised the American dream in Myrtle in the sense that she is willing to sacrifice everything to obtain it: first her marriage and eventually her life. Another importance of her character is as evidence of Tom’s selfishness.

Fitzgerald describes him as having “reached such an acute limited excellence at 21 that everything afterwards savours of anticlimax”, and finds an escape to his anticlimactic reality in Myrtle. She has a purpose to him; he can use her as his plaything, whether it be for distraction, carnality or an outlet for his anger. He also uses her to acquire the superiority and power he craves, “feeling the hot whips of panic” when he feels she is “slipping precipitately from his control”. Although he is shown to condemn women like Myrtle who “run around too much”, her purpose outweighs her flightiness and doesn’t stop him from their affair.

Fitzgerald does this to illustrate that he is using her for function rather than affection, which could be perceived as being symbolic of the dehumanisation of the lower class by the wealthy. The horrible end that Myrtle meets could imply what critic Roger Lewis describes as the author’s “distaste for tainting the finer emotions with anything so crass as commercialism”. [3] Through their adultery, Tom and Daisy embody the collapse of the American dream. Their marriage and their greed results in the downfall of two people they supposedly have affection for, yet they are left unscathed, unaffected and unremorseful.

Rather than attend their respective lovers’ funerals, they decide to take a vacation away. They “retreat back into their money” after they’ve “smashed up” everything back home, letting “other people clean up the mess they had made”. Their “vast carelessness” caused the tragedy and yet they appear unaffected. This loss of morality through monetary pursuit is also seen in TDABATR, in which the Washington family kept captive and then “murdered” the people who put their American dream at risk by “discover[ing] El Dorado”.