Social mobility is the primary effect of the American Dream, which itself is an idea that seems simple, but is strangely hard to define. At the root of it, is the sense of a society’s greed for success obtained by hard work, honesty, and modesty. If in fact this Dream were in the reach of anybody, then society would exist as a community where “all men are created equal” and everyone would have the opportunity of social mobility by doing the best for themselves as they could.
But the reality of American society is cruel. A once high, mighty, and pure ideal has become degraded and buried for greed for money. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby, many of the characters, believed in the Dream and that wealth and social mobility was within his or her reach. Fitzgerald illustrates three specific social classes: old money, new money, and the lower class, with old money and new money taking center stage.
Gatsby, himself, represents new money: he climbed the social and economic ladder and succeeded by way of shady dealings of bootlegging. On the other hand, Daisy Buchanan, the love of Gatsby’s life, represents old money. She received everything she has on a silver platter; she earned nothing but her inheritance. Gatsby, aware of their differences, attempts to act as though he is “old” money in order to be accepted by Daisy’s class.
By illustrating social-economic class differences through Gatsby and his desire for Daisy, Fitzgerald depicts the mistaken hype of the corrupted American Dream and the gap of economic class that will never close (Richards). In the novel we may see a clear connection between geographical location and social values, East Egg, West Egg and the Valley of Ashes demonstrate to that. These differences are evident in such characters as Jay Gatsby (West Egg), Tom and Daisy Buchanan (East Egg), George and Myrtle Wilson (the Valley of Ashes). Though they are separated only by a small expanse of water, the distinction between East Egg and West Egg symbolize the difference between the so called “old money” and “new money”, which means that East Egg represents the hereditarily nobility with appropriate sophisticated manners. The most typical representatives of this region are Daisy and Tom Buchanan. They got used to easy money and were spoiled with the surroundings, as Daisy Buchanan, for instance, was spoiled by gentlemen’s attitude to her.
West Egg is home to the newly rich, those who got rich by leaps and bounds, and Gatsby was a typical representative of those who pretended to correspond to the level of aristocratic people (“F. Scott”). As for the Valley of the Ashes, it was the region, situated between West Egg and East Egg, created by dumping of industrial ashes, where the poor lived. Among its inhabitants one may name a bright example of the poor, Myrtle and George Wilson. There the decay is mixed with absolute poverty. In Chapter II Fitzgerald gives readers an idea about how this area looks like: About half way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens… (Fitzgerald, 52). The Valley of Ashes is a place which shows the distinction between the life of the poor and the rich. The language they spoke was not as fancy as at the parties in West Egg, their way of life and needs were quite simple and not so conceited. Hence, the ways people entertained themselves and behaved were also different. It is demonstrated on the example of parties Gatsby organized. They included piano playing, “game, painting a little”, idle discussions, etc. (Fitzgerald). The parties collected the rich from East Egg and West Egg: “all well dressed, all looking a little hungry, and all talking in low, earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans.
I was sure that they were selling…bonds or insurance or automobiles. They were at least agonizingly aware of the easy money” (Fitzgerald, 41). Organizing the great parties with orchestra performing and “buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold” (Fitzgerald, 49), Jay Gatsby hoped for future but actually he lived in the past. Gatsby, who became legendary, had a definite motivation for that; it was his love for Daisy Buchanan, who married a powerful young Tom Buchanan. Gatsby managed to get remarkably rich and everything in his Gothic mansion testified to that. Everything that Jay Gatsby did seems to be thoroughly thought over including minor details such as his peculiar “elaborately formal” speech pattern which has to correspond to that of the upper class. His gorgeous self-formation makes Nick believe in his greatness but it is nothing but an illusion. Jay Gatsby’s attempts to re-create things which are already dead are condemned to failure. Being a hopeful man, Gatsby dedicated himself to winning Daisy’s heart by means of enriching through criminal business.
Daisy who was an example of perfection for him appeared to be far from ideal and wanted her life “shaped of…love, money, of unquestionable practicality” (Fitzgerald, 151). Daisy got used to luxury and incapable of loving someone from the bottom of her heart, she finally causes Gatsby’s disillusionment when he understands that “her voice is full of money” and it is the main thing that matters. Despite all the representatives of the rich including the Buchanan’s, who were scornful, preoccupied with their own business but still polite and at times flattering, they still had different ways to organize and lead parties. They all, including Daisy, are merely products of the social environment they live in. So Gatsby’s symbolic attempt to restore relations with her turned out to be unworthy. Jay Gatsby’s romantic illusions were broken against the “reefs” of money-making and money dependence. He hoped to gain respect and love of the tender lady whom he loved and desired but lived in dreams which were far from reality (Fitzgerald). Nick, the narrator, considers Tom Buchanan a typical West Egg inhabitant; he never even tries to agree to high moral standards as he sees no need in that.
Betraying his wife Daisy with Myrtle Wilson, a chubby woman of middle-thirties, he treats this Valley of Ashes’ lady merely as an object of desire and there is a certain class gap between them. Tom realizes that she has some sort of life apart from him. Though she knows, the rich think of money all the time, she chooses Tom, coming from a solid family, and tries to improve her material situation but her endeavor is in vain as he turns out to be selfish and arrogant (“Cornell”). Witnessing all these differences between Easterners and Westerners, Nick Carraway tries to escape from this emptiness of the society. Fitzgerald vividly portrays American society issues and tendencies of richness, glamour worshiping, materialistic ideas and by far the most evident issue of the American dream; decline and social class distinction resulting in a gap between the rich and the poor.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Son, 1925 “F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2011): 1. Biography Collection Complete. Web. 18 June 2012. Cornell University Library. 11 Nov. 2010. Cornell University, 11. Nov. 2010
http://reading.cornell.edu/reading_project_06/gatsby/jazz_age.htm Richards, Rebekah. “Comparing the Jazz Age to The Great Gatsby Read more at Suite101: Comparing the Jazz Age to The Great Gatsby: False Values, Materialism, and Disillusionment in Fitzgerald’s Novel.” 1. Web. 7 Dec 2010. http://www.suite101.com/content/comparing-the-jazz-age-to-the-great-gatsby-a194368.