Social Aspirations in The Great Gatsby: A Character Analysis


In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the intricate web of social standings permeates the minds of East and West Eggers. Their preoccupations revolve around wealth, appearances, and their position in the social hierarchy. While some characters harbor disdain for one another based on these factors, others, like Myrtle Wilson, aspire to transcend their social class barriers. Fitzgerald, through meticulous diction and rich detail, portrays Myrtle as a low-class dreamer yearning for acceptance from the affluent social circle of her boyfriend Tom Buchanan.

Simultaneously, Tom is depicted as a self-absorbed, affluent aristocrat driven by a relentless pursuit of power.

Tom Buchanan: The Pursuit of Dominance

Tom Buchanan embodies the archetype of the wealthy, self-absorbed socialite whose primary life goal is to achieve complete and ultimate superiority. His pursuit of dominance is manifested through the accumulation of wealth, material possessions, and control over every facet of his life and those around him. This quest for power is prominently displayed in his extramarital affairs, particularly with Myrtle Wilson.

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Despite superficial gifts like a flask of perfume, a moving picture magazine, and a dog, Tom's intentions are clear—he views Myrtle as a possession, a means to fulfill his desires. These gifts serve not as genuine expressions of care but as tools to maintain control. Tom's need for dominance is further underscored when Nick attempts to leave during their New York encounter. Instead of inquiring about Nick's departure, Tom dictates that he is not going anywhere—a clear demonstration of his authority and control over people in his life.

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Tom Buchanan's character epitomizes the dark underbelly of the Roaring Twenties, where wealth and privilege often mask the moral bankruptcy and the unbridled pursuit of power.

Myrtle Wilson: The Illusion of Ascent

Myrtle Wilson, a flapper from the lower class, harbors an all-encompassing desire—to ascend the social hierarchy and join the elite class. Her attempts are centered around imitating the appearances and characteristics of the upper echelons of society, particularly through her involvement with Tom Buchanan. Myrtle's yearning for acceptance is evident in her various actions and choices.

One instance is when Myrtle changes into a brown figured muslin, a fabric known for its cheap, sheet-like quality. Muslins are designed to appear better than they truly are, reflecting Myrtle's attempt to disguise herself as belonging to a higher social status. Her purchase of a small flask of perfume serves a similar purpose, masking her lower-class identity with the facade of luxury. Even the meticulous selection of a lavender-colored cab signifies a performative act of high maintenance—an attempt to emulate the behaviors associated with the aristocracy.

Despite Myrtle's elaborate efforts to climb the social ladder, Fitzgerald underscores the futility of her endeavors. Her transparent falseness and desperate mimicry ultimately expose her as an outsider, preventing her from genuine acceptance into the elite class she so desperately seeks.

The Inevitability of True Identity

Ultimately, despite Myrtle's relentless efforts to adopt the trappings of a higher social status, her inherently fake persona ensures she will never attain genuine acceptance. Fitzgerald's exploration of these characters' desires and characteristics serves a larger purpose—to convey the impossibility of altering one's true identity. No matter how convincing the act, pretending to be something one is not cannot fundamentally change who they are.

By juxtaposing the contrasting trajectories of Tom and Myrtle, Fitzgerald invites readers to contemplate the consequences of societal aspirations in the Jazz Age. The characters' struggles and the inevitable exposure of their true selves serve as cautionary tales, highlighting the enduring truth that authenticity prevails over superficiality.


In conclusion, The Great Gatsby masterfully unravels the intricacies of social aspirations through the characters of Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson. Tom's relentless pursuit of dominance and Myrtle's illusory attempts to rise above her station underscore the pervasive influence of social standings in the roaring twenties. Fitzgerald's narrative artistry lays bare the consequences of such aspirations, illustrating that true identity cannot be obscured by pretense. As the characters navigate the complexities of wealth, appearances, and social hierarchy, their stories serve as a timeless exploration of the human condition and the enduring struggle between authenticity and societal expectations.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Social Aspirations in The Great Gatsby: A Character Analysis. (2016, Jul 05). Retrieved from

Social Aspirations in The Great Gatsby: A Character Analysis essay
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