Scott F. Fitzgerald reveals certain questions of America’s biggest morality concerns during the nineteen-twenties in his novel The Great Gatsby. This moral war of society embraces the feelings of greed, materialism, and selfishness. Each is represented by the characters as The Great Gatsby tells the story of a man who is blinded by love, realizes change is imminent, and ultimately comes to terms with his past.
Gatsby, like any character, has many flaws. The one characteristic that leads him to fail is materialism.
‘…Gatsby acquires wealth, not for his own sake but to fuel his exalted notion of life’s possibilities” (Dickstein, Morris. “On The Great Gatsby” ) The want, the need for luxuries that take place, or fills, the hole in his heart that Daisy has left him with. He spends his time throwing huge, lavish parties – hoping to catch Daisy’s attention. Gatsby flaunts his wealth and his popularity, although coincidentally his popularity solely exists because of his parties and wealth.
His true identity is a mystery to most.
Everything about Gatsby screams materialism. His car is expensive and unnecessary, it is a trophy to him. “…such a car is exactly what might fashion if he were third-rate, specifically because he has plagiarized from the common American dream; because he has seen no need for originality…” (Green, Amy M. “The Critical Reception of The Great Gatsby” ) Gatsby is the epitome of the American man, the superficial American man in the nineteen-twenties. Ultimately, his want for trinkets, notoriety, and wealth leaves him with nothing, ironically.
Gatsby is convinced that money can conquer, or win, love, and he is wrong. Although Daisy falls for his materialistic bait, she is not willing to make a decision. Going back and forth between her husband and Gatsby, she puts her own selfish needs in front of both men she is hurting.
One aspect of morality that Fitzgerald has perfectly captured about America’s society that usually goes along with materialism is a narcissistic view on oneself and their worth. Gatsby believes his status, or his class, places him in a higher part of society that immediately deems him more worthy than he was before he came into wealth and success. ‘He had let her believe that he was a person from much of the same strata as herself – that he was able to fully take care of her’ (Fitzgerald 156). This concept he has created for himself is an attempt to gain Daisy’s affection and loves once more. However, he fails in doing so. “He falls victim to his own preaching. He comes to believe himself omniscient – above the restrictions of society and morality” (Pearson, Roger L. “Gatsby: False Prophet of the American Dream” ) Gatsby feels entitled in a way when he is just like every other man.
In The Great Gatsby, the American dream is shown through Gatsby’s foolish ambitions. He uses wealth and status to get where he wants to be, to grow “closer” to others, all a part of his goal to conquer love – to have Daisy again. “…Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggle of the poor” (Fitzgerald 157). Gatsby knows he and Daisy come from opposite backgrounds, the two types of backgrounds in America. Gatsby represents the poor and struggling, while Daily represents the rich and proud. He knows that Daisy could never accept any lifestyle short of lavish, and so he works his whole life to prove he fits in with her society, which would eventually become an attempt to prove himself, or his worth to her.
Gatsby’s huge, lavish parties, expensive car and house, and success is an attempt to gain acceptance. Acceptance from society and acceptance from Daisy. Ironically, he fails to establish any real relationships, as they are all based on materialism. “The minister glanced several times at his watch, so I took him aside and asked him to wait for half an hour. But it wasn’t any use. Nobody came” (Fitzgerald 165). Once Gatsby has passed, it is evident that his wealth and status cannot buy him love, friends, or happiness.
Another veil of morality that is uncovered in The Great Gatsby is greed. The Buchanans – Tom and Daisy, represent greed and selfishness throughout the novel as they use materialistic goals for fulfillment in life. Tom is a great depiction of the average American man with blinded standards of the higher class, wealth, lavish lifestyles, and success. “For Buchanan, ‘the idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged’, a statement whose characteristics use of the dash emphasizes the anxiety that underwrites the American nativism in the 1920s” (Will, Barbara. “The Great Gatsby and the Obscene Word” ) Along with the idea that the upper class is the best class, or fittest, white superiority is also a characteristic of the American man in the 1920s. “It’s up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things” (Fitzgerald 17). Tom is small-minded and ignorant, like most of society during this era.
Tom strives to assert his dominance in every situation, with little to no sympathy for others. His wife, his mistress, and his friends are made aware of the man’s standard position of power in a normal home during the nineteen-twenties. He is having an affair on Daisy and plays with the hearts of both his mistress and wife for his own personal interests. ‘Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand’ (Fitzgerald 41). While enjoying company with some friends and his mistress, Tom broke out in a fit of anger when she had mentioned his wife’s name. An obvious sign of guilt, however not enough to see the lack in morality he possesses.
Daisy, ironically, is the most perfect fit for Tom. They share qualities of greed, selfishness, materialism, narcissism, etc. Daisy manipulates people in order to get what she wants, which most of the time is sympathy in order to relax her consciousness and make her feel alike with others. In reality, she possesses little of what most people generally acquire over time – morals and values of normal standards. ‘The instant her voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention…I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a contributory emotion from me’ (Fitzgerald 22). Daisy’s selfishness and sense of materialism are most present once Gatsby reenters her life, and she is able to accept him because of his newfound status and wealth.
Daisy, like Tom, is careless with people’s emotions. She claims to love both her husband and Gatsby, but will not choose one. “Daisy floats through the lives of both men, linked to Tom by bonds of money and class, but also to Gatsby by the hopes that he has projected on her, colossal illusions to which she could never measure up” (Dickstein, Morris. “On The Great Gatsby” ) She is never going to be able to fulfill the standards he expects of her, love him the way he loves her. She has always been rich and comfortable, and he has always been struggling. ‘Daisy, a rather spoiled and cheapened figure, is Gatsby’s ultimate goal in his concept of the American dream’ (Pearson, Roger L. “Gatsby: False Prophet of the American Dream” ) She lives without regret and compassion, only striving to meet her needs and always putting herself above others.
Gatsby is incredibly blind and naïve out of love. He lives and breathes for Daisy – someone who wouldn’t look back twice after leaving him. He sacrifices and makes her his one priority and she knows it. The biggest reveal of morality – or therefore, lack of – in Fitzgerald’s novel is murder. Once Daisy is fully aware of Tom’s actions, his mistress, she hits her with a car – Gatsby’s car. With him in the passenger seat. ”Was Daisy driving?’, ‘Yes’, he said after a minute. ‘But of course, I’ll say I was” (Fitzgerald 151). Once again, an example of how much Gatsby would sacrifice for Daisy, with nothing given in return. It isn’t until the very end of the novel where Daisy realizes at least some of the damage she is causing. ‘She hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and it was as though she realized at last what she was doing – and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all’ (Fitzgerald 147). She has broken not one, but two hearts.
The Great Gatsby questions American values, as well as human morality. It represents the worst in all of us, some characteristics that we all may possess and show at some points in our life, whether in a big way or a small way. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or vast carelessness” (Fitzgerald 188). Gatsby, although guilty of lacking in certain values, is left broken. The others, unaffected and unbothered. With the death of him dies the foolish dreams that so many Americans chased in the twenties.