2021 Paper, Q8 - Texts that offer an insightful view of the world are worth the reader’s time.
Materialism is merely another term for consequential greed. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s morality tale, ‘The Great Gatsby’, is a text which offers an insightful exploration of this idea. It implores that the reader considers the theme’s worth to themselves and their own lives. Something which is especially relevant in a modern context with an ever-growing materialistic society. Such reflections make it a novel that has stood the test of time, thus it is well worth the time of any reader who chooses to turn its pages.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his magnum opus during the 1920s, a decade famed for being the ‘Roaring Twenties’ or the ‘Jazz Age’. This was a period of great economic prosperity and extravagance in which the upper classes indulged themselves in opulent properties and services. People strongly believed in the ‘American Dream’ - bettering their lives and achieving their own version of success. Fitzgerald believed such success had been corrupted, and it was his intention to highlight the corruption in this text.
The dust motif is one that offers great insight into the consequences of greed. Dust, (and ash), in the case of ‘The Great Gatsby’, are representative of the settled nature of the places it covers, and the destruction of the dreams of the common man. It is linked to the concepts of loose, waste and despair. This can be reflected through the quote, ‘…what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams…’ This is in reference to Jay Gatsby, (main protagonist and dreamer), who has a version of the American Dream to be wealthy and accepted into Old Aristocracy. The mention of the dust motif reflects his dream’s hopelessness. He believed in a flawed dream which could only result in destruction. Fitzgerald does this to reflect the flawed nature of the American Dream. The dream that had begun as a dream of fulfilment and success had been corrupted by desires of greed and materialism. Through the motif, he encourages his audience to reflect on their thoughts on the American Dream, and see that it is not all that it has been made out to be. Therefore it is worth the reader’s time for they are implored to see the corruption of an idealistic dream. A dream designed to better their futures had crashed and burned and all that remained was the dust and ash left behind.
The Valley of Ashes is an important setting that Fitzgerald uses to offer an insightful view of the world. The setting depicts that of a barren wasteland described as, ‘…a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens…’ This provides imagery of a desolate location where nothing grows and holds an air of hopelessness. Fitzgerald does this to show the remains of human industrialisation, what remains when human greed becomes insurmountable. Those who dwell in the Valley of Ashes are those without hope, those whose dreams have died. Fitzgerald’s use of this setting makes the reader question their own materialistic tendencies. Do they really care for the consequences of their buying power? Fitzgerald makes the insightful suggestion that perhaps they do not and that they should.
This is further highlighted by the character of Nick Carroway (narrator of the novel), when he speaks of the Valley of Ashes. ‘When I passed the asheaps on the train that morning, I had crossed deliberately to the other side of the car.’ This quote highlights the disgust that the wealthy feel for the Valley of Ashes. It is important to note that the ash motif is referenced here. Ash, much like dust, is symbolic of hopelessness and the destruction of dreams. What Fitzgerald tries to show through this is that the Valley of Ashes is that place which humanity chooses to ignore. That is to say, the cost that comes as a result of greed and materialism is often ignored for it is not glamorous. It doesn’t buy people pretty things, it is quite the opposite. It is the environmental and personal cost that people rarely think of when shopping for mass produced items. Fitzgerald implores his readers to take note of this ugly side. That they realise that things do not simply show up, there is a cost to everything, particularly greed.
Another motif which highlights the immorality of greed and materialism that Fitzgerald is trying to portray is the Eyes of Doctor T.J Eckleburg. Fitzgerald makes a point throughout the novel that symbols only have meaning because characters give it to them. The eyes are given their meaning largely by George Wilson, (a mechanic who live in the Valley of Ashes and experiences first hand the cost of greed). ‘But above the grey land and the spasams of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you persieve after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg.’ The eyes, (to Wilson), are symbolic of God’s eyes looking down on the moral wasteland that is America. America will be judged because of how it has destroyed the dreams of people and the natural world. Fitzgerald uses Wilson’s conclusion to make the point that the American dream has been corrupted by their greed for more. This greed and materialism has resulted in places like the Valley of Ashes, where destruction is evident and hopelessness is felt. Fitzgerald again implores that his readers look at themselves, their greed, and their actions. Is it hurting them? Is it hurting the environment? If yes, then they must change.
Overall I strongly agree with the statement ‘texts that offer an insightful view of the world are worth the readers time’. Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ offers an insightful view into the way that materialism and greed have corrupted teh American dream and what has been left behind in its wake. He implores his readers to change their ways to reduce their environmental cost and he teaches them something that is invaluable to both a 1920s audience and a modern day world.