The most important texts are those that criticise the present.
Inside F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, “The Great Gatsby,” the primary message of the text is that materialism corrupts the human soul. Set during the “Roaring Twenties,” a time of economic prosperity following the First World War, where people began to promote materialistic ideals, believing that these would aid them in the pursuit of happiness. The narrative follows the mysterious Jay Gatsby as he seeks to reclaim his old lover, Daisy Buchanan, and be accepted into the “old money” aristocracy that he yearns to be a part of. This text is extremely important because it conveys to the reader a message that is still relevant in today’s world, where we still see materialistic pursuits, in the hope that one will achieve true purpose, which is not the case.
The Valley of Ashes, Tom and Daisy’s selfishness in addition to the character of Jay Gatsby and his beliefs and desires are all implemented skillfully by Fitzgerald, to accentuate the messages of how far materialism has corrupted our society, along with the hollowness of those blessed with great wealth.
A setting used by Fitzgerald skillfully to criticise the present, is the Valley of Ashes. This desolate hellish landscape is representative of the cost of industrialization and how mainstream Western society has been overcome by the greed of materialism, in the false promise of a purposeful life. Presided over by the large billboard showing the “Eyes of Dr. TJ. Eckleberg,” that represent the ongoing judgement against humanity for their sinful acts, and desires for wealth. “Wilson’s glazed eyes turned out to the ashheaps, where small grey clouds took on fantastic shapes and scurried here and there in the faint dawn wind.” This quote shows the toll that the environment has had on George Wilson, and how a person’s spirit can be crushed devoid of all ambition, when realising the error of humanity’s ways. He also says “God sees everything.” He is alluding to his wife’s death and his imminent decision to kill Gatsby, but it also serves a greater purpose, signifying the judgement that awaits all of humanity, in the midst of this place of despair and death, showing the cost of the so-called pure American Dream. Fitzgerald uses the Valley of Ashes, to show that there is a cost to the exuberance and lavish lifestyles of those who even today seek to further themselves towards positions of power and influence, and with any form of economic prosperity there is a question of what is done with this newfound wealth.
The personalities of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, are implemented by the author ably, to criticise the present day society, and the hollowness of the upper classes. Daisy and Tom are members of the old aristocracy who live in East Egg, opposite Gatsby’s mansion which resides at West Egg. They both suffer greatly from ennui, as their abundance of wealth does not provide them with a meaningful life, and we see throughout the novel both Tom and Daisy partake in different activities, in the hopes that it will provide them with a sense of excitement. We see after Myrtle’s death that Daisy is willing to let Gatsby take the blame, even though she was the one at fault.
When Nick sees Gatsby observing Daisy and Tom through her window after the event, he describes that, “There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture, and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together.” This is particularly significant because Daisy had been telling Gatsby that she was ready to leave her husband, but in the end she is just as selfish as he is, except she doesn’t express it outwardly. She chooses the status and protection that Tom provides, that Gatsby will never obtain because of his poor background and upbringing. Fitzgerald uses the personalities of Tom and Daisy to communicate to the reader the fact that despite having all of the material wealth that one could desire, it does not mean that one’s life will be full of happiness. The Buchanans lead empty, meaningless lives devoid of purpose, that Fitzgerald uses to criticise the current elite of the world, and this serves as a warning to those who believe that monetary gain will provide a life of purpose.
When the reader is introduced to the mysterious Jay Gatsby it is made known that he is very affluent, but the source of his wealth is often disputed. The author uses this character to condemn modern society, in an interesting way. We learn that Gatsby wishes to attain the affections of his past lover Daisy Buchanan, aas she represents his path into the “old money” aristocracy of those who reside in East Egg, with her hand in marriage allowing him to attain a status that he had dreamed of since he was a dirt-poor farm boy. “It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy—it increased her value in his eyes.” This quote alludes to Gatsby’s true desire, not for Daisy herself but for the symbol of status and reverence that she provides. He also tells Nick, “You can’t repeat the past, why of course you can!” The reader is shown the true undeniability of Gatsby’s dream, and his attempts to wipe away five years, in his fantasy to gain Daisy’s affection. Daisy however, struggles to keep up with the unrealistic expectations that he has set for her, as she knows she is far from the “grail” that Gatsby envisions her to be. But because Daisy has been protected her entire life, she is incapable of expressing herself, or making any meaningful decisions. Whilst at Gatsby’s mansion early on in the narrative, she becomes overwhelmed when Gatsby displays all of his expensive shirts she breaks into tears saying, “It’s just because, I’ver never seen such beautiful shirts before.”
Fitzgerald utilises the character of Jay Gatsby, to show how a countless number of people have been working towards an American Dream that has been corrupted through the disease of materialism. Gatsby missed out on many years of his life, because he was so driven towards one singular goal. During Chapter 8 Nick speculates about Gatsby’s death, “He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.” The reader is shown that we as a society have become consumed by the idea of gaining wealth, and we forget that this is not the path to happiness. Fitzgerald also shows us that people are not always who we imagine them to be, and perspectives can vary from person to person.
“The Great Gatsby,’ written in 1925 by the well-received F. Scott Fitzgerlad, is a text of great importance, as it has an integral role in criticising the present. The Valley of Ashes, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, along with Jay Gatsby all contain significant messages to Fitzgerald’s audience, which still endures today. They convey the price that comes with materialism and over-industrialization, the hollowness of the upper classes who condemn themselves to a state of ennui, as well as the lengths that people are willing to go to in pursuit of immoral goals, often what cannot be obtained. We are also shown that people are not necessarily who we want them to be, and the importance of perspective. Fitzgerald uses a wide range of literary devices to relay to his reader the idea that our society has become distorted, and that the American Dream will never be the same again. He criticises a society that he himself was a part of, encouraging people to realise that a life determined by monetary value, is not a life worth living.