Characters who criticize society are those that teach us the most.
F Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus ‘The Great Gatsby,’ was first published in 1925, during the height of the Jazz Age. Portraying the dangers of materialism, along with the hollowness of the upper classes, Fitzgerald’s work was set during the “Roaring Twenties,” a period of economic prosperity following the conclusion of the First World War, where materialistic ideals began to fester and grow, with the idea that a life of purpose could be obtained through status and expensive belongings. The reader is introduced to the mysterious Jay Gatsby, a man of unknown origin, and his attempts to reclaim the affection of a former lover, Daisy Buchanan, a member of the social elite that Gatsby yearns to become a part of. This novel remains extremely relevant in today’s world, where we see that these consumerist ideals are more prominent than ever, and people are still constantly searching for meaning, in all the wrong places.
Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby himself are all vitally important characters from within the novel, and Fitzgerald utilizes them to teach the reader integral lessons about how materialistic greed has corrupted the once pure American Dream, along with the emptiness that coincides with the so-called “blessing” of everlasting wealth.
Daisy Buchanan, is a character skillfully utilized by the author, to criticize society and educate the reader about the apathy and cruelty of the upper classes. Residing with her husband over on East Egg with the “old rich” aristocracy, Daisy is blessed with all the wealth that she could ever desire. Despite this, she is in a constant search of purpose and meaning to her life, as both her and Tom struggle to exist in a world that they have been elevated above. Whilst speaking to Nick early on in the narrative, Daisy tells her cousin “I’ve been everywhere, done everything and seen everything.” Followed by, “Do you ever wait for the longest day of the year and miss it?” Daisy leads an empty life, and she wanders from day to day searching for anything that might excite her, only to fall short. This is what befalls those who are inherently rich, as they discover that a life of material comforts, fails to equate to one of meaning. However she still seeks to maintain her life and desirable status as the “golden girl,” and the reader sees her true colors when she decides to stay with Tom, and eventually, leave New York with Tom also. She would never consider leaving her husband for Gatsby, and Fitzgerald shows that despite Gatsby possibly being the man she preferred, she would never give up her life and status, and the security that Tom’s wealth and presence as a high-ranking socialite from a family of stature, offers.
We see after Myrtle’s death, whilst observing Daisy and Tom, Nick suggests “There was a natural air of intimacy about the picture, and anybody could have said that they were conspiring together.” This just shows the carelessness and disregard that Daisy, alongside her husband, have for those who they deem to be of less worth than themselves, because of their social status. Fitzgerald uses the character of Daisy, to highlight many similarities to his former lover the wealthy heiress Ginevra King, but also the countless people that we see today, that believe that their wealth makes them better, but only discovering all too late that it really is a lack of wealth, that leads to a life truly worth living.
Tom Buchanan, a manly figure who resides alongside his wife in East Egg, New York, is created by Fitzgerald to criticize society and teach his reader significant lessons in a similar, but not identical manner to Daisy herself. Like Daisy, Tom too suffers from the everlasting ennui that corresponds with his vast and undeniable wealth, but he struggles to come to terms with this, and is actively searching for ways to remain relevant as he struggles to grow out of the “polo player,” reputation that he earned himself through his college years where he achieved much recognition. He does this through his affairs with many women, shown through his absence when his wife was giving birth, and more recently through his attempts to convey his racial superiority. Early on in the novel, we see Tom try to convince Daisy, Nick and Jordan about their pure “Nordic” heritage, after reading “The Rise of the Coloured Empires,” a book written by a man named Goddard. Tom claims that the book is “All scientifically proven,” but in reality this is just his latest method to try and prove to himself that he really is better than all those around him and below him, but in reality this audience he is speaking to, isn’t really there. He is trying to convince himself. Nick writes “Something was making him nibble at the edge of his stale ideas, as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.” This highlights Tom’s restlessness, as he continues to search for a point of difference that continues to elude him. Fitzgerald implements Buchanan with poise in the text, to show just how misguided and lost people can become, when corrupted by the disease of materialism. Similar to Tom, many in today’s society struggle to exist with their immense wealth and status, and often search for new ventures to provide themselves with a meaning to exist, and Fizgerald uses the character as a warning to anybody who previously held the belief that material acclimation, was the key to happiness.
A third character of paramount significance that Fitzgerald uses abtly in “The Great Gatsby” to criticize society and convey important messages, is Jay Gatsby himself. Originally from a poor farming family, Gatsby leaves home at the age of seventeen and remakes himself, creating the illusion that he is a man of poise and eloquence, and attracting the eye of Daisy Buchanan. However, after returning from war only to discover that Daisy is now married, Gatsby accumulates a great deal of wealth through illicit means in a short period of time, buying a mansion across the bay in West Egg with the newly rich, and throwing magnificent parties hoping to recapture his past fling with Daisy. Gatsby serves as a prominent figure, who demonstrates the deterioration of the American Dream, along with proving that other people are not always who we envision them to be. The reason that Gatsby is so infatuated with Daisy, is not because of the person she is, but the wealth and status that she represents, his ticket to elysium. This is reinforced when he tells Nick that “She’s got an indiscreet voice, it’s full of money.” Nick reflects, stating “It excited him too, that many men had already loved Daisy, it increased her value in his eyes.” Gatsby fails to comprehend that Daisy is in fact not an object, but a person who has her own internal thoughts and feelings. She is aware that she cannot live up to his unrealistic expectations.
But because Gatsby has focused on her for so long, he has failed to realize and take notice of what truly matters in life. After Gatsby’s death Nick speculates, “He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky though frightening leaves, and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose was.” This quote is used to great effect by Fitzgerald, and shows that Gatsby has failed to appreciate so much, and paid the price for his singular dream. The author uses Jay Gatsby to provide an example of how captivated humanity has become by the American Dream, when in reality it has been tainted beyond measure. Today’s world has changed very little in this sense, from the Jazz Age, if not deteriorated as humanity has become so determined to set themselves above one another in terms of wealth and capitalistic ideals, that we have lost focus on what life is truly about, and that is meaningful connections and purpose found through helping others.
Throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterful Jazz age novel “The Great Gatsby,” the author uses the characters of Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby to criticize the society that despite the hundred year progression since the 1925 release, has in many ways changed very little. We still see disharmony and the widely promoted and celebrated idea that happiness and contempt can be found only through becoming wealthy, and having “more” than what you had yesterday. In forms of media, we are constantly exposed to promotions, products that are said to make us feel “good,” until the time comes when only the latest upgrade will provide that same short-lived feeling of achievement. While those who sit at the top of the social pyramid, looking down on the world with their vast riches and status, live empty lives devoid of purpose. But like Gatsby, we are also captivated by the green light, the promised future that continues to elude us no matter how far we might reach, sitting just out of grasp. But the sooner humanity decides to look around, instead of reaching out, we will start to make real progress, towards healing a broken world.