Question: “The most important texts are those that criticise the present.”
Society today is similar to the past in many ways. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, ‘The Great Gatsby’s’ discusses many different aspects of society, how the rich are treated compared to the poor, the inequality between the aristocracy. In doing so, Fitzgerald unknowingly criticises the present, sadly society hasn’t changed much in almost 100 years. As well as criticising his present, the time he was writing the novel (1924). Through the use of setting and themes is how Fitzgerald does this.
“The desire to gain wealth and fear to lose it are the chief breeders of cowardice and propagators of corruption.” - William James. This relates to the novel because many of the characters are determined to become rich, or they already are rich and they are corrupted. Such as Gatsby (a wealthy young man who creates a new identity for himself and lives in the new money society) who dedicates his life to becoming rich after being born into a poor, pitying life. Daisy and Tom Buchanan (a wealthy young couple who are restless and in the old money society) are also corrupted due to their wealth and social status. An example of this is how they married each other just because they are both in the old money society, not because they love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together because it is quite the opposite.
The Valley Of Ashes is a great example of a place in the novel that criticises the present because it is full of corruption, destruction, poverty, moral decay and the inability to obtain the American Dream. In the novel, The Valley Of Ashes is described as “… a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” Fitzgerald uses imagery to make the readers visualize the extreme destruction of the so-called Valley Of Ashes. Because of the greed for materialistic things and money from the rich, leaving the poor to live among the wrecks of their dreams. The Valley Of Ashes is a dumping ground between the Eggs and New York, a metaphorical purgatory or limbo where time has no meaning and despair is the only currency. The dreams are left as ashes. The Valley of Ashes symbolizes what is left of peoples dreams, this criticises today’s society because we too dream about things, and often are greedy for money and material things, even at the expense of others. Just like the people forced to live in the Valley Of Ashes. Fitzgerald does this to relate to the society of the 1920s and show the destruction and the internal selfishness of the wealthy, and by doing this Fitzgerald also criticises how we do things in the present.
East Egg and West Egg represent toxic societies where most live boring, restless lives. Both places are populated with wealthy people but their differences lie between their heritage and background. Fitzgerald uses symbolism to discuss the importance of these settings. East Egg symbolises “old money” society, which is where those who were born into wealth and come from a background of rich people live, inheriting their money from their family. Whereas West Egg, which is symbolic of “new money” society, is where the people who have established their wealth independently live. “Across the courtesy bay, the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water.” This discusses how East Egg looks elegant and almost perfect for those who are on the outside looking in. Nick describes West Egg as “… the well less fashionable of two though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them.” This shows that although those living in West Egg are rich, they do not have the same sophistication and social connections as those in East Egg do. West Egg in the eyes of society is inferior. Fitzgerald is unintentionally criticising how society views those who are ‘elite’. Society puts people on pedestals when they are famous, which makes people question if their wealth determines their worth. People should be treated equally, but just like in the novel, everyone is treated differently, typically due to their social class and status.
Another way that ‘The Great Gatsby’ criticises the present is the way Gatsby portrays himself to other people. When Gatsby was a young man he made up this persona for himself when he was a seventeen-year-old, one that wasn’t like his true self at all. He does this because he wants to fit in with the old money society. Dialogue is used to describe Gatsby’s way of portraying himself “The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his platonic conception of himself… he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that any seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception, he was faithful to the end.” Gatsby never gave up on this, Nick indirectly relates Gatsby’s persona to Jesus Christ.
Gatsby’s creation of his persona criticises today because there are many people who unintentionally create a fake version of themselves, most often seen on social media, or in everyday lives changing who they are to fit in. Models and everyday teenagers create fake images of themselves online where they can be viewed as ‘perfect’ and ‘goals’ when in reality they edit and photoshop their photos. Creating fake versions of yourself doesn’t have a positive effect on anyone. Fitzgerald’s portrayal of Gatsby reflects society in many ways, doing this makes the readers able to relate to Gatsby more and understand why he creates a ‘better version of himself to fit in because society thinks he needs to act a certain way to fit into his class and wealth.
The Plaza Hotel is another setting in the novel that is symbolic of appearance vs reality, which can be related to today and today’s society. The Plaza Hotel is a place known for being for the rich and famous, so when Tom invites Gatsby and friends to the Hotel it is clear immediately that Gatsby is uncomfortable. This is because Gatsby is not part of the old money society, whereas Tom and Daisy are. Symbolism is shown to relate to Gatsby to the rest of the characters in the novel, the symbol being appearance vs reality. Gatsby pretends to be part of the old money society but finds himself distressed in the place that is the epitome of olf money decadence. The Plaza Hotel is where the climax of the novel occurs, where Daisy is forced to choose between Tom or Gatsby. This leads Tom to say “… I suppose the latest thing is to let Mr Nobody from nowhere make love to your wife.” Tom talks about Gatsby in this way because he believes that he is inferior because he is not a part of the same class (old money) as him. This criticises today’s society because it shows the hypocrisy of the so-called upper class, people like Tom and Daisy believe they are more important, because of their wealth, though they add little to nothing to society. Fitzgerald shows the readers how the upper-class views themselves and where they are ‘ranked’ in society and their class.
In conclusion, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ criticises society today as well as the present society when the novel was written, which is what makes the text important, teaching the readers about appearance vs reality, the hypocrisy of the elite, materialism and death of dreams. As well as the Valley Of Ashes, East Egg and West Egg and the Plaza Hotel representing Fitzgerald’s message.