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Autor: anton • May 16, 2011 • 2,316 Words (10 Pages) • 432 Views
"'Her voice is full of money,' [Gatsby] said suddenly. That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money- that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it...High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl" (127). This jarring reference to the intoxicating allure Daisy Buchanan holds over Jay Gatsby is the essence of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Gatsby, throughout the novel, is utterly infatuated with Daisy in an extravagant, idealistic, and narcissistic fashion. Gatsby's former lover from his days as a military officer in Kentucky, Daisy - radiant with glamour, prestige, dignity, sophistication, social grace, and all the blessings bestowed by the gods of wealth - has since married the effete, aristocratic Tom Buchanan. Gatsby, a diligent and resourceful man and one of literature's great Platonic dreamers, literally creates a new identity for himself in hopes of achieving the intrepid and impractical goal of retrieving his long-lost love. What at first appears to be genuine romantic love one would expect to find in 19th century romanticism is actually a thinly veiled form of materialistic lust. While Gatsby professes to adore Daisy, this is because Gatsby's fantastic worldview has objectified Daisy into a consumer product to be acquired through his own accumulation of wealth: what Gatsby holds so dear is not Daisy's frightful personality, but rather her wealth and luxurious lifestyle. Fitzgerald aptly laces profound socioeconomic arguments into the novel by exploring contemporary themes, including materialism, class stratification, changing morality, the hopelessness of "the lost generation" and, above all, the ultimate unraveling of the American Dream and its ideal of economic mobility. Gatsby instills Daisy with a kind of idealized perfection that she neither deserves nor possesses. Gatsby's dream is ruined by the unworthiness of its object, just as the American Dream in the 1920s is ruined by the unworthiness of its object - money and pleasure. Fitzgerald uses the moral contrast between Gatsby's meretricious materialistic instincts and his diligent idealism to lucidly illustrate how materialism and the unrestrained pursuit of wealth lead to the unraveling of the traditional American Dream.
Gatsby is at heart an idealist, and yet throughout the novel his actions and emotions are driven by meretricious impulses. From the reader's first introduction to Gatsby, his persona - at once gaudy, ostentatious, charismatic and irreverent - reeks of his nouveau riche status. One scene describing the usual Saturday night parties at his garish West Egg estate is especially telling:
"At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d'oeuvres, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold." (39)
The sheer material excess of Gatsby's opulent parties should be enough to dull the morals and egalitarian instincts of any reader. Gatsby's parties are the scenes of such prolonged drunkenness and debauchery that they reach the level of a materialistic escapism stemming from the revelers' decayed moral values and lack of nobler goals. Morality or the absence thereof is an important theme in The Great Gatsby. Indeed, that the book is devoid of any reference to organized religion suggests that even established religions, the ancient standard-bearers of traditional morality, have been replaced by something more sinister and capricious. As the novel's opening scene indicates, materialism is the incumbent deity of the jubilant 1920s:
"This is a valley of ashes - 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 powder air...Immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure observations from your sight. But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg." (20)
In this scene the reader is given a very brief glimpse into the dank underbelly of an America dominated by a brazen bourgeoisie, epitomized in the characters of Gatsby and Jordan Baker, as well as the more aristocratic Tom and Daisy Buchanan. This scene not only demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of an upper class whose values have corroded away due to the uninhibited pursuit of wealth and capricious materialism; it also reminds the reader of those unfortunate proletarians who represent the losers of a Social Darwinist economic order, the tragic victims of an era that seemed to reverse many of the monumental gains of the Progressive period, such as unionization, progressive tax structures, a stable currency, and urban reforms that had just begun to lessen social and economic ills. Extraordinary pity for the plight of these "ash-gray men" is evoked in this scene, as the hideous eyes of T.J. Eckleburg seem to taunt the indigent masses for their lack of material wealth. Whereas the forces of materialism ruthlessly oppress the working class, the wealthy Gatsby harnesses materialism as a means to meet his idealistic ends. Although it is demonstrably impossible for Gatsby to rekindle his relationship with a now-married Daisy, Gatsby is a relentless dreamer who musters all of his skill to win Daisy over with romantic gestures, lavish parties, and spectacular wealth. One of Gatsby's most intriguing qualities is his ability to, in a very Emersonian fashion, transcend reality and adhere to his alternate persona. "The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God - a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that - and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty" (99). Fitzgerald demonstrates that while Gatsby is in spirit a lovesick, naÐ¿ve young man, his reinvented self has caused great harm to others. Especially pertinent is the scene in which Gatsby shamelessly fraternizes with Meyer Wolfsheim, a corrupt gangster who helped fix the 1919 World Series. Nick is naturally shocked by this abhorrent marriage of convenience:
"The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World's Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely