‘A morally bankrupt and frivolous society’-how is this sentiment explored in The Great Gatsby?
Scott F. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is set in 1920s America, after the First World War, and it was a period when the economy boomed, and was an easy time for people to make vast amounts of money. The Great Gatsby describes the luxury that both the Buchanans and Gatsby himself are surrounded by as the result of their good fortune-but has their wealth corrupted them? Does Fitzgerald condemn the lifestyles of the upper class and if so, how?
When Nick Carraway, the narrator, visits his cousin, Daisy, in the fashionable East Egg, he is struck by the ‘high hallway’ and the ‘bright, rosy-coloured space, fragilely bound into the room by French windows,’ which are blatant references to the Buchanan’s wealth and status. The ‘breeze blowing’ is ‘twisting (the curtains)…towards…the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-coloured rug’ implying that the room itself is fragile and insubstantial, as the wind makes ‘a shadow’ on the rug ‘as the wind does on the sea,’ the plosive alliteration of the ‘b’ is conveying the wind’s energy and movement through the room. A similar technique is used when Daisy and Jordan are ‘buoyed up as though upon a anchored balloon,’ almost as if they were confined to the ‘stationary couch’ and bobbing up and down. This objectifies the women, because their actions and appearances are described in great detail (‘they were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering’) but there is no reference to any emotional attachment to either of them. The inference is, therefore, that the women are part of the setting, like a tableau, to showcase the wealth of Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan, but are otherwise of no real consequence.
The Valley of the Ashes is a long, ‘desolate area of land’ between West Egg and New York City, where Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson, lives with her husband, George, Tom’s mechanic. The element of fantasy (‘fantastic farm’) emphasises that the dire poverty and dirt are beyond belief, especially in contrast to the luxury of East Egg. The growths of the ashes ‘like wheat’ implies that the ashes are a product of the toils of the lower class, and that they are an unshakeable part of the landscape, encroaching, like weeds, into the ‘ridges and hills and grotesque gardens,’ the negative exaggeration a representation of the vast area of land at the mercy of this utter devastation. The fact that the ashes ‘take form…of ash-grey men’ symbolises the plight of the men in the valley as they have lost their vitality. George is a prime representation of this. Being ‘blond…anaemic and faintly handsome,’ implies that he has once been appealing but the ashes have reduced him to somebody melancholy and pale. This landscape is barren, as though left bereft and abandoned by God, and now the only eyes watching over it are the eyes of Dr T.J. Eckleburg, which ‘look out of no face,’ judgemental and cruel, are ‘blue and gigantic…one yard high,’ and framed by ‘a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.’ The sight of a pair of glasses is familiar, but the absence of something for the glasses to rest on (namely a nose) and the overwhelming size of the eyes themselves are unfamiliar, eerie and somewhat grotesque. Overall, the valley represents the moral and social decay that results from an uninhibited pursuit of wealth, as the rich indulge themselves with regard for nothing but their own pleasure.
Nick Carraway is often a mere spectator to Gatsby’s lavish parties, and observes them with incredulity, jealousy, but at the same time with slight admiration. The ‘tower,’ the ‘raft,’ the ‘Rolls Royce’ becoming an ‘omnibus’ are all examples of Gatsby’s extreme wealth, and the way in which he showcases it to the hundreds of people who come, uninvited, to his house every night. The people themselves are described as ‘moths,’ which are often