The Theme of Materialism in The Great Gatsby, a Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . (9.146)”. This quote describes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s disgust towards money and his philosophy, being evidently implemented into the story. In fact, The Great Gatsby’s central theme tells us that materialism is the main source of moral downfall, distorted reality, and the society’s plutomania. Fitzgerald reveals it by illustrating the weak moral code, the distorted reality, and the plutomaniac nature of human beings that money elaborates on.
Fitzgerald’s characterization of Daisy and Tom Buchanan as a couple who represent moral decline shows us the consequences of the selfishness that materialism perpetuates. Daisy is portrayed as a materialistic, ignorant, and somewhat selfish human being, aiming to satisfy her mercantile desires by concentrating on the external pleasures. Similarly, Tom is portrayed as unfaithful, discourteous, and self-interested, fully complementing the Daisy’s unscrupulous personality. The first evocative example of their moral decay occurs when the couple decides to marry each other: “He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Seelbach Hotel and the day before the wedding he gave her a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars” (4.135). We clearly see that this marriage indicates no spiritual and moral value; instead, this relationship can be defined as a marriage of convenience and demonstrative wealth. Their toxic union is crucial to both of them, since it bestows their old money status and bring a distorted sense of stability into their lives. Daisy is in love with an idea of having access to Tom’s wealth and high social status, while Tom has no willingness to make this marriage better. Fitzgerald underlines and evidently shows us that money, along with external pleasures and materialistic values, only decays everyone to the core by ruining the morality inside the people’s souls. Indeed, a second example of the Buchanan family’s morality resignation is vividly shown after the protagonist, Jay Gatsby, dies: ”I called up Daisy half an hour after we found him, called her instinctively and without hesitation. But she and Tom had gone away early that afternoon, and taken baggage with them.”. Even though Tom and Daisy were clearly portrayed as unbounded with moral standards throughout the story, their abominable essence, along with “vast carelessness” is finally revealed. Fitzgerald, in his special manner, implements his attitudes towards money into one of the central themes … that elitism and inherited privilege sets wealthy people “above the human beings” in their mindset, resulting in a distorted reality and strong mercantilism.
A mercantile individual, who concentrates on money, will be deceived, for he has made a mistake, perceiving the reality through broken glasses. Throughout the story, Fitzgerald emphasizes that wealth and money define the reality for the characters in the story, at the same time bringing the illusionary norms into existence: “And I hope she’ll be a fool – That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (1.17). Fitzgerald, through the character of Daisy, emphasizes that the society doesn’t value intelligence and realistic views of anyone; instead, to fully adapt to the society’s norms, folkways, and values, an individual needs to be ignorant and materialistic. Daisy, perhaps, is not a fool, but her environment requires her to play that role; most of the time she pretends to be imbecilic, in order to fit into this cruel and unequal world. Not only she blindly conforms to the tyrannical rule of the society, but also seems to enjoy it: “ Her voice is full of money… 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…”(7.120). Fitzgerald evidently shows us that Daisy’s reality is nothing but money and wealth; she is not capable of changing because she is satisfied with her high social status and all the pleasures that she, herself, enjoys. She lives in a tiny and comfortable world, ignoring everything that doesn’t meet her distorted expectations. Daisy captured a strong, and incurable disease that the society is willing to spread — craving for wealth .
Fitzgerald’s employment of a materialistic society vividly reveals to us the plutomaniac nature of average human beings. Fitzgerald is proving this point through the characterization of a poor woman — Myrtle Wilson. Myrtle, unlike Daisy and Tom, was not born into money, and instead is relying on her little tricks to achieve obsessively wealthy lifestyle. She shows a complete conscious over what she is striving for and explicitly shows her plutomaniac nature when it comes to her husband — George’s income status: “ The only crazy I was was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake. He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in and never even told me about it, and the man came after it one day when he was out” (2.35). Not only does the Myrtle fixate on the money aspect of her marriage, but also seems mercantile. In this situation, Fitzgerald emphasizes that Myrtle’s marriage wasn’t something she expected it to be. She appears to be a gold digger, since she hates her husband for his social and income status. “Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air “ (2.56). We see Myrtle transforming into someone she always seemed to be — falsely rich, conformative, and materialistic; her desire for attention is vividly shown, but she is not the one to blame, the money is . Through the theme of corruptive wealth, Fitzgerald evidently shows us… that money corrupts an individual, and therefore, the society in its entirety. “Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn” (1.4).
Because of Fitzgerald’s use of simple, yet powerful and central theme of money, he is able to produce a powerful effect that reflects on his own philosophy, which he implemented into the story. Evocative example of a moral decay, the distorted reality, along with indications of plutomaniac nature of human beings — all implies to the central theme that Fitzgerald is trying to show to us. By constructing a story in which we clearly see the consequences of materialism, Fitzgerald leads us to conclusion that money in The Great Gatsby is the ultimate source of suffering and rottenness in our lives.
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