Great Gatsby Historical and Marxist Analysis
Benjamin Franklin once said “Money has never made man happy, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants. ” This quote accurately depicts the problems F. Scott Fitzgerald analyzes in his book The Great Gatsby. His book was written and is set in a time where people put great importance on their wealth and social class. These people’s lives are shallow and unfulfilling because of this. This book can be read through many different perspectives, but two in particular stick out in finding the most enriching meaning behind Fitzgerald’s words.
Viewing the Great Gatsby through both a Historical lens and a Marxist lens shows us the false importance placed upon wealth and class distinctions and the unhappiness and loneliness that comes with it. Viewing this book through a historical lens, many things come into sharper focus. For starters, this book was set in the time following WW1. After the deaths of many young soldiers, people felt entitled to have some fun. This is shown many times throughout The Great Gatsby with people coming to his parties without invitations.
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The text says “I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited — they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby, and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission” (Fitzgerald 41).
People didn’t care so much about manners in these situations but rather about their own entertainment and enjoyment. Conservatism and moderation were thrown out of the window, leading to people partying without fear of consequence. Many times, however, these parties were instead used to just show social class. People went to them to show that they belonged and were powerful, when that actually didn’t mean anything in the long run. Another movement going on at this time was the idea of the American Dream.
People came to the US to escape their poverty, picturing fields of money ripe for the taking. It was a time of optimism and aspiration. People believed they could become anyone they wanted to and leave their pasts behind. Gatsby became trapped in this mindset, the text saying “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.
So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end” (Fitzgerald 98). Gatsby wanted so badly to leave behind his impoverished past and his deadbeat parents. He completely changes his identity, essentially becoming a new man. Gatsby completely goes along with all the other new Americans looking to find fame and success in the US. Also, many people who couldn’t find ways to become rich turned to shadier means to do so. Gatsby also was alike in this respect, bootlegging to get his vast fortune.
His belief that he could do anything he set his mind to was seen throughout the US in other people looking to fulfill their version of the American Dream. The American Dream failed for many people, however, and the desire for money and power just made them unhappy in the end. When looking at the book through a Marxist lens, we can see many things that may have been previously overlooked. The first example is the eyes of Dr. T. J Eckleburg. Fitzgerald describes them as “blue and gigantic- their retinas one yard high.
They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose” (Fitzgerald 23). The eyes are seen to be looking over the Valley of Ashes, a working-class area that doesn’t have large amounts of money. The spectacles are said to be gold, which is the color of money. When combining these two elements, it can be taken that the rich are overlooking the poorer people of the Valley of Ashes. This is a huge use of symbolism by Fitzgerald, who is suggesting that the rich are above the poorer and need to watch over them.
The rich don’t actually have any power over the poor, but the stock placed in riches creates this facade. Another thing that comes into sharper focus is the choice that Daisy makes. Daisy chooses Tom over Gatsby, a decision which was somewhat surprising at first. She seems to love Gatsby very much, but something stops her from denouncing Tom and being with Gatsby. This thing is money and social class. The text says “They weren’t happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale- and yet they weren’t unhappy either.
There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture, and anyone would have said that they were conspiring together” (Fitzgerald 145). In this passage, Daisy is talking to Tom about their future and her relationship with Gatsby. The image of conspiring makes me to believe that they were talking about her separating herself completely with Gatsby. She does this because Tom is much more rich and has a legitimate high standing in society, something that Gatsby is striving for and doesn’t have. The social class differences of Gatsby and Tom lead to Daisy making her eventual decision to choose Tom.
She chooses based on money and not on her actual desires, something that will make her unhappy and unfulfilled. The final and most glaring example of Marxism in this book comes after Gatsby is already dead. No one comes to his funeral even after Nick’s best efforts. The text says ““The minister glanced several times at his watch, so I took him aside and asked him to wait for half an hour. But it wasn’t any use. Nobody came” (Fitzgerald 175). The lack of people at Gatsby’s funeral is the ultimate example of the emptiness of wealth.
All of the people that Gatsby believed to be his friends were nowhere to be seen at his funeral because all of his relationships were based purely on making money. People only came to him for the business opportunities that he offered to them. Even all the people that went to his parties didn’t know or like him, they just used him for his wealth. Even though he worked so hard to become wealthy and respected, in the end none of it mattered because his wealth had no place where he was going. He should have spent more time working on actual relationships, because those last much longer then worldly wealth.
When looking at this book through Historical and Marxist lenses, we can see the futility of money and social classes come into deeper focus. People throughout the US at this time, including Gatsby, believed that wealth was the key to their happiness. Even if they ended up getting it, which was few of them, it only led to unhappiness. The lessons Fitzgerald teaches in this book can go a long way in our own lives. If we place too much stock in wealth it will only lead down bad roads, just like what happened to Gatsby. The Great Gatsby and its lessons will stay with me for many years to come.