Man dreams of living the life of the elite social class and of the power and admiration inherent within. F. Scott Fitzgerald comes to terms with this American dream in The Great Gatsby, a novel about social life in the 1920’s. The social hierarchy of the times plays a very important role in this novel. Here Fitzgerald illustrates three specific social classes: old money, new money, and lower class, with old money and new money taking center stage. Gatsby himself personifies new money; he made himself into a rich man through shady dealings.
Tom Buchanan, on the other hand, represents old money. He received everything he has on a silver platter. He earned nothing but his inheritance. At the time, it was extremely desirable to be old money, because people looked at new money as vulgar and uncivilized. By illustrating social-economic class differences, Fitzgerald depicts the illusion of the corrupted American dream.
Old money, living in the guise of the American dream, denies the entrance of new money and the lower class into their social hierarchy.
In the novel, Tom has a mistress who lives in the “valley of ashes,” where most of the lower class citizens reside. Tom has been seeing her for years even though he married Daisy. No one objects to this because of his old money status. On page 19, Jordan Baker informs Nick of this scandal, “Why- Tom’s got some woman in New York.” Jordan also informs Nick of the commonality and wide acceptance of this fact. Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, despite her status as a lower class citizen, tries to pressure him into leaving Daisy. Tom refuses because marrying into a lower social class would develop into even more of a scandal than having a mistress. This corrupted American dream prevents Tom from openly allowing Myrtle into his life.
Old money’s highly discriminating nature allows its members to attain superiority, while this self-serving superiority further enhances their American dream. The attempts of new money to imitate old money remain futile. For example, although Daisy truly loves Gatsby, he represents new money. Despite his attempts to become old money, the old rich have never embraced him. Daisy cannot be with him because he is not and never will be of her class. Gatsby even offers to take the blame for a murder she committed, yet she will nott even leave her husband for him. “’Was Daisy driving?’ ‘Yes,’ he said after a moment. ‘but of course I’ll say I was.’” (p. 151). Daisy allows Gatsby to take the blame for her without showing either remorse or gratitude. In this way, Fitzgerald shows that although old money people count themselves rich monetarily, they show a lack of morality and accountability. Daisy’s carelessness and irresponsibility cause her to need others to clean up after her without caring who takes the fall. Old money’s arrogance and haughtiness make their misguided American dream more of an American nightmare.
The elite created the American dream in order to make themselves and others think they are superior. They are not, in fact, above all others, but have created the illusion of this corrupted dream. To be of old money opens all doors, allowing you to do anything you want to anyone you want, to act without conscience, and to let others take responsibility for your actions. This portrays their perverted picture of the “way life should be.” This illusion of the American dream can only harm its believers and all those who aspire to attain it.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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