The Great Gatsby and Capitalism
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The novel The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, attempts to show the power of the wealthy elite and the misery of the poor working class. It uses elements of setting, characterization, and mood to reveal capitalist domination at its worst.
Fitzgerald set the book in two very distinct locations. The valley of ashes is where the working class lives. It’s the location of the industrial city, filled with factories and thick, black smoke. All its descriptions are grim, calling it a place “where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens.” The only images we get are those of darkness; “grey cars” and “powdery air.” On the other hand, a glimpse into the homes of the wealthy elite on West and East Egg will show you extravagant mansions, beautiful gardens, and clean air. This stark contrast to the valley of ashes is Fitzgerald’s way of showing the true evil of capitalist domination. Only the rich can indulge in parties and drive around in fancy cars, while the poor are stuck in factories and at gas stations performing long hours of manual labor. The only sign of hope to resist such structures of capitalism is T.J. Eckleberg, the eyes that watch over the valley of ashes. These God-like eyes watch over the land, showing that even though the working class may not have the same comforts that the elite enjoy, they will always have the comfort of God.
The novel also uses a sharp contrast of characterization to show the oppression of capitalism. A particularly obvious example of this is the difference between George Wilson and Tom Buchanan. Both men are in a struggle for the same woman, and the novel shows us that money always has the power to win out in the end. Myrtle, Wilson’s wife, is tired of her poverty stricken life. She tries to emerge from her class and become one of the elites through cheating. She is tempted with delusions of grandeur at the first sight of Tom’s clothing. The first thing Myrtle observes when seeing Tom is his “dress suit and patent leather shoes.” Before she knew money, she didn’t believe in her new philosophy: “You can’t live forever.” George Wilson’s characterization as one of the only honest men in the novel represents the demise of even the most moral poor. Tom Buchanan is a man of no morals; a man of little honesty who cheats on his wife. Despite being moral, Wilson’s lack of money results in his ultimate demise. Tom’s money returns him to his extravagant mansion while Wilson’s lack thereof pushes him to commit suicide.
Moods fluctuate at various points in the novel. When in the valley of ashes or around working class people, the mood always tends to be negative. Only when the rich enter the valley of ashes is color brought into the world of the working class. Myrtle’s upbeat attitude only exists because of her desire to leave George and his impoverished lifestyle. Fitzgerald changes mood like this to show us that people view money as a form of happiness. Only those who can see the true evils of hierarchical class structures can see that money may bring happiness to some, but only at the expense of many. The deaths of Gatsby and Myrtle at the end of the novel show how fake aspirations of wealth in society go wrong because of money’s ability to corrupt. Attempting to ascend the ladder of classes in a capitalist society will only result in bad things.