Mr. GorlickHonors English 10
27 November 2018
Concentrating on the Insignificant
In the novel The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, money and status are both extremely imperative and omnipresent topics, serving as central initiatives for many of the character’s actions and morals. This work delves into the lives of several hopeful people in the bustling world of the 1920s, in which each of their decisions revolves entirely around money and power. This need for wealth twists the morality of the characters’ motives, leading to unfortunate consequences. In order to clearly communicate the importance of money and its ill-fated effects to the reader, Fitzgerald uses heated interactions and repetitive signs between characters throughout the course of the story. These elements teach the reader about the power of money, and the daunting influence that it has on mankind. Through the use of rousing conflicts and detailed symbolism, it is shown that money and status do not have the power to give life true meaning, making one’s life extremely bland and lackluster.
When people have a blinded desire for wealth, it can lead to tensions between themselves and the people around them. Myrtle Wilson, an impoverished individual from the Valley of Ashes, has an unwavering belief that she is destined to be in the upper class, purely because she is a mistress to the affluent Tom Buchanan, heir to one of the wealthiest families in America. When Myrtle is with Tom, she is given full financial freedom, and with each exorbitant purchase, her need for a wealthy lifestyle increases. This alteration in Myrtle’s personality is plainly shown when she is given a new dress by Tom, and “with the influence of the dress her Myrtle’s personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the Valley of Ashes was now converted into impressive hauteur” (Fitzgerald 30). As Myrtle gains more possessions and acquires the taste of inexhaustible money, her desire for a status of wealth twists her personality and morality, transforming her into a tasteless and cynical individual. Without money, Myrtle portrays a “perceptible vitality,” but with the introduction of Tom, she becomes completely reliant on the façade of her wealthy status, sacrificing everything meaningful in her life for money (25). Unfortunately, Myrtle does not realize that Tom will never leave his wife due to Myrtle’s low social status, and her focus on money ruins her life’s meaning, leaving it bland and superficial.
Throughout the novel, Myrtle Wilson is not the only one who strives for an unreachable high status. Jay Gatsby, a newly-rich and determined businessman living in the West Egg, exhibits this idea through the conflict between himself and Tom. Gatsby is madly in love with Daisy Buchanan, Tom’s wife. Daisy is an extremely rich resident of the East Egg, and Gatsby devotes all of his energy to winning her back. Gatsby buys a house overlooking Daisy’s, throws elaborate parties for her, and even sacrifices his own time and social life in hope of regaining the love he once had. Eventually, Gatsby’s efforts pay off, and he is reunited with his old lover. This relationship between Gatsby and Daisy quickly blossoms, and Gatsby’s yearning for a wealth and status such as Daisy’s leads him to tell Tom that “she never loved you, do you hear? She only married you because I was poor… It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart, she never loved anyone except me” (130). Gatsby does not just want to marry Daisy out of love, but also out of an intense desire for her lifestyle and high social status. By marrying Daisy, Gatsby can erase a part of himself that he has desired to get rid of, his low-class status. Gatsby becomes so focused on becoming wealthier and eradicating this part of himself that he thinks of nothing else, forsaking his personal life and the fruits of his own labor. When Daisy eventually rejects him due to her need for Tom, Gatsby’s entire life’s devotion crumbles, leaving his life completely empty and hopeless. The conflict between Gatsby and Tom proves that fortune and high status can be detrimental to one’s life, leaving it without purpose and meaning.
Along with conflict, Fitzgerald uses profound symbolism throughout the novel to convey the insipid lives that many of the wealthy characters lead. In order to truly win over Daisy and prove to all who visit of his wealthy status, Gatsby fills his house with numerous elaborate rooms, furnished with the most expensive and exotic items. The first time Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s level-headed neighbor and the neutral narrator of the story, visits Gatsby’s mansion, he stumbles upon one of these extravagant rooms – the library. In Gatsby’s library, he meets Owl Eyes, an odd man with owl-eyed glasses, who exclaims that “‘They’re real.’ ‘The books?’ Owl Eyes nodded, ‘Absolutely real – have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard… What realism! Knew when to stop, too – didn’t cut the pages'” (45-46). Owl Eyes remarks that the pages of the books are uncut – meaning that Gatsby has not read a single book in the library. Although Gatsby has immeasurable amounts of wealth, the uncut books show that Gatsby wants to be seen as something that he is not. The unread books symbolize Gatsby’s entire façade, one which does not reflect his true, authentic self. Gatsby is so bent on being seen as knowledgeable, wealthy, and upper class, that he forsakes his real character and self-worth. If Gatsby had just opened up a few of the books in his library, and turned his focus away from becoming wealthier, his life would have been much more fulfilling.
Gatsby’s library is just one of the rooms that exhibits the insignificance of money and status on a content and prosperous life. Gatsby’s bedroom is a prime example of this, being a symbol that reveals more information about Gatsby and the effect that wealth has had on him. When Daisy and Nick are given a tour through Gatsby’s ornate house, they eventually enter Gatsby’s bedroom. Nick describes this tour, as “Gatsby stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in Daisy’s actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs. His bedroom was the simplest room of all” (91). The average partygoer will never see Gatsby’s bedroom, and because nobody sees this room, Gatsby does not need to put up a façade. The bedroom is the heart of the entire house, and it can be likened to Gatsby as a person. On the outside, he is flashy and flamboyant, yet on the inside, he is a simple man. The simplicity of Gatsby’s bedroom symbolizes his true self, one that is untouched by money. Gatsby has earned money and status, but in the end, it does not improve his life or change him as a person. The symbol of Gatsby’s bedroom shows that affluence and prestige do not lead to a prosperous life, but quite the opposite.
Using conflict and symbolism throughout the novel, Fitzgerald proves that both wealth and class do not make life any more meaningful, making one’s life dull and superficial. Both the well-off and the destitute strive for money and a higher status, and this desperate need forces them to sacrifice their own moralities and personal identities. Whether it is hastily trying to gain wealth through the use of immoral means, or trying to portray a higher status for love and self-worth, many of the character’s lives turn jaded after the influence of wealth and power. In the end, fame and fortune are a driving force in society – but one must not solely rely on these two forces in order to retain a wholesome life.