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Posted on September 11th, 2012, by

In this paper we are going to investigate the theme of money in the famous novel by Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby. It seems necessary to take a look at the context of the novel, its main characters, major themes and symbols in order to see, what role the money played in the lives of the main heroes of the novel, because mostly people are used to believe, that having a lot of money can not do any harm, but it might turn out to be ruining and overpowering at the same time.

The theme of money was so actual for the author, because he had personal experience of lack of money and influence of this fact upon his personal life and feelings. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in 1896, he was an intelligent child but his marks at school were not that good. However he managed to became the student of Princeton in 1913. (Bruccoli, 11). At college he was not doing well either and he was taken to military service in 1917 at the same time when the First World War was ending. When he became a second lieutenant, he was sent to Alabama, where he met his love a young girl of 17 Zelda Sayre. (Bruccoli, 12). At the very beginning the girl agreed to marry him, but then cancelled their wedding because of her wish to become wealthy and just enjoy life.  By the year 1920 Fitzgerald achieved notable literary success after his writing This Side of Paradise was published. This was the moment, when he finally had enough money to make another attempt to marry Zelda. Practically the same situation is described in his novel The Great Gatsby. First of all the narrator of the story Nick Carraway got an education and went to New York after the war the same like Scott Fitzgerald. The love story of Gatsby is very close to the love story of Fitzgerald himself. Being at the height of his success Fitzgerald plunged into the world of parties and fun and at the same time into writing more in order to earn money and please Zelda as much as he could (Bruccoli, 15) His hero Gatsby was also throwing away money, when organizing crazy parties, aiming to achieve the only effect, namely to attract Daisy’s attention to his personality.

In the novel The Great Gatsby the readers get the chance not only to enjoy a piece of great literary fiction, but also to trace the historical facts from the times, which were called the Jazz Age in America. People,  who  lived during this age, had to come through the times, when alcohol was prohibited, which caused rather negative consequences for the society, than positive, as dealers tried to earn money by illegal sale of alcohol, causing chaos and violence in the country. On the other hand they had the chance to earn a lot of money and rather quickly .Exactly during this period of time underground culture was developing in the United States after the war. This historical context is very important for the understanding of the themes and symbols of the story. Money has always played a very important role in lives of most people, but during this historical period money was overvalued. The main aim of the author is to present his major characters Jay Gatsby and Daisy, and her husband in the way, that the readers realize the value of money in comparison to love, obsession or any other human relations. These are really hard times, we should admit, when instead of personal qualities presence or absence of money helped to make judgments about people and as a result served as the deciding factors for somebody’s destiny, as that of the main heroes of the story, as well as initially the author himself.

One of the brightest examples is the decision of  Daisy, who in reality doesn’t love her husband and is hardly interested in his character or personal qualities, instead in the fact, that he has more money, than the man, whom she loved, or at least through to have loved.  Thus she chooses Tom as her husband.

Maybe this choice was correct, because their attitude to money is very much alike. Both Tom and Daisy saw no other values in life, apart of wealth and Tom was strongly convinced, that he stood much higher, than other people around him, based on the fact of his wealth. That is why he likes to boast of his money: I’ve got a nice place here. It belonged to the Demaine oil man (Fitzgerald, 12). Tom knows, how to enjoy life with money, buying expensive things, like horses, jewelries, good food and so on. Inside of his soul he probably realizes, that he bought his wife also. This fact however doesn’t distress him, because he thinks, that this was a great achievement from his side to get the girl, whom everybody would like to have as a wife. This means, there was no love from his side either, but rather strong wish to prove once again, that he stood over others. Very important was about Tom and his understanding of wealth and money the fact, that he held in contempt people, who had new’ money, i.e. the money earned not legally by distributing alcohol or drugs.  “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness They can use their wealth and position to escape whatever they choose. (Fitzgerald, 213). The word  – careless – is key word in the phrase, as it underlines, that both  Tom and Daisy  are careless towards other people around them, and even towards each other, their lives are going on and they enjoy the advantages, the wealth is able to provide.

Jay Gatsby, although loved Daisy in reality, but was not much better than Tom, because he also saw the only way to get the girl, whom he wanted – i.e. earning a lot of money. His only drawback was, that his money appeared too late, and Daisy was already married. Gatsby tried to attract the attention of Daisy by chucking money away for the crazy parties, inviting people to his home, which were not in reality his close friends, sometimes making such parties even for people, whom he didn’t know. He used money practically in the same way like Tom, just as the prove, that he is worth having the things in life, which he wants to have. Unfortunately, Gatsby was not able to see, that his Daisy was too much interested in presence of money and not in deep and romantic feelings, which is obvious from her reaction to the expensive things, she saw in the house of Gatsby. Also her explanation, why she couldn’t wait for him was so simple rich girls can’t marry poor boys.  (Fitzgerald, 113).

As it was already mentioned, Fitzgerald presented the reflection of his own life in his main heroes. His target was to underline, that there are things in life, which can serve as stimulus for earning money for example, this might be the wish to have a house or a car, or own business . On the other hand there are things, which turn out to be not worth anything as goals in life, like for example earning money to prove, that you are better, than the others or for buying love of somebody, as this is not possible in reality, although it might seem so real.

Such things along with the money earned, bring destruction and despair and emptiness but never satisfaction.

Dan Cody was an important hero in the story, although his role was not so long. Jay Gatsby worked for a long period of time for this person and was certainly under his influence. Dan Cody had a lot of money, but he was not a businessman and could not actually seize the control over it and over his own manner of living. His naivety allowed women around him to use his money for their interests. Dan Cody spent most of time drinking and enjoying presence of beautiful women, which is actually wasting of time and of life. Finally we can conclude, that his wealth brought nothing but destruction to him also.

Readers even start to feel pity for the main hero Jay Gatsby, when he finally realizes, that his dream, his wish to be together with the woman, whom he loved, turned out to be just a fake illusion. He was so blind in his love, so unable to see, what kind of person Daisy was in reality. His dream of her disintegrates, revealing the corruption that wealth causes and the unworthiness of the goal, much in the way Fitzgerald sees the American dream crumbling in the 1920s, as America’s powerful optimism, vitality, and individualism become subordinated to the amoral pursuit of wealth. (Fussel, 12).

The notion American Dream used to be rather popular during those times, meaning fulfillment of all possible wishes and getting everything in life, one could only want. The basis of this was money, but as time shows, money could not be the only basis, there should be other values for the society and this was probably the major reason of the afterwards decline of American Dream. The author of The Great Gatsby was able to understand this and wanted to prove to his readers, that money should never be idealized or put on the top.

By the end of the narration the readers become aware of the fact, that this is not simply a tragic love story without happy end, the main ideas and messages of the author lie much deeper. The setting is skillfully used by Fitzgerald and plays a very important role in the novel. The Great Gatsby is a highly symbolic meditation on 1920s America as a whole, in particular the disintegration of the American dream in an era of unprecedented prosperity and material excess (Bewley, 282). The wrong interpretation of the notion of American Dream is made evident by descriptions of the parties in the house of Gatsby. The correlation of the old money and new money is presented in geographical symbols of the novel: East Egg is the place where the established aristocracy lived and West Egg the self-made rich.  Using his narrator Nick, the author told about his views of American Dream – it was originally about discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness (Bewley, 282). Easy money and worthless life goals also underlined the corruption of American Dream and understanding of money in the same way, as there revealing of Daisy’s personality, ruined the dream of Gatsby. and Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor. (Fitzgerald, 182).  The Americans in 1920s were trying to return the good old times, when their  dreams were worth something – Gatsby is also trying to return past: Can’t repeat the past? he cried incredulously. Why of course you can! (Fitzgerald, 141). 1861

There are several very important symbols in the novel. East Egg and West Egg these are not just geographical names, they, along with the valley of ashes, are to represent the fake desire for money and wealth. A very important symbol of the novel is the green light. Gatsby says to Daisy: You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock. (Fitzgerald, 137). At the beginning the green light symbolizes the hopes of the main hero to win his love and have bright future perspectives, certainly having a lot of money. This light was associated with the image of Daisy for Gatsby.  In Chapter IX, Nick compares the green light to how America, rising out of the ocean, must have looked to early settlers of the new nation (Fussel, 52).

We can conclude here, that The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald is in a way biographical, in a way historical and certainly romantic novel.

The themes, discussed by the author, stirred the minds of thousands of Americans during the after-war times, as well as nowadays they remain actual. The destructive power of money can be traced as well during modern times, because there are still a lot of people, who tend to overestimate the power of money and do not realize their absolute worthiness in some situation.

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