Thursday, July 9, 2009

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby; A Marxist Reading

The Great Gatsby, narrated by Nick Carraway, a wealthy young bachelor, tells the story of Jay Gatsby. Throughout the novel Gatsby tries to pursue his true love, Daisy Buchanan (Nick's cousin and the wife of Tom Buchanan). Although Daisy is married he still tries to get her to come back to him through the use of his wealth.

Gatsby resides on the West Egg which is where the 'new rich' live, while Daisy resides on the East Egg, where the aristocratic families and blue bloods live. Blue blood is a term used to express a person who is noble or wealthy by birth. Although Gatsby has the same amount of wealth as Daisy, there are clear differences between the two, even within the same class. Because Gatsby was not born into wealth and power, which Daisy was born into, it makes him unable to fit into the upper class.

The first clear difference that is shown between the two is the way that Gatsby dresses. Nick, who was born into the riches sees Gatsby for the first time and notes that he is dressed in a fancy tasteless suit. He clearly sees the difference between himself and Gatsby. Gatsby's use of language also sets him apart. Although he tries to talk like the aristocrats, he cannot. Nick notices his repetitive use of 'old sport'. There was also an instance in which Tom invites Gatsby for dinner just to be polite. However Gatsby doesn't realize that it was said out of manner and insincerely rather than genuinely and then accepts the invitation. Gatsby fails to understand the social rules of the blue bloods.

Another thing Gatsby does to prove himself worthy of being just as good as the blue bloods is that he lies about his wealth and education. He says he went to Oxford University and was awarded various times after the war which led him to riches. He tries to get to the level of Tom and Nick by lying about his education. The aristocrats are educated in Ivy League schools just like Tom and Nick were educated at Yale. However Gatsby was not educated at a top university, but to fit in, he lies.

Everything Gatsby does is to flaunt his wealth. He throws lavish parties and buys lavish furniture just for the sake of showing off. He doesn't realize that the wealthy aristocrats have class and do not flaunt money the way he does. He is too preoccupied in showing off and trying to reach the level of Daisy that fails to see the social rules and ways that the aristocrats live by. This is the main distinction that differentiate the two groups that are within the same class.

Gatsby fails to realize that Daisy will never be his. During their love affair (before Daisy was married), Gatsby goes to off to war and Daisy promises to wait for him. However Daisy breaks her promise and marries Tom, who is also a blue blood like herself. Gatsby doesn't see that she will never take herself to a lower status even for love. Even though Tom cheats on her with another woman, Daisy still stays with him. She could’ve gone to Gatsby, her true love, when he waited outside her house; however she stayed with Tom. Tom even stated during his confrontation with Gatsby, that he and Daisy have a 'history' unlike her and Gatsby, and also that she will never leave him for Gatsby. Daisy demonstrates that clearly wealth and class are both important rather than just wealth or love. She is cold-hearted and doesn’t realize that Gatsby worked to become wealthy and worthy of her, however she would rather stick to what she was born into rather than go to someone who worked for his money.

Gatsby also represents the American Dream through his quest for wealth and love. He was not born into the riches he had but instead had to work for it even though it was through some illegal activity. He represents the ideology, that hard-work and diligence will eventually lead a person from nothing to wealth, love, and respect. Despite the fact that he does become rich, he does not get the love or the full respect, which he deserved. In fact he was ridiculed and pushed down by Tom because he wasn't born rich, or went to an Ivy League, or understood the social rules of the blue bloods. According to Antonio Gramsci in ‘Intellectuals and Hegemony’, he writes "The “spontaneous” consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is “historically” caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.” This also shows the position in which Gatsby is in. Gatsby does not fight back for the sole reason because in some way, he has given his ‘consent’ to Tom. Tom is a position which Gatsby idealizes to be in but cannot. It showed clearly that the ones who are at the top economically and socially push those who can be considered socially different but at economically the same; that even within in a class there are certain distinctions on who's higher or 'better'. Gramsci also asserts that “…the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as ‘domination’ and as ‘intellectual and moral leadership.’” This statement can be looked in context of this novel, because Tom declares his ‘domination’ over Gatsby, simply in by what he says. He is considered an ‘intellectual’, a born noble, and clearly shows his power over Gatsby and leaving him to say little.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely done--good work pointing out how class distinctions can exist even between people with money. As you move on, you'll certainly want to work to include textual evidence (quotations) for your claims--for example, quoting the book on Gatsby's outfit, his parties, etc, would have helped your claims there. As would, of course, quoting the line that Daisy's voice sounds like money...