Describe The Great Gatsby and class distinctions.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although he is not a major character in the novel like a Gatsby or Nick,  Mr. Klipspringer is an interesting presence.  He represents the "hangers on," those wealthy individuals who were along for the ride in a great party that the 1920s represented to many.  At one of the parties, he churns out a tune on the piano:  “One thing's sure and nothing's surer / The rich get richer and the poor get children / Ain't we got fun?"  This becomes one of the distinctive moments in which the work addresses class distinctions.

The world that Fitzgerald depicts is one in which the opulent lifestyle extends only to the world of the rich.  The poor are outsiders in this setting.  They are the George Wilsons of the world.  Frustrated by the fact that they cannot partake in a world where so many seem to be enjoying themselves, class distinctions play a large role in the novel.  The desire to be rich and all that comes with it is of vital importance in its characterizations and social background.  Gatsby's disdain of being poor is what compels him to spring out "from his Platonic conception of himself.”  This construction is a wealthy one.  Gatsby embodies how class distinctions play a role in the novel's trajectory.  Being poor is seen as a condition outside of social inclusion.  Gatsby does not question the values of a society that lauds wealth.  Rather, he simply forgoes all reflection and critical thinking to be a part of it.  The world of the rich is seen as where one wishes to be.  Gatsby embodies this and Wilson is a victim to it.

In this light, class distinctions occupy the most important of roles.  The "wasteland" that exists between New York and East Egg is seen as this because it is poor, or at least, not as wealthy.  Fitzgerald's depiction of life in the 1920s is a clear one in which being rich enables one to experience the stereotypical condition of happiness that so many were conditioned to believe was real.  Being poor denied this and there was little in way of social reflection to support the condition of not being rich.  Interestingly enough, those who were wealthy were morally bankrupt.  Nick's revelation of this lies at the crux of the novel's themes.  There is a moral and ethical poverty that underscores the wealth and opulence.  Jordan Baker is amoral.  Tom Buchanan is a brute and Daisy is without any real conviction.  Being rich was posited as what everyone should be, only to find that being rich was synonymous with being morally poor.  In this, class distinctions become an important part as to why the 1920s was so paradoxical.  Everyone sought to be something which translated into being nothing.  "Ain't we got fun" is almost code for "Ain't we got none."  Reflective of this, class distinctions help to reveal a social setting where “a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.”

Wiggin42 | Student

An important class distinction is between Tom and Myrtle. As a man of wealth and power, Tom can exploit Myrtle in their illicit love affair. He breaks her nose and smooths things over by buying her a puppy. Tom can do that because Myrtle, due to her lower status, can't stop him. Myrtle puts up with Tom's abuse because as a woman from a lower class, her only chance at a glimpse of luxury is through Tom. 

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The Great Gatsby

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