How does the symbol of class and society in The Great Gatsby compare to the overall meaning as expressed in contemporary society?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In a visit to the United States, the Dalai Lama brought a message against materialism.  He asked why people in capitalist countries believe that the acquisition of material things can make them happy.  How, he queried, can manufactured goods satisfy the soul of man that is spiritual?  As Jay Gatsby stares at the green light, he envisions the attainment of Daisy as dependent upon his acquisition of money.  When she first comes to his house, he pulls out his many colored shirts for her, and she buries her face in them.  But, Gatsby's dream of winning Daisy is but a dream as the pull of East Egg keeps the superficial Daisy with Tom Buchanan, a man of social position as well as wealth.  Unlike at the time of Fitzgerald's narrative, in contemporary society in the United States money supercedes all else.  With enough money, people can live in any neighborhood, and they can wield much power.

In the end of Fitzgerald's novel, Nick recognizes that Gatsby is the only real person as he has demonstrated the virtues of real love and loyalty when no other has:  "You're worth the whole bunch together." Money, material possessions have been and will always be but impostors.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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If we examine how Fitzgerald used the concept of class and society in his work, we see a trend forming where value and primacy is assigned to materialism and its byproducts.  The social setting that envelops most of the characters in the novel is one where "things" have value, more value than people, who are in turn used as means to ends as opposed to ends in ofthemselves.  Gatsby's pursuit of Daisy represents this.  It is an end to which Gatsby believes that if he throws more money at the situation, he is convinced she will love him.  This might be due to the fact that he is deluded in thinking that money can buy, essentially, affection, or representative of him being right, that money can essentially buy affection.  Recently, in a post similar to this question, I argued that Flaubert's conception of Emma Bovary in his work, "Madame Bovary," was very similar in that she believed the more wealth she could acquire and "throw" at her problems the better off she will be.  I would tend to think that this is something not limited to these characters.  Marx and Engels argued that capitalism creates this type of system, an object or commodity fetishism where things and objects for which human work is aimed end up taking a life of their own.  No longer do we work towards them, but rather we work for them.  Indeed, we can extrapolate this to people who toil for a paycheck in order to acquire a nice home, a nice car, and all the trappings of wealth.  In the end, Fitzgerald argues that this pursuit of money and materialism is brazen, but shallow because it lacks a fundamental and foundational purpose.  To this extent, such a pattern can be seen in any pursuit where people do not work towards a monetary goal, but strictly for it.  At this stage, people are means to an end and not the end in its own right because money and the pursuit of wealth is not a means to an end for it is the end.

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