In the opening chapters of The Great Gatsby, how does F. Scott Fitzgerald establish the role money will play in the novel as he develops the characters?

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lhc | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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In the opening chapter of the novel the narrator, Nick Carraway, explains the circumstances surrounding his move to New York, including a description of his rental home, which stands in stark contrast to a home, or rather mansion nearby:

". . .squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season.The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard. . .with a tower on one side. . .and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. . . .My own home was an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore. . .for eighty dollars a month."

The opening page of Chapter Two contains one of the most famous quotations of the entire novel, as Carraway describes the location where he will meet Tom Buchanan's mistress, an area whose poverty and hopelessness stands in stark contrast to the mansions and manicured gardens that Carraway had earlier described:

". . .a certain desolate area of land.  This is a valley of ashes. . .where ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke. . .powdery air. . .bounded on one side by a small foul river. . . ." 

Carraway gives an extended description of the preparations made for one of Gatsby's parties, which includes "buffet tables garnished with glistening hors d'oevres, spiced baked beans crowded against salads of harlequin designs. . .a bar stocked with gins and liquors. . . ."

Another indicator of the great wealth that Fitzgerald juxtaposes against poverty is when Carraway observes the day that Gatsby picked him up in his "gorgeous car" that "It was the first time he had called on me though I had gone to two of his parties, mounted on his hydroplane. . .and made frequent use of his beach." 

One thing that Fitzgerald is skillfully setting up as the reader gets to know the characters is that with great wealth apparently comes a great moral vacuum; Gatsby, the one whose wealth is supposedly the product of a tainted and shady past, ends up seeming to be the most sympathetic of all of the objectionable characters Carraway will encounter.  By contrast, the people who consider themselves society's superiors with their claims of "real money" are the ones who are completely morally bankrupt. 



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