How is Jay Gatsby affected by materialism in The Great Gatsby?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Jay Gatsby was enchanted by the American Dream and amassing wealth in order to win Daisy Buchanan's heart after their brief romance back in Kentucky. Jay Gatsby hailed from North Dakota and grew up in a poor farming family. Upon courting Daisy Fay as a young military officer, Gatsby realized that he could never marry her because of his lower social status. After meeting Dan Cody and returning to the United States after WWI, Jay Gatsby became business partners with the shady Meyer Wolfsheim and entered the criminal underworld. Gatsby developed into a notorious bootlegger and amassed a fortune working alongside Meyer, which allowed him to purchase a magnificent mansion in West Egg.

While Jay Gatsby's intentions were pure, he compromised his morals, which were corrupted by wealth and materialism. Gatsby's desire to attain the American Dream coincided with his wish to marry Daisy, who was the epitome of wealth and beauty. Gatsby was willing to live a lie, engage in criminal activity, and risk his freedom in order to amass a fortune and attain the American Dream. In doing so, Gatsby surrounded himself by unscrupulous, shallow people and chased the materialistic Daisy Buchanan in vain. Gatsby's intentions remained pure until his death, and he never gave up hope in marrying Daisy. However, Nick described the toxic atmosphere that destroyed his friend by saying,

Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and shortwinded elations of men. (Fitzgerald, 4)

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belarafon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Jay Gatsby was born poor and so had no social status to show off. Daisy, the woman he loves, was born wealthy, and so their social classes did not mingle very much; Gatsby aspired to win Daisy through his status and so had to work hard to create his own wealth. Despite this, she marries someone else, and Gatsby becomes obsessed with the idea that he can win her away with little more than his wealth and new social status in the community.

"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"

He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.

"I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before," he said, nodding determinedly. "She'll see."
(Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, mrbye.com)

In Gatsby's eyes, the barrier between himself and Daisy is one of status and wealth, not of character or personality. He believes that she will come to love him again as he is accepted by her peers, and so he throws large parties and ingratiates himself with the Old Money society of the East Egg. However, since Daisy already has money and is married to Tom, another wealthy man, she is not as easily swayed by Gatsby's attentions. He finally fails because he was focused too much on buying Daisy's love, instead of earning it; Gatsby is too focused on becoming the sort of wealthy man Daisy attracts rather than becoming the character of man to whom Daisy is attracted.

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chapmanh | Student

Jay Gatsby is a man who finds his entire self worth in the opinion of one person: Daisy. He is hopelessly devoted to convincing Daisy that he is the man with whom she should spend the rest of her life and not her husband, Tom. He spends the entire novel attempting to convince Daisy that, while her life with Tom is comfortable, she is not enjoying herself. Materialism is the only way that he knows how to reach Daisy; in his mind, if he can just buy enough stuff, Daisy will come to her senses and realize that she is in love with him instead of Tom. All of the "things" that Gatsby possesses are nothing more than his continuous attempt at peaking Daisy's interest. This is evident even in his "backstory" which has been completely fabricated to support his new lifestyle he has created for himself.

In short, Jay Gatsby is a man who is more interested in showing the woman he pines for that he is able to give her much more than the man she has married. He neglects to realize that simply providing for a good time is not enough to cause her to uproot the life she has grown accustomed to.

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