What are the values and goals of the world described in The Great Gatsby? What kind of person survives in this world?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On the surface, wealth seems to be the most important value and goal in this world, and to a great extent that is true. Tom Buchanan 's wealth, for example, brings him power. He impresses people with his huge house and string of polo ponies, and he is able to...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

On the surface, wealth seems to be the most important value and goal in this world, and to a great extent that is true. Tom Buchanan's wealth, for example, brings him power. He impresses people with his huge house and string of polo ponies, and he is able to use his wealth to bully the little people, like George Wilson, and keep a mistress in Wilson's wife.

Gatsby understands the ethic of the world he lives in: he knows that if he wants to regain Daisy, he needs money and lots of it. He is willing to engage in a life of crime to earn the wealth he needs to attract her, and he is also willing to spend it freely.

As the contrast between Tom and Gatsby shows, however, it takes more than mere money to be a top dog in this culture. Gatsby has a vast amount of money, but he lacks Tom's pedigree: he hasn't inherited his wealth, he doesn't have the right connections, he doesn't horseback ride, he hasn't been to an Ivy League college, and his clothes and demeanor are just not quite right. He is the quintessential nouveau riche person, going up against established old money, and the deck is stacked against him.

The person who survives in this world is one very much like Tom Buchanan: someone with inherited money and connections who is not very bright and is willing to be completely ruthless. As Nick points out, Gatsby is too much a sensitive dreamer to survive amid the "foul dust" of this world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The values in the world described by Nick in the Great Gatsby, are false values, as Nick witnesses in the end of the story. The values of people like Daisy and Tom are about material goods and wealth. Those with material goods are highly valued (why people like Gatsby, why they come to his parties), and nobody else really exists, and when they do, they exist to be used (i.e Muriel.) Nick finds himself getting sucked into this world, but he still has midwestern values that prevents himself from being caught up in a system that rewards materialistic values. Nick is the only one who seems aware of this. Consider the end of the story, Daisy and Tom just leave, and don't even consider Gatsby's death. They value the material, and when its gone, they don't suffer, but move on. Fitzgerald was showing the callousness that he percieved in society. Gatsby, in fact, acquired his wealth, solely so that he could fit into the society to which Daisy and Tom belong. He knows that without his wealth, no one would pay him the time of day. Morality, is not valued, material goods are. There are no spiritual values in a place where money reigns: the traditional ideas of God and Religion are dead here, and the American dream is direly corrupted. Nick cannot survive in this world as he starts to see Gatsby's moral superiority to those around him, and becomes disallusioned. Tom is the person who survives in this type of world because he doesn't let anything bother him. He is content in his callousness and his material goods. Fitzgerald wrote his story this way as a comment on how he saw the Jazz Age becoming.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team