What do you think of the view that obsession with money and consumer culture of the 1920s dominates human thinking and behaviour in The Great Gatsby?partys?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think it is clear that F. Scott Fitzgerald presents us with a world that is obsessed by wealth and how it is acquired. I have included a link to the historical context of this novel below, but you might just like to think about the focus placed on the opulence of Gatsby's partys and Gatsby's lifestyle, and how Nick comments on the amount of money that was spent on the frequent partys that were held at his mansion. Of course, one of the best descriptions of this comes at the beginning of Chapter 3:

At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough coloured light to make a Christmas tree of Gatbsy's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.

Note the emphasis placed on the lavish expenditure of money. Hyperbole is used in the way that Gatsby's gardens are turned into a "christmas tree" because of all the lights, and the descriptions of the banquet that was served and the expensive and rare drinks that were available clearly show the way in which we are introduced to a world that is dominated by conspicuous consumption and the visible showing of wealth. As we read on, we see that flaunting such riches was an important part of being recognised as belonging to the upper social stratum of this inequitable society.

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hmmm, this is a more complex question than it seems to be at the surface.  Yes, I suppose if you look at the chapters that focus on Gatsby's parties, this does seem to be the case.  Similarly, if you consider the reasoning behind Daisy choosing Tom as a marriage partner and even in Nick choosing "the East" as a potential place to settle.  However, if you take the title character of Gatsby, money has absolutely nothing to do with his obsession, ... consumer culture doesn't either.  However, BOTH are simply necessary to obtain his TRUE obsession: Daisy.  In order to be Daisy's lover, Gatsby must obtain money.  Once he does so, Gatsby thinks the love of Daisy is a "done deal."  He is absolutely floored and flabbergasted when it is not!  In order to be Daisy's lover, Gatsby must create an environment where it would be socially acceptable to meet up with Daisy again:  parties.  The parties are simply "necessary," but not a part of Gatsby's true obsession and, yet, connected imperatively with 20s consumer culture.  Again, it is a surprise to Gatsby that it is Nick's proximity, not the parties, that allows Gatsby to pursue Daisy yet again.  Thus, I do understand the point of the question, but I enjoy playing "devil's advocate" in regards to the main character of the novel.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This statement seems to simplify the novel at the very place it seeks to be complex. Were the characters fooled by glamour? Did they believe that happiness could be found in the vast spaces of a mansion like Gatsby's?

The novel suggests otherwise. Gatsby is not happy. Many figures in this story are unhappy. They pursue, model, and talk about wealth often. That's true.

But the issue here is identity above all else. Identifying with wealth or using material status as a means to personal identity is brought into question, not only by the larger story of the novel, but by each character's flaws.

I think we short-change Fitzgerald's empathy for his characters if we say that he presented us with people who truly and deeply believed that wealth was the only valid mode of forming identity. These people were challenged to get past the surface, to deal with the issues of self-hood that motivated them, regardless of status and riches.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think this is true about most of the people in the book, but we really need to remember that this is not what motivates Gatsby himself.

Gatsby has been obsessed with getting rich, it is true.  But the money was not an end in itself the way it is for so many of the people in the book.  Rather, Gatsby's obsession is Daisy.  He wants love (or what he thinks is love) and not money.

Given that the main obsession of the title character is love rather than money, I don't think that we can say the whole book is about money.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the obsession with wealth still dominates our culture, and always has.  It likely always willing.  The Roaring Twenties was a time of marked excess, where it became almost a requirement to throw lavish parties and own fancy cars.  Most people cannot experience that kind of wealth, but they aspire to it.

eaevans | Student

It can be seen that money dominates the behaviour and the way people think, however money is not the obsession. It is meerly an important influence in the consumer culture of the 1920's. Love is the obsession seen throughout this novel, whether it is love for materialistic items or for someone else.

Gatsby is a fine example of a child of The Lost Generation as he is someone who feels the need to become what society wants people in the 1920's. His mansion represents the grandness and emptiness of the economis boom. Being able to buy your social status through lavish parties and therefore masking your true identity.

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The Great Gatsby

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