In The Great Gatsby, what  morals, values, or goals are expressed and described?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The novel develops strong themes concerning morality and personal values. Nick's character is developed to represent solid personal values and moral conduct, while the Buchanans come to represent immorality, amorality, and personal values that have been corrupted by enormous inherited wealth and the social status it has created for them.

Nick, who comes East after being shaped by Midwestern values while growing up, believes in honesty, friendship. and loyalty. He values decency in human behavior and is dumbfounded and appalled by Tom and Daisy's lack of decency in the novel's conclusion. Gatsby's death is meaningless to them, except as a personal inconvenience and complication. It is Nick who makes arrangements for Gatsby's funeral, becoming more and more angry when he realizes he is the only one of Gatsby's "friends" who cares about him:

. . . I began to have a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all.

Nick is not self-centered and obsessed with his own well being, unlike Tom, Daisy, and Jordan, as well as Myrtle Wilson, and Meyer Wolfsheim. After his time in the East, Nick comes home to condemn all the major players, except Gatsby, as being "foul dust."

In terms of the characters' goals, Nick's is substantial and honorable: to establish a career and make his way in the world. Gatsby's goal is grand and romantic: to repeat the past with Daisy, whom he loves at all costs. Myrtle wants to escape poverty, which in itself is understandable, even though her methods to achieve it are contemptible. George Wilson's goal in life is to survive economically, which points to the drastic discrepancy between the social classes in American life. Tom and Daisy, having everything, have no goals at all; their lives are lived without purpose.


teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The novel focuses on Gatsby's goal, or dream, which is to turn back the clock and recreate the magic moment five years past when he and Daisy first fell in love. When Nick tells Gatsby you can't repeat the past, he is incredulous. "Of course you can," he responds.

In fact, Gatsby can't achieve this dream of going back in time: Daisy has moved on, married, and had a child. She may indulge in a flirtation with Gatsby, but she's not willing to leave her husband and child, no matter how unhappy she might be.

Nick ties Gatsby's desire to go back to a purer, more pristine time to the American dream as a whole. Nick says that when the European settlers first saw this unsettled, unspoiled green land they dreamed of going back to an Edenic beginning and recreating everything anew.

Nick admires the dream or goal that motivates Gatsby's whole life, even if it is impossible. Nick also admires honesty as moral value, and attributes it to himself as a cardinal virtue, but he is not altogether honest about the way he is deceiving a girl back west who thinks (and who Daisy and Tom also think) Nick is going to marry. Nick might value honesty, but none of the main characters in the novel, with the possible exception of George Wilson, are honest. Jordan cheats at golf. Nick lies to himself. Tom, Daisy, and Myrtle engage in affairs, and Gatsby builds his career on projecting a false persona. 

In the end, Daisy and Tom retreat back into their money, while Nick retreats back to the Midwest. The novel condemns the selfishness of people like Daisy and Tom,  a selfishness that grinds other, less fortunate, people under its heel. At the same time, it celebrates Gatsby's pursuit of an audacious and impossible dream. 

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The Great Gatsby

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