How does the theme of wealth relate to the historical context of The Great Gatsby?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the 1920s, when The Great Gatsby was published and set, the U.S. was still in recovery from World War I, and coming to grips with the real consequences of Prohibition. People didn't think another war was likely so soon, and so the country focused on creating wealth and living in luxury. Prohibition created a bootlegging industry that dominated the crime world, and the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the Dust Bowl were still in the future. It was fashionable to live above one's means, and to showcase wealth in extravagant ways; Gatsby, with his parties, becomes the talk of the town and a prominent citizen simply because he gives people what they want. Gatsby's search for wealth, spurred by his friendship with millionaire Dan Cody, becomes a search for validation; he wants to be rich so Daisy will recognize his success and love him, and his addiction to the wealthy lifestyle is really his pursuit of his own dream. While others sought The American Dream in making and keeping wealth, Gatsby became rich as a means rather than an end. Wealth is seen by other characters as a status symbol, a representation of their elitist world, and Gatsby's real goals are "below" their standards of propriety; his guests are disgusted when he stops throwing parties, and Nick, the narrator, realizes their superficiality and exclaims "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together," because he realizes that as flawed as Gatsby was, his intentions were far more honest than the people around him.

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The Great Gatsby

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