Strewn polluted by the competition to climb

Strewn throughout countless works
of literature are the consequences of class stratification and the social
issues illuminated by an individual’s struggle to obtain his or her own vision
of success. The American dream became the ideal of equal opportunity, a vehicle
of ambition that made previously unattainable goals theoretically feasible for
many. Scott F. Fitzgerald crafted The
Great Gatsby during the height of the roaring twenties, a materialistic era
characterized by capitalist expansion and the constant quest for wealth and
social influence. In the novel, Fitzgerald criticizes the corruption of the
American ideal by satirizing the transformation of the pursuit of love and
happiness into a struggle for materialistic possessions, therefore revealing an
artificial world where money is the object of desire. This flourishing,
consumerist-driven society was polluted by the competition to climb the social
ladder and the intertwinement of love with money.

            Throughout The Great Gatsby, individuals are viewed as subjects of possession
and as testaments to wealth and power. Jay Gatsby’s struggle to secure Daisy reflects
the polluted American dream and the dissolution of the utopic ideal of equal
rights and opportunity. After a rejection resulting from his poor social
status, Gatsby constructs an empire of wealth before approaching Daisy. To
Gatsby, Daisy is “the golden girl” with a voice full of the “inexhaustible
charm” of money, revealing how Gatsby’s attraction to Daisy was influenced the
appeal of money and status (120). Likewise, Tom Buchanan embodies the
commoditization of people through his high social rank. The string of pearls
that Tom gifted to Daisy reflects the “purchase” of Daisy’s social standing,
youth and beauty to enhance Tom’s own public image of wealth, strength, and
power. Their marriage with “more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever
knew before” shows how the attainment of Daisy was a means of societal
advancement and a prioritization of financial stability over love (75).
Furthermore, Gatsby proudly presented his mansion to Daisy and stated that “it
took him just three years to earn the money that bought it” (90). This
implies that Gatsby believed he could win Daisy using the extravagance of his
residence just like Tom had bought her hand in marriage with the pearls. However,
the inability of Daisy to fully commit shows how Gatsby was hindered by his lack
of the social status of “old money”, which established Daisy as a commodity that
Gatsby was unable to buy.

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            Like the collection of individuals
as commodities, the symbolic representation of different characters portrays
wealth as a gateway to happiness and success. To Gatsby, Daisy embodies a
beautiful, enchanting object of desire, a symbol of luxury. Daisy was “high in
a white palace”, and her distance caused by class distinction prompted Gatsby’s
creation of his own “palace” (120). Gatsby’s desire to enter the elite upper
class shows his infatuation with Daisy’s image and his inability to see her “vast
carelessness” and her tendency to “retreat back into money” (179). Daisy is the
epitome of Gatsby’s American dream, and Gatsby’s captivation with the green
light on her dock highlights his “extraordinary gift for hope” (2). Gatsby was
able to dream past the socio-economic barriers constricting him to West Egg,
“the least fashionable of the two”, and long for the promise of wealth and the
securement of happiness with Daisy (5). This materialistic objective shows the
manipulation of the American dream into happiness by a means of acquirement. Nonetheless,
the dream was merely an enticing shell, as Gatsby’s inability to attain Daisy
highlights the absence of social mobility and the two factors influencing
social status: wealth and heritage. Gatsby’s impoverished upbringing negatively
impacted his socio-economic identity, ultimately inhibiting his penetration
into the elite aristocracy and emphasizing the absence of equal opportunity.

In order to attain the version of
success that is the American dream, Gatsby indulges in criminality for the sake
of commoditization, “hardly knowing what he was saying” when discussing his
means of obtaining wealth (90). Thus, Gatsby is included in the novel’s
repulsive portrait of the selfish elite, showing that his bubble of luxury does
not exist without support from a threatening world of crime. This layer of
corruption in Gatsby’s character implies that the American dream does not
provide a moral alternative to materialism. The pursuit of happiness had become
intertwined with the pursuit of wealth, leading to corruption as individuals
prioritized possessions over ethics. Gatsby’s success was a direct cause of his
inability to follow the rules of society and to instead resort to illegalities
through the position of a “bootlegger” (133). These social constraints, a
direct cause of a lack of equal opportunity, left Gatsby with only one method
of obtaining his dream and reinforced the repressive nature of capitalism. Thus,
the novel’s glittering consumerist society illuminates dishonesty. Daisy and
Tom were “careless people who smashed up things and creatures” before
“retreating”, revealing how socio-economic class divisions leave room for
exploitation and promote the determination of an individual’s value through financial
acquisitions (179).

In addition, the immorality
characterizing the aristocratic elite is emphasized through the exploitation of
resources for profit. The Valley of Ashes, a wasteland of industrial pursuits situated
between the city and the West and East Eggs, reflects a physical consequence of
the destructive nature of capitalism. The juxtaposition of the Valley of Ashes
and the glamourous uptown New York emphasizes that this “fantastic farm where
ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens” exists as a result
of the carefree lifestyle of the privileged (23). Furthermore, the excess of this
lifestyle was made possible by the toil of “men who move dimly and already
crumbling through the powdery air” (23), which illuminates a stratified class
system benefitting some and oppressing others. To reach the excitement and
exuberance of the city, the wealthy must travel through the Valley of Ashes, a recurring
reminder of the capitalist obsession with materialism. These wider implications
of the upper class’s greedy scramble for profit shows the misuse of both the environment
and others by the elite while highlighting the price of industrial development.
Daisy and Tom “let other people clean up the messes they made”, which serves as
an example of the power of wealth and social status (179). The upper class was
able to “smash up things and creatures” without being held accountable, and
this lack of consequences accentuates the extent of corruption and the influence
of financial strength in American society.

            The constant pursuit of wealth throughout
The Great Gatsby serves as a criticism
of what the American dream had become – a shallow shell of greed and corruption
characterized by industrialization. Fitzgerald clearly illustrates a world
absent of equal opportunity through Gatsby’s inability to attain the social
status necessary for the securement of Daisy. This emphasis on a rigid class structure
combined with relaxed social values shows the prioritization of wealth over
morality. In Gatsby’s own dream, Daisy is idolized as a symbol of perfection
that she is unworthy of possessing. Likewise, the American dream of the roaring
twenties is devastated by its own unworthy objective of the attainment of money
and materialistic satisfaction. Society was driven not by the pursuit of
happiness, but instead by a pursuit of wealth as a means of attaining happiness
and social fulfillment. This decay of moral values is emphasized by the upper
crust of society, an elite class whose wealth and influence derived from the
exploitation of both the psychological and physical landscapes of America.