The Great Gatsby Moral Decay Essay

Honesty is does not seem to determine which characters are sympathetic and which are not in this novel in quite the same way that it does in others. Nick is able to admire Gatsby despite his knowledge of the man's illegal dealings and bootlegging. Ironically, it is the corrupt Daisy who takes pause at Gatsby's sordid past. Her indignation at his "dishonesty," however, is less moral than class-based. Her sense of why Gatsby should not behave in an immoral manner is based on what she expects from members of her milieu, rather than what she believes to be intrinsically right. The standards for honesty and morality seem to be dependent on class and gender in this novel. Tom finds his wife's infidelity intolerable, however, he does not hesitate to lie to her about his own affair.

Decay is a word that constantly comes up in The Great Gatsby, which is appropriate in a novel which centers around the death of the American Dream. Decay is most evident in the so-called "valley of ashes." With great virtuosity, Fitzgerald describes a barren wasteland which probably has little to do with the New York landscape and instead serves to comment on the downfall of American society. It seems that the American dream has been perverted, reversed. Gatsby lives in West Egg and Daisy in East Egg; therefore, Gatsby looks East with yearning, rather than West, the traditional direction of American frontier ambitions. Fitzgerald portrays the chauvinistic and racist Tom in a very negative light, clearly scoffing at his apocalyptic vision of the races intermarrying. Fitzgerald's implication seems to be that society has already decayed enough and requires no new twist.

In some respects, Fitzgerald writes about gender roles in a quite conservative manner. In his novel, men work to earn money for the maintenance of the women. Men are dominant over women, especially in the case of Tom, who asserts his physical strength to subdue them. The only hint of a role reversal is in the pair of Nick and Jordan. Jordan's androgynous name and cool, collected style masculinize her more than any other female character. However, in the end, Nick does exert his dominance over her by ending the relationship. The women in the novel are an interesting group, because they do not divide into the traditional groups of Mary Magdalene and Madonna figures, instead, none of them are pure. Myrtle is the most obviously sensual, but the fact that Jordan and Daisy wear white dresses only highlights their corruption.

Violence is a key theme in The Great Gatsby, and is most embodied by the character of Tom. An ex-football player, he uses his immense physical strength to intimidate those around him. When Myrtle taunts him with his wife's name, he strikes her across the face. The other source of violence in the novel besides Tom are cars. A new commodity at the time that The Great Gatsby was published, Fitzgerald uses cars to symbolize the dangers of modernity and the dangers of wealth. The climax of the novel, the accident that kills Myrtle, is foreshadowed by the conversation between Nick and Jordan about how bad driving can cause explosive violence. The end of the novel, of course, consists of violence against Gatsby. The choice of handgun as a weapon suggests Gatsby's shady past, but it is symbolic that it is his love affair, not his business life, that kills Gatsby in the end.

Class is an unusual theme for an American novel. It is more common to find references to it in European, especially British novels. However, the societies of East and West Egg are deeply divided by the difference between the noveau riche and the older moneyed families. Gatsby is aware of the existence of a class structure in America, because a true meritocracy would put him in touch with some of the finest people, but, as things stand, he is held at arm's length. Gatsby tries desperately to fake status, even buying British shirts and claiming to have attended Oxford in an attempt to justify his position in society. Ultimately, however, it is a class gulf that seperates Gatsby and Daisy, and cements the latter in her relationship to her husbad, who is from the same class as she is.

It is interesting that Fitzgerald chooses to use some religious tropes in a novel that focuses on the American Dream, a concept which leaves no room for religion save for the doctrine of individualism. The most obvious is the image of the "valley of ashes," which exemplifies America's moral state during the "Roaring Twenties." This wasteland is presided over by the empty eyes of an advertisement. Fitzgerald strongly implies that these are the eyes of God. This equation of religion with advertising and material gain are made even more terrifying by the fact that the eyes see nothing and can help no one (for example, this "God" can do nothing to prevent Myrtle or Gatsby's deaths).

Because The Great Gatsby is set in the Roaring Twenties, the topic of the Great War is unavoidable. The war was crucial to Gatsby's development, providing a brief period of social mobility which, Fitzgerald claims, quickly closed after the war. Gatsby only came into contact with a classy young debutante like Daisy as a result of the fact that he was a soldier and that no one could vouch for whether he was upper-class or not. The war provided him with further opportunities to see the world, and make some money in the service of a millionaire. Gatsby's opportunities closed up after the end of the war, however, when he found upon returning to America that the social structure there was every bit as rigid as it was in Europe. Unable to convince anyone that he is truly upper-class (although his participation in the war gave him some leeway about lying), Gatsby finds himself unable to break into East Egg society.

“The dominant themes of the novel are those of illusion and corruption.” Discuss this statement, supporting your answer with the aid of suitable reference to the novel.

Illusion and corruption dominate The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Illusions are created by characters to hide aspects of their lives or to lead other characters astray. Jay Gatsby is the epitome of illusion, and is the central illusionist in the novel. However an illusion is also created by Daisy Buchanan with regards to her true feelings for Gatsby. As well as being an illusionist Gatsby is under the illusion that he can change the past. Additionally it could be argued that the attendees of Gatsby’s parties are illusionists in their own right. Corruption runs alongside the illusionists and they portray two various types; criminal corruption and moral corruption. Gatsby built his fortune on corruption; engaging in criminal activities to create ‘Jay Gatsby’. Moral corruption is evident in the characters who partake in adultery; examples being Tom and Myrtle. Daisy is an example of how characters can be corrupted by their beliefs.

When discussing the theme of illusion in The Great Gatsby it is impossible not to refer to Jay Gatsby. Jay Gatsby or the Great Gatsby as he came to be known is the true illusionist in the novel. His entire life is an illusion. Born James Gatz to a poor farmingfamily in North Dakota, Jay Gatsby is an illusion. In the pursuit of his American Dream “he invented the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old would be likely to invent..’’, he involved himself with people who would help him gain wealth, bought a big fancy house across the water from Daisy’s, drove a showy car and wore expensive designer suits; all in the hope that Daisy would love him. Due in part to the lack of knowledge on his history, many people were under Gatsby’s illusion; they believed that “he killed a man once’’ or “was a German spy during the war’’ and rather than ruin his illusion with the truth Gatsby allows them to continue believing in the false accusations. Another key part of Gatsby’s illusion is the forced formality he uses when speaking, giving the impression that “he was picking his words with care’’ and referring to others as “old sport’’. On account of his total remodelling of himself, Jay Gatsby is very much the true illusionist of the novel and causes the theme of illusion to dominate throughout.

Whilst Jay Gatsby is an illusion created to make Daisy fall in love with him, Daisy Buchanan also creates an illusion of her own. Daisy twice leads Gatsby to believe that she loves him, creating the illusion that the two of them will be together only to break this. Back in 1917 Daisy and Gatsby met for the first time and a young, then, James Gatz falls head over heels in love with her. When he leaves to fight in the war he is under the illusion that Daisy will wait for him, an illusion that is soon broken as she marries Tom. She once again becomes an illusionist in 1922 when she embarks on an affair with Gatsby, leading him to believe that she will leave Tom for him, only for this illusion to be broken when she reveals she can’t tell Tom she “never loved him’’. This illusion is the basis of the novel and thus the reason that the theme of illusion dominates the novel.

As well as being an illusionist, Gatsby is also under the illusion that he has the ability to change the past. His previous romance with Daisy failed as he wasn’t wealthy enough to provide everything that Daisy longed for. He believes that under his new persona of Jay Gatsby he can rectify his past mistakes and create a future with Daisy regardless of what happened. When Nick tells him he can’t change the past he replies incredulously “Why of course you can.’’ It is this mixed up illusion that drives Gatsby’s American Dream, making him not only the master of illusion but the victim of illusion. As a result of this the theme of illusion is predominate in the novel.

As a final note on the theme of illusion, it could also be argued that Gatsby’s party guests create an illusion of their own. Gatsby’s parties are attended by hundreds of people, many of whom have never met the man whose house they are in. They create the illusion that Gatsby is a very popular man, with many friends who care about him. In contrast to his wild parties, no one besides Nick and Gatsby’s father cared enough about him to attend his funeral. Even his business associates, who Gatsby regularly went to lunch with, don’t care enough to attend his funeral leading us to believe that they two were illusionists, helping the theme of illusion to dominate the novel.

As highlighted above, Jay Gatsby is an illusion created to help Gatsby attain his American Dream, however in creating and maintaining this illusion he engages in criminal activities. His criminal corruption, although kept under wraps, widely discussed at his parties. He is rumoured to have “killed a man’’, takes long distance phone calls late at night and associates with Meyer Wolfsheim, a notorious gangster. When questioned about his wealth Gatsby simply says that he inherited it. However Tom Buchanan doesn’t accept this explanation and discovers that Gatsby is actually involved in the Prohibition Era practice of “bootlegging’’ thus making him a criminally corrupt. This pushes the theme of corruption to the forefront of the novel. As well as the criminal corruption there is also the issue of moral corruption in the novel, particularly in the case of Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson. Both these characters commit adultery, having an on-going extra marital affair with one another without thought for their other halves. Myrtle lies and tells her husband that “she goes to see her sister in in New York’’ and her husband is described as being “so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive’’, whilst Tom makes no secret of his affair around Daisy, taking Myrtle’s call during dinner. Tom and Myrtle have a totally separate life in New York and it is said that “neither of them can stand the person they’re married to.’’ This shows that both Tom and Myrtle are morally corrupt as they see no problem with having an extra marital affair. It could also be argued that this is not Tom’s first affair; given that himself and Daisy have moved “here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and where rich together.’’ All this shows why the theme of corruption is dominant in the novel.

Daisy Buchanan is an example of how characters can be corrupted their beliefs. Daisy firmly believed that money and material items were the most important things in life. Daisy chose Tom over Gatsby because of his money, and stays with him even though he is having a morally corrupt affair because she doesn’t want to be without money. Daisy’s corruption by money is evident when Gatsby shows her around his house, crying that it “makes [her] sad because [she’s] never seen such beautiful shirts’’. Symbolism also helps to show how Daisy is corrupted by money; Fitzgerald attempts to give the illusion that she is pure by dressing her in white, but she is obsessed with money which is gold. Gold is at the center of a daisy, the flower after which she is named. Daisy is corrupted by wealth and materialism which highlights how corruption is a dominant theme in the novel. I thoroughly believe that I have highlighted how illusion and corruption are dominating themes in The Great Gatsby above. There are many examples of how illusion dominates through the characters, many of whom can be described as illusionists. Jay Gatsby although the master of illusion, falls victim to the illusion that he can change the past. Daisy is also an illusionist in that she gives Gatsby the false sense that she loves him when in reality she has no intention of leaving Tom. Finally Gatsby’s party guests and the people he surrounds himself with create the false illusion that he has many people who care for him. Corruption runs alongside many of these illusionists, many of them are either criminally or morally corrupt. Jay Gatsby is involved in criminal activities to create his illusion, whilst Tom and Myrtle are morally corrupt due to their adultery. Daisy is corrupted by wealth and materialism. All of the above show how dominant illusion and corruption are throughout.

Related Notes


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *