A Marxist Critical Approach to Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby Essay example
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Karl Marx wrote in his 1859 ‘Towards a Critique of Political Economy’ that “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence but their social existence that determines their consciousness”. By stating this, Marx sheds light into the workings of ‘The Great Gatsby’ thus showing that the social circumstances in which the characters find themselves define them, and that these circumstances consist of core Marxist principles a Capitalistic society. These principles being ‘commodity fetishism’ and ‘reification’ are useful aids in interpreting and understanding the core themes that run throughout the text.
Marx did not see the class system to be the regular upper, middle and lower generalization that it is so often seen in the…show more content…
Here, the proletariats are punished for attempting to register an ounce of free will. This aids the reader’s understanding to a great extent within The Great Gatsby as we see that Wilson, and indeed Nick at times, have the inherent flaw of not being able to speak out, though they so ardently desire to. Their thoughts are suppressed by the affluent upper class. The audience can better understand this theory when considering that Nick is able to recollect the story of Gatsby years later, when he has returned to Minnesota and feels less oppressed away from the Marxist defined, capitalist regime.
Johannes Hans Bertens identifies a description of Marxism in his work “Literary Theory: The Basics”, by inferring the idea of choice within our world is in fact an illusion and that we are much more limited by circumstance than we care to admit. He further eludes that, as we disillusion ourselves with false potential, then we ourselves are alienated from the world in which we live. This is evident within the novel when Nick states, “life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all”. The metaphor suggests naivety and arrogance within society, reminiscent of Bertens feelings, whilst further raising light to the fact that much of the
Daisy was born Daisy Fay in Louisville, Kentucky, a daughter of Louisville society and Nick Carraway’s cousin. Like the flower for which she is named, Daisy is delicate and lovely. She also shows a certain weakness that simultaneously attracts men to her and causes her to be easily swayed. Daisy’s weakness influences the major points of the story, and she is responsible, if not intentionally, for the novel’s tragic ending.
Daisy first met Jay Gatsby in 1917, when he was stationed at Camp Taylor in Louisville. The two fell in love quickly, and Daisy promised to remain loyal to Gatsby when he shipped out to join the fighting. Two years later, she married Tom Buchanon because he bought her an expensive necklace, with the promise of a life of similar extravagance. Daisy is definitely distracted by wealth and power, and despite her husband’s unfaithfulness, she insists she still loves him because of his influence.
Gatsby is another matter entirely. Although she left him because he couldn’t provide for her the way Tom could, she retained some glimmer of emotional connection to him. When Gatsby finally professes his love over tea, she responds positively. But is she renewing an old love, or manipulating Gatsby? The novel doesn’t give us any clear idea.
Daisy is described in glowing terms in the novel, although her value seems to be connected to monetary value. In chapter 7, for example, Nick and Gatsby have the following famous exchange:
“She's got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It's full of —” I hesitated.
“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.
That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it.… High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl.… (120)
Daisy is an ideal, and Fitzgerald gives her the qualities to not only live up to that ideal but to also bring it crashing down around her. Daisy’s myth is as big as Gatsby’s, at least in Gatsby’s mind; like him, she took the necessary opportunities to make herself what she wanted to be. Tom takes good care of her financially and is even jealous when he realizes, in chapter 7, that Gatsby is in love with his wife. Later, Nick clears up at least part of the mystery Daisy presents: “She was the first ‘nice’ girl he’d ever known” (148; ch. 8). Nick’s use of quotes for the term “nice” shows that Daisy hardly fits the ideal image Gatsby invests her with.
Like money, Daisy promises far more than she is capable of providing. She is perfect but flawed, better as an image than as a flesh-and-blood person. Daisy was in large part based on Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, who he both worshipped and distrusted. Daisy’s money is her protection, her power, and her defense against any accusation that might come her way.
When Myrtle Wilson is killed by Daisy’s careless driving, she hides behind both money (in the form of Tom and Gatsby) and Gatsby’s love. Gatsby is the only true witness, but he takes the blame for her. Rather than renew their month-long affair, Daisy disappears into her opulent house, retreating into the only security she knows. She continues her almost ghostly existence, leaving the men in her life to clean up the mess.
Daisy’s confused sense of loyalty is evident in her disappearance before Gatsby’s funeral—she and Tom move away almost immediately, leaving no forwarding address for Nick or anyone else. An even bigger insight is Daisy’s infrequent mentions of her own daughter, who is only briefly discussed in the first chapter and in chapter 7. The child is nothing more than an afterthought, as she is unable to give Daisy anything but love, which she has in abundance. Daisy is incapable of caring for her infant—one assumes a governess or nanny takes care of her—any more than she is able to truly love Tom or Gatsby. She doesn’t love them as men, it seems, but as sources of revenue.
Daisy is capable of affection. She seems to have some loyalty to Tom, and even a certain devotion to Gatsby, or at least to the memory of their earlier time together. However, like money, Daisy is elusive and hard to hold onto. This may explain why Tom and Gatsby fight over her in chapter 7 as if she were an object:
“Your wife doesn't love you,” said Gatsby. “She's never loved you. She loves me.”
“You must be crazy!” exclaimed Tom automatically.
Gatsby sprang to his feet, vivid with excitement. “She never loved you, do you hear?” he cried. “She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved any one except me!” …
“Sit down, Daisy,” Tom's voice groped unsuccessfully for the paternal note. (130-131)
The tone of the argument seems almost like that of two men fighting over the pot in a poker game. Daisy is a prize, and she seems to see herself in those terms. In this sense, Daisy is far from what one would call a “feminist” character; rather, she is a symbol of shallow beauty, and of the amoral worlds of both East and West Egg.
In the first two chapters of the novel, its title character is a mystery—a wealthy, fun-loving local celebrity with a shady past who throws lavish weekly parties. On the surface, Gatsby is an example of the American Dream in the 1920s, the desire for wealth, love and power.
As the novel progresses, we see Gatsby more as a man than a mythical figure, and we discover that the myth of the “Great Gatsby” (as in the “Great Houdini,” an escape artist of the time) is created by Gatsby himself. He is truly a “self-made man, a fiction whose past and obsessions finally destroy him.
Jay Gatsby was born James Gatz, the son of a poor farmer in North Dakota. From an early age, Gatz was aware of his family’s poverty, and he swore he would attain the wealth and sophistication his childhood lacked (including, apparently, a fake British accent). Once out of high school, Gatz changed his name to Jay Gatsby and attended St. Olaf’s College to begin his climb to the distinction he craved. Unfortunately, Gatsby had to take a janitor’s job to pay his tuition; he left St. Olaf’s in disgust after two weeks.
Gatsby’s true education came at the hands of Dan Cody, an older man who teaches him the ways of the world in 5 years aboard Cody’s boat, the Tuolomee, on Lake Superior. Cody, a hard drinker and womanizer, was Gatsby’s role model more in teaching him what not to do. Gatsby rarely drinks, and is distant at his own lavish parties. He wants the success Cody achieved without the destructive habits that success afforded him.
After Cody died at the hands of a mistress, Gatsby joined the army and World War I. While stationed in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1917, Gatsby met a young Daisy Fay, a daughter of Louisville society. Gatsby fell in love with Daisy, lied about his background, and vowed to someday be good enough to win her heart. Gatsby believed Daisy’s promise to wait for him, but he returned to Louisville as she and Tom were on their honeymoon. Devastated, Gatsby went to Oxford in English for the education that would complete his transformation from poor farm boy to famous (or infamous) socialite.
Gatsby’s only true dream is Daisy’s love; the parties he gives at his lavish West Egg mansion are purely to lure her to him the way he stares at the green light from her dock late at night. He begs Nick to set up a rendezvous with Daisy for him, which Nick does. Their love rekindles for a short time, and Gatsby’s unrealistic view of Daisy as the picture of perfection is renewed. It is this view that eventually causes Gatsby’s death.
In a confrontation at the Plaza Hotel, Tom openly accuses Gatsby of criminal activities, including bootlegging. Tom knows about Gatsby and Wolfsheim’s “drugstores” that sell illegal grain alcohol, as well as other, more mysterious crimes. Gatsby handles the accusation with cool calm, but is devastated by Daisy’s assertion that she does indeed love her husband.
In a last-ditch effort to prove his love to Daisy, Gatsby takes the blame when she accidentally hits Myrtle Wilson in Gatsby’s car. Tom Buchanon tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was driving the car, hinting that the two may have been having an affair. At this point, the Gatsby myth returns full force, as an enraged, jealous Wilson shoots Gatsby dead, then kills himself.
Jay Gatsby dies that night, and James Gatz along with him, anonymous and alone. Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy causes him to lie his way to his standing in the community, lie about his life, and lie to protect Daisy from a fate that is transferred to him. Despite all that Jay Gatsby does, James Gatz lies just beneath the surface, simply wanting to be loved. The other activities are meaningless compared to the month he spends as Daisy’s lover. An authentic Jay Gatsby might be too detached, too crafty, to get caught up in Myrtle Wilson’s death, but James Gatz can’t hope to distance himself from one last charitable act—trying to protect the woman he loves. Gatsby can easily be seen as a negative character—a liar, a cheat, a criminal—but Fitzgerald makes certain we see the soul of James Gatz behind the myth of Jay Gatsby.
Gatsby/Gatz is in fact a tragic character motivated by love. He is also hopelessly flawed, a shadow that is incapable of a life without Daisy, even if she’s only living across the lake.
Fitzgerald ties Gatsby up with the American Dream, a dream of individualism and success with a purpose. Like the America of the 1920s, Gatsby loses sight of his original dream and replaces it with an unhealthy obsession—for the country, the pursuit of wealth for its own sake; for Gatsby, a sense of control over Daisy as evidence by both him and Tom in the Plaza Hotel. Gatsby is symbolic of a nation whose great wealth and power has blinded it to more human concerns.
Gatsby’s Romantic idealism, which Nick calls “some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life” (2; ch. 1), is all that drives him, and no enterprise that enables him to get what he craves is too extreme. In this sense, Gatsby could be considered more amoral than immoral—morality simply has no meaning for him so long as he makes his dream come true. Everything is simply a means to an end, and Gatsby represents those for whom the end is the only thing that is important.
Nick is the narrator of the novel; the story is told in his voice and through his perceptions. It has also been suggested that Nick may be the character F. Scott Fitzgerald based most closely on himself. In a sense, then, Nick may show Fitzgerald’s own opinions of wealthy, immoral characters like Gatsby.
Nick is a good Midwestern boy who attended Yale and moved to New York in 1922 to work in the bond market. He is well-positioned...
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