Is Money Important? | Teen Ink

Is Money Important?

January 21, 2019
By Emilyi SILVER, Shenzhen, Other
Emilyi SILVER, Shenzhen, Other
7 articles 0 photos 0 comments

What would one expect to be the life of a man who suddenly becomes unbelievably rich but was born into an impoverished farmer family? In The Great Gatsby, a novel that critiques the society of the roaring twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays the story of such a man, Jay Gatsby who was born in a poor farm family but later became a millionaire. Throughout the book, Fitzgerald extensively writes about the life of the upper class and reveals a cruel truth about social stratification as well as the idea of disillusionment. In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald dismantles the notion that wealth is the ultimate goal of life.

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald reveals the difference between social classes in various settings. He emphasizes that there are two different types of wealth in the society: Old Money and New Money. The most obvious distinction is where they live; despite both live in Long Island shore, Old Money dominates the East Egg and New Money is located in West Egg. Although both eggs are “identical in contour” (5) and have “physical resemblance” (5), they are separated by “a courtesy bay” and “the most domesticated body of salt water”, and possess “dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size” (5). Here, the quote directly indicates the impenetrable gap between West and East Eggs, representing New and Old Money, both physically and literally. With the use of diction, Fitzgerald shows that despite being “identical” and have many “physical resemblance”, the similarity is only present on an artificial level is shown by detail like “in contour”. In contrary, there is tremendous “dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size”, indicating that the differences go beyond superficiality. By emphasizing the shallowness of the similarity and the profound dissimilarity of East Egg and West Egg, Fitzgerald invites his message that the divide between Old Money and New Money is impenetrable. 

Fitzgerald then moves on to establish his vision of class throughout the novel: wealth is universally admired while poverty inspires revulsion. As a representation of Old Money, the Buchanans live in the “white palaces of fashionable East Egg [that] glittered along the water”(6). Through the narration of Nick Carraway, the readers get a glimpse of the East Egg when he visits the Buchanans in Chapter 1: “their house was even more elaborate than I[he] expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran towards the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sundials and brick walls and burning gardens - finally when it reached the house…”(6). According to the narrator Nick, someone who lives in the contemporary society of the 1920s and a representative of New Money, his admiration towards East Egg is reflected by words such as “elaborate”, “cheerful” and “overlooking”(6). This shows that in New Money’s mind, Old Money is superior to New Money. Through the visual imagery, Fitzgerald also employs a positive and joyful tone to illustrate the wealth, which is acquired legally from inheritance, of the Buchanans. “Overlooking” also expresses a commanding and condescending connotation that characterizes the Old Money. In contrary to East Egg, West Egg is “the less fashionable of the two”(5) according to Nick who lives in West Egg himself and represents New Money. In Nick’s own description, his house is “a small eyesore” which is being “overlooked”(5). This description not only contrasts with the Old Money who actively overlooks from the top and creates a subordinate impression for the New Money in comparison. Using specific details about the upper class, Fitzgerald explicitly shows this division between Old and New Money. Description of the wealthy appears throughout the novel, while Fitzgerald mentioned the lower class in only one chapter. In chapter 3, the Valley of Ashes, which is “a certain desolate area of land” and “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens”(16), is the representation of No Money. When describing the Valley of Ashes, Fitzgerald uses a despairing and gloomy tone to distinguish it from the wealthy. Both visual and olfactory images vividly unveil a place where “ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke” and with “powdery air”(16). The color of grey, which has a negative connotation of hopelessness and sadness, also directly links to the Valley of Ashes. Similar negative tone for describing the Valley of Ashes exist through the authors’ use of diction: “dismal”, “dimly”, “grotesque” and “ghastly”; indicating the No Money’s subordinate status in the social hierarchy which Fitzgerald intended to portray. But in general, Fitzgerald uses positive tone and connotation for the East and West Eggs, negative tone and connotation for the Valley of Ashes. Manifested by this difference, Fitzgerald also shows that, the societal attitude toward the lower class is negative, and positive for the upper class despite the great distinction among themselves. But within the upper class, New Money admires Old Money. Consequently, Fitzgerald conveys to the readers that higher social status is pursued by everyone.

Finally, Fitzgerald highlights disillusionment to make the readers aware that wealth can’t bring people happiness by illustrating a tragic ending for Jay Gatsby. In the novel, Gatsby is depicted as extremely wealthy through the portrayal of his excessive and indulgent spending on parties. Later in the story, Fitzgerald shows that the luxurious image of Gatsby is only a facade of him which he “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself”(63). At this point, when Fitzgerald unveils the reality of how Gatsby was born into an impoverished and unsuccessful family and made his fortune through bootlegging; the fantasy of conception of the upper class is destroyed. Fitzgerald utilizes a dismissive and ironic tone throughout chapter 6 when Gatsby’s backstory unfolds, expressed through word combinations such as  “grotesque and fantastic conceits” and  “ineffable gaudiness”(63). Words like “grotesque”, “conceits” and “gaudiness” all have a negative and pessimistic connotation of ugliness, whereas “fantastic” and “ineffable” have a positive connotation of goodness, which contrasts with the negative connotation and creates a sense of irony. Contrary to the positive and glorifying tone for Gatsby in the previous chapters, the tone shifts to a sardonic climate, signifying the negative aspect of wealth. Besides, the message that money doesn’t lead to happiness is also conveyed through the symbol of green light. However, the symbolic meaning of the green light varies in the story: green is the color of hope and energy, but it also represents greed and the lust for money. The first time when the green light emerges is in chapter 1 when Nick first encounters Gatsby and he witnesses Gatsby standing alone facing seaward: “he stretched out his arm towards the dark water in a curious way... Involuntarily I glanced seaward - and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock” (16). From this quote, it is apparent that the green light must be something Gatsby desires desperately by the way he “stretched out his arm” and “trembling”. Here, the green light symbolizes the Gatsby’s hope and ambition so the tone is rather neutral and mysterious. Nevertheless, in chapter 9, the symbolic meaning of green light changes to be associated with money and greed: “He had come such a long way to this blue lawn... But what he did not know was that it was already behind him, somewhere in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night” (115). Fitzgerald reminds the readers that the hope and energy are replaced by Gatsby’s lust and greed for money because hope “was already behind him” but Gatsby insists that “he could hardly fail to grasp it”. During this process, the tone suddenly shifts to pessimistic and tragic, just like the harrowing ending to Gatsby. As a result, Fitzgerald expresses the actuality of Jay Gatsby as an epitome of disillusionment and uses the symbolism of green light to inform that wealth doesn’t equate to happiness.

In the end, Gatsby who was born into a poor farmer family and suddenly becomes rich wound up upsettingly. The message that wealth shouldn’t be the ultimate goal of life emerges throughout the story of Gatsby, through the portrayal of social stratification, differences between Old Money and New Money, and the notion that money can’t buy happiness. Fitzgerald breaks the illusion of wealth and warns the readers of ways that wealth is being disillusioned by presenting the corrupted mindset of people in the roaring twenties. However, this message transcends until today and still toils to remind the materialistic society of the 21st century that money isn’t the only thing that matters.

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