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Social Class Distinctions in the Great Gatsby

In the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald we may see a clear connection between geographical location and social values, East Egg, West Egg and the Valley of Ashes exemplify to that. These differences are evident in such characters as Jay Gatsby (West Egg), Tom and Daisy Buchanan (East Egg), George and Myrtle Wilson (the Valley of Ashes). Though they are separated only by a small expanse of water, the distinction between East Egg and West Egg symbolize the difference between the so called “old money” and “new money”, which means that East Egg represents the hereditarily aristocracy with appropriate refined manners. They got used to easy money and were spoilt with the surroundings, as Daisy Buchanan, Nick Carraway’s cousin, for instance, was spoilt by gentlemen’s attitude to her. The most typical representatives of this region are Daisy and Tom Buchanan.
While West Egg is home to the newly rich, those who got rich by leaps and bounds, Gatsby was a typical representative of those who pretended to correspond to the level of aristocratic people. East Egg and West Egg guests communicate with each other but not willingly interact as their views are prejudiced and at the parties many of them do not know the other guests and talk mostly to those with who the came to the party. Fitzgerald depicts Gatsby’s luxurious car where he recognized what layer of society he came from, as he went in for: “collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only, and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago” (Fitzgerald). Later Fitzgerald shows readers the way The Valley of Ashes’ inhabitants live and the way their modest houses, cars look like. Moreover, Nick Carraway notices that Gatsby has a peculiar theatrical manner of behavior and “one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it” (Fitzgerald). This manner is quite peculiar to the newly rich. Jordan Baker, Daisy’s friend, for example possesses similar cynical tone, she is quite selfish and self-centered as well as other representatives of the class are.
As for the Valley of the Ashes, it was the region, situated between West Egg and East Egg, created by dumping of industrial ashes, where the poor lived. Among its inhabitants one may name a bright example of the poor, a spouse of the Wilsons, Myrtle and George. There the decay is blended with absolute poverty. In Chapter II Fitzgerald gives readers an idea about how this area looks like: “About half way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens…”(Fitzgerald).
The Valley of Ashes is a place which shows the distinction between the life of the poor and the rich, Fitzgerald depicts “low whitewashed railroad fence” and a restaurant on the way to the garage of George Wilson, the furniture of Wilson’s garage itself: “The interior was unprosperous and bare; the only car visible was the dust-covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner … this shadow of a garage must be a blind, and that sumptuous and romantic apartments were concealed overhead” (Fitzgerald). And in contrast to the luxury of Gatsby’s living rooms and Buchanan’s Georgian Colonial mansion, the Wilsons lived in misery: “a small living-room, a small dining-room, a small bedroom, and a bath. The living-room was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it” (Fitzgerald). The language they spoke was not as florid as at he parties in West Egg, their way of life and needs were quite simple and not so pretentious.
Hence, the ways people entertained themselves and behaved were also different. It is demonstrated on the example of parties Gatsby organized. They included piano playing, “game, painting a little”, idle discussions, etc. (Fitzgerald). The parties collected the rich from East Egg and West Egg: “all well dressed, all looking a little hungry, and all talking in low, earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans. I was sure that they were selling…bonds or insurance or automobiles. They were at least agonizingly aware of the easy money” (Fitzgerald). Their behavior and manners were idle and having accumulated the “staid nobility” at these parties, Gatsby underlined their superiority over the poor. Organizing the great parties with orchestra performing and “buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold” (Fitzgerald), Jay Gatsby hoped for future but actually he lived in the past. Gatsby who became legendary rich had a definite motivation for that, it was his love for Daisy Buchanan, who married a powerful young Tom Buchanan, a man of “an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax” (Fitzgerald). Gatsby managed to get remarkably rich and everything in his Gothic mansion testified to that, including his “high Gothic library, paneled with carved English oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas”(Fitzgerald). Everything that Jay Gatsby did, seems to be thoroughly thought over including minor details such as his peculiar “elaborately formal” speech pattern which has to correspond to that of the upper class, so Gatsby is “picking his words with care” (Fitzgerald). His gorgeous self-formation makes Nick believe in his “greatness” but it is nothing but an illusion. Jay Gatsby’s attempts to re-create things which are already “dead” are condemned to failure. Being a hopeful man Gatsby dedicated himself to winning Daisy’s heart by means of enriching through criminal business.
Daisy who was an embodiment of perfection for him appeared to be far from ideal and wanted her life “shaped of…love, money, of unquestionable practicality”, which was peculiar to her class. Got used to luxury and incapable of loving someone from the bottom of her heart, she finally causes Gatsby’s disillusionment when he understands that “her voice is full of money” and it is the main thing that matters.
Despite all the representatives of the rich including the Buchanans were cynical and scornful, preoccupied with their own business but still polite and at times flattering, they still had different ways to organize and lead parties. Carraway noticed it during his visit to the Buchanans: “it was sharply different from the west, where an evening was hurried from phrase to phrase…in a continually disappointed aspiration or else in sheer nervous dread of the moment itself” (Fitzgerald). They all including Daisy are merely products of social environment they live in. So Gatsby’s symbolic attempt to restore relations with her turned out to be unworthy. Jay Gatsby romantic illusions were broken against the “reefs” of money-making and money dependence. He hoped to gain respect and love of the tender lady whom he loved and desired but lived in dreams which were far from commonplace reality.
Nick, the narrator, considers Tom Buchanan a typical West Egg inhabitant, he even never tries to correspond to high moral standards as he sees no need in that. Betraying his wife Daisy with Myrtle Wilson, a thickish woman of middle-thirties, he treats this Valley of Ashes’ lady merely as an object of desire and there is a certain class gap between them, Tom realizes that she has some sort of life apart from him. Though she knows, the rich think of money all the time, she chooses Tom, coming from a solid family, and tries to improve her material situation but her endeavor is in vain as he turns out to be selfish and arrogant.
Witnessing all these differences between Easterners and Westerners Nick Carraway tries to escape from this emptiness of the society. Generally, Fitzgerald vividly depicts American society problems and tendencies of richness and glamour worshiping, materialism ideas development and by far the most evident issue of the American dream decline and social class distinction resulting in a gap between the rich and the poor, between those who got used to luxury from early childhood (East Egg) and those who enriched themselves rapidly and were pompous and theatrical in their manners thinking first and foremost of how others regard them (West Egg).


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