Scott Fitzgerald comments on the lighthearted vivacity and the moraldeterioration of the period. It possesses countless references to thecontemporary period. The aimlessness and shallowness of the guests, thecrazy extravagance of Gatsby’s parties, and the indication of Gatsby’sconnection in the bootlegging business all represent the period and theAmerican setting. But as a piece of social critique, The Great Gatsby alsodescribes the defeat of the American dream, and that the American ideals differ with the actual social conditions that exist in society. For the American constitutions stands for the freedom, and equality among people, but the truth of the matter is that social discrimination still exists and the grouping among the classes can never be overcome. Myrtle’s attempt to become a “member” of Tom’s group is predestined tofail, because he is of the wealthier, more “sophisticated” class. Takingadvantage of her animation, her lively nature, she tries to elude the rest of her class.
She gets involved in an affair with Tom, and inherits his values, and his way of living. By doing so, she only demoralizes herself, and becomes corrupt like the rich are stereotyped to be. She belittles people from her own class, and loses all sense of honor that she once had. And for all her social desires, Myrtle never does find her place in Tom’s “high brow” world of the rich. Fitzgerald portrays Myrtle’s condition, obviously, as a minor reflection toGatsby’s more substantial struggle.
While Myrtle’s ambitions come from hersocial desires, Gatsby’s are linked more to his idealism, his strong belief in life’s opportunity. For sure, his desire is influenced by social considerations as well; Daisy, who is beautiful and rich, shows a lifestyle which is distant to Gatsby’sand therefore is more attractive to him, because it is so far out of his reach. However, social status is not his premier reason for loving Daisy.
It only leads him, and makes him subject to believe in life’s great opportunity. Like Myrtle does, Gatsby fights to fit himself into another social group, the one of old money, but his attempt is more significant, because his whole faith in life isrested upon it. Therefore, his failure is much more frightful to him, as anylarger dream’s failure turns out to be. His whole objective, his confidence in life and himself is completely smashed when he fails to win Daisy’s love. His death, when it arrives is nearly meaningless, for, with the defeat of his dream, Gatsbyis already spiritually murdered, and would lose all faith in life. For the novel as a social critique, The Great Gatsby is a critique on moraldecay in contemporary American society.
The idea of corruption of values and the decrease in spiritual life, is directly tied in with the American Dream. The novel brings forth the idealism of the early settlers who founded America. Fitzgerald relates Gatsby’s dream to the early Americans; at the end of thenovel, Nick recalls the former Dutch sailors and compares their strong sense in wonder and Gatsby’s optimism.
The story also brings out a good point, that Americans lose their purpose in life as material achievements delete all meaningful goals. The Buchanans are great characters to choose to represent this point. Their sheltered lives, filled with material possessions and luxuries, yet empty of purpose proves how people with all the material needs, tend to lose sight on what is truly important in life. Daisy’s lamentation is very characteristic of this:”What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon? And the day after that, andthe next thirty years?” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, pg.
125)Fitzgerald clarifies that hopes and dreams are needed to give man’sefforts a meaning, or a purpose. Pushing towards some ideal is how man can feel a sense of his own identity. Obviously, Jay Gatsby, with the great gift of hope, placed in comparison to the aimlessness of Tom and Daisy, reaches heroic nobility. It is also said that the corruption of dreams, the corruption of the American Dream itself, is inescapable, not only because reality is never the same as the greatness of ideals, but because, the ideals are too perfect to become a reality. Gatsby is naive in that he dreams the impossible, he attempts to repeat the past, setting himself up for the predestined failure that inevitably comes with great expectations.