Uploaded by Bernadette O Donnell


The Great Gatsby
Key scene essay
The Great Gatsby: The Corruption of the American Dream through Materialism
The American dream is an ideal that has been present since American literature’s onset.
Typically, the dreamer aspires to rise from rags to riches, while accumulating such things
as love, high status,
wealth, and power on his way to the top. The dream has had variations throughout
different time periods, although it is generally based on ideas of freedom, self-reliance,
and a desire for something greater. The early settlers’ dream of traveling out West to find
land and start a family has
gradually transformed into a materialistic vision of having a big house, a nice car, and a
life of ease. In the past century, the American dream has increasingly focused on material
items as an indication of attaining success. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is a self-made
man who started
out with no money—only a plan for achieving his dream. He is so blinded by his
luxurious possessions that he does not see that money cannot buy love or happiness.
Fitzgerald demonstrates how a dream can become corrupted by one’s focus on acquiring
wealth, power, and expensive things. One key scene in particular which illustrates the
illusory nature of the American Dream as well as its fragility and transience is that when
the main characters have a party at the exclusive New York Plaza hotel.
At the start of this scene, there are repeated references to an insufferable level of heat
and a lack of ventilation in the expensive Plaza suite they occupy. They then overhear
the sounds of an ostentatious wedding taking place in the ballroom below: “Imagine
marrying anybody in this heat!’ cried Jordan dismally”. Jordan’s character is from oldmoney and is a socialite and golfer: Daisy’s closest friend and confidant. The heat
described above adds to the growing tensions and conflict within this scene and there is
evident cynicism about the prospects for a couple’s happiness in marriage. The
anonymous pronoun used has the effect of further establishing the concept that the
character of the person being married is irrelevant – only their social context and
financial situation is of any import. Furthermore, it also foreshadows the infamous line
in this scene in which Tom Buchanan insults Jay Gatsby by calling him “Mr. Nobody
from Nowhere”.
Jordan’s comment precipitates reminiscences about Daisy and Tom’s wedding day.
Daisy remembers every detail about her life of privilege with Tom however she fails to
recall the specifics of her affair with Gatsby. Daisy reveals that she the idea of a
‘pedigree’ is very important to her – as shown by her remark about her in-depth
knowledge of the background of a wedding guest Bill Biloxi: “I knew his whole family
history before he left”. This statement also emphasises the contrasting manner in which
Gatsby has acquired his wealth. Daisy is not capable of being proud of Gatsby’s
background and Gatsby is deeply ashamed and secretive about it.
Tom begins a verbal onslaught against Gatsby and questions his claims about going to
Oxford: “I hear you’re an Oxford man”. The tone of this seemingly innocuous
statement is actually very sarcastic and suggests a lack of belief in Gatsby’s fictional
back-story. Gatsby responds: “It was an opportunity they gave some of the officers”.
This rejoinder seems quite rational, measured and believable to the group and,
temporarily, the rest of the group (including Daisy) side with Gatsby. Gatsby thus
managed to maintain the façade a little longer.
However, Tom (fuelled by whiskey, jealousy and contempt for Gatsby) continues to
attack and to question and undermine Gatsby’s character, background and integrity:
“’I’ve got something to tell you old sport’ – began Gatsby”. The dash used in this line
introduces an interruption by Daisy who wishes to avoid further conflict between her
husband and her lover. She clearly wishes to maintain the status quo and selfishly
seems to abandon Gatsby in favour of retaining her luxurious lifestyle and position in
society. Gatsby seems unaware of her growing alienation from him and unwisely
responds to Tom’s obvious baiting.
Gatsby soon loses control and makes the following outburst: “’Your wife doesn’t love
you’”. Gatsby thus shatters any remaining impression of a convivial, bantering
gathering by referring overtly to the affair between himself and Daisy. From this
moment on, any remaining aspirations Gatsby may have clung to (about winning back
Daisy and being accepted in upper-class society) are over. Daisy contradicts Gatsby
and continues to pull away: “I love you now, isn’t that enough?” She therefore brings
him to the realisation that he has been unrealistic and naïve in his hopes for an ongoing
relationship with her. He seems shocked that she does not feel the same way towards
him i.e. everything he has worked for the last five years has been directly linked to his
obsession about impressing her and winning her back by means of a showy display of
Gatsby’s dream is a naïve dream based on the fallacious assumption that material
possessions are synonymous with happiness, harmony, and beauty. His American
dream has become corrupted by the culture of wealth and opulence that surrounds him.
Gatsby is a “nouveau riche,” and his romantic view of wealth has not prepared him for
the self-interested, snobbish, corrupt group of people with which he comes to associate.
He throws lavish parties for countless people, yet he has no real friends. Gatsby buys
expensive things and entertains large groups of society because of his incommunicable
desire for something greater. Nick Carraway realizes that although Gatsby is involved
in underhanded business dealings and is fixated on money, he is a good man at heart.
The last time Nick sees Gatsby alive, he tells him, “They’re a rotten crowd…. You’re
worth the whole damn bunch put together”.
Gatsby’s romantic view of life may partly be to blame for his inability to achieve his
dream. Although he has made his fortune through racketeering and conducting
suspicious business deals, his heart seems untouched by the moral evil that is around
him. He has lived not for
himself, but for his dream, for his vision of the good life inspired by the beauty of a
lovely rich girl. Gatsby’s inspiration comes from the beautiful Daisy, whom he knew
when he was in the
military. Daisy’s parents considered Gatsby to be an unsuitable match, because he did
not come from a good background and had little money. Nick Carraway, the narrator,
sees Daisy as the golden girl—the quintessential rich beauty.
Daisy is the symbol of all that Gatsby strives for; “her voice is full of money”, as Gatsby
describes it. Her voice was “full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose
and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song in it”. She can be interpreted as a
twentieth-century siren because she ensnares men with her husky, mysterious voice.
Gatsby became so enamored by her voice that he based all of his actions on winning
Daisy over. Her voice contains the promise
of vast riches. However, Gatsby is too late to realize that money is the only thing her
voice promises. There is no compassion in Daisy, just as there is none in cold, hard cash.
Gatsby’s idealism is so great that even though Daisy is married and they are having an
affair, he assumes that his vision will be realized as long as she will say that she has
never loved her husband, Tom. Not content merely to repeat the past, [Gatsby] must
also eradicate the years
in which his dream lost its reality. Daisy has been the object of Gatsby’s obsession for
the past five years, and his romanticism will not allow him to separate the past from the
present. He still sees Daisy as the golden girl he knew five years ago, and he is still set
on their golden
future together.
Gatsby’s lapse in judgment is in not realizing that Daisy represents both material
success and the corruption that wealth can bring. Although she appears to be full of
sweetness and light, she is at heart self-centered and cold. Daisy is careless with
people’s lives; she lets Gatsby take the
blame for her unintentional manslaughter of Myrtle Wilson. Her careless actions
eventually result in Gatsby’s death, of which she shows no concern. She commits
adultery, but she had no real intentions of leaving her husband. After she learns of
Gatsby’s shady background, she quickly runs back into the arms of her equally selfabsorbed, corrupt husband.
The Buchanans live in the wealthy and highly exclusive East Egg of Long Island, which
is the location that Gatsby probably desires. The green light at the end of the
Buchanans’ dock symbolizes Gatsby’s yearning for wealth and power, and it also
embodies Daisy as the object
of Gatsby’s desire. An obvious interpretation of the light is that the green represents
money. The green colour can also represent envy—the “greeneyed monster”—because
Gatsby longs to be a part of the East Egg society. The fact that the green light can be
seen across the bay, “minute and far away” from Gatsby’s mansion, symbolizes that
it—Daisy or wealth—is out of his reach, even though he can still see a glimpse of it.
Daisy and Tom’s marriage is further proof of the collapse of the American dream.
Although they belong to the elitist West Egg social group and have extreme wealth,
they are unhappy. Tom is first described as “one of those men who reach such an acute
limited excellence at
twenty-one that everything afterwards savours of anti-climax”. Tom and Daisy are both
unsatisfied with life and are searching for something better. They have travelled to
France and drifted “here and there unrestfully wherever people were rich and played
polo together”. They are unhappy and bored with life. They both suffer from acute
ennui. Tom seems to be searching for the excitement that he found in playing football in
college, and he finds an outlet for his dissatisfaction by cheating on his wife with
Myrtle. Once again, Gatsby does not see that attaining wealth and power does not equal
The Buchanans’ marriage is full of lies and infidelities, yet they are united through their
corruption. After Tom has discovered Daisy’s infidelity and Myrtle has been killed,
their callous selfishness is revealed when they are reunited over fried chicken and two
bottles of ale. They
instinctively seek out each other because each recognizes the other’s strength in the
corrupt spiritual element they inhabit. After Myrtle and Gatsby are both killed, neither
one of the Buchanans sends their regards or seem remorseful. In fact, they go on a short
vacation, which is an indication of the lack of compassion they have toward others.
Nick perceives Tom and Daisy as they really are, heartless and careless. “They smashed
up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast
carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up
the mess they had made”. Tom and Daisy’s actions are an indication of the detrimental
and emotionally numbing effects that wealth can have on someone. They focus too
much on appearance and things of monetary
value, while ignoring people’s feelings and lives.
Jordan Baker’s plans are also negatively impacted by the corruptive qualities of wealth.
Although Nick is attracted to Jordan’s bored, jaunty, careless air at first, he finally
understands that it conveys her profound disregard for other people’s feelings. Jordan
supports Daisy having an affair, because “Daisy ought to have something in her life”. It
is clear that Jordan does not view having a husband, a child and seemingly limitless
wealth as anything in itself. This also shows that, to Daisy and Jordan, Gatsby
represented a flamboyant distraction from the boredom of everyday life.
She sees Gatsby as something, not someone. She objectifies him and sees him as a means
to an end rather than an end in himself.
Jordan also has a reputation for being dishonest and for being a gossip. She was
involved in a golf tournament scandal in which she was accused of moving her golf ball
to her advantage. Jordan belongs to the elitist East Egg social group because of her
careless, dishonest ways. She serves as a hint as to the true nature of the people from
East Egg. Jordan may also be an indication of the types of people that Gatsby entertains,
since she attends his parties. She is similar to many of his partygoers in that she exploits
his hospitality yet never shows any genuine kindness toward him. Those who attended
Gatsby’s lavish parties were just random socialites from New York who took advantage
of his naiveté and desperate attempts to impress the upper classes. They showed no
loyalty to Gatsby and did not attend his funeral.
It is very telling that Gatsby’s house is full of people throughout the entire summer, yet
when Gatsby dies, no one attends his funeral except Nick and Gatsby’s father. The
shallow acquaintances of Gatsby were never his true friends. Countless people who
attend his parties, rode on his hydroplane and in his car, drinking his alcohol were
nowhere to be seen when the time came to pay their respects for him. The only guest
who calls Gatsby’s home is
Klipspringer, who lived in Gatsby’s mansion for a period of time.
However, he only calls to inquire about a pair of shoes that he has misplaced. This
incident reinforces the insensitivity of his business associates (gangsters who also took
advantage of his aspirations). The corrupt atmosphere in which Gatsby has lived
blights his dream of success.
Nick is an atypical attendee of Gatsby’s parties, because he is the only one who shows
compassion for Gatsby. Nick knows the truth about Gatsby—his humble background,
his dishonest business dealings, and his aspirations for success. Nevertheless, Nick
recognizes that although Gatsby has become immersed in a world of materialism and
corruption, he is still a good man. Perhaps because he and Gatsby both come from the
Midwest, they do not truly belong with the shallow company of East Egg and West
Egg. Nick serves as an objective view of the superficial world that surrounds him in
Long Island.
Nick’s personality is deeply rooted in ideals of the Midwest and of his family. Nick
comes to the East because he is feeling restless upon his return from World War I.
However, he comes to realize that the East is full of heartless and shallow people. This
atmosphere does not fit well
with Nick’s honest and sincere character. His Midwest background has given him a
comparison for judging the glitz and materialism that surrounds him. Nick’s American
dream is based on his experiences of warm home life and friendly faces. He fondly
recalls memories of taking
the train home from college with friendly faces and jingling sleigh bells to keep him
company. It is the counterpoint to Gatsby’s sustaining dream, which it frames and
interprets, a dream of aspiration that moves Gatsby to follow it to imagined glory and
unforeseen defeat. Nick’s
dream is closer to the original American dream, which was focused more around family
than wealth and an unending quest for success. Nick represents the opposite path that
Gatsby could have taken from the Midwest. Gatsby still possesses the principles of the
Midwest, but his
values have become blurred by the bright lights and the sparkle of Daisy’s golden glow.
Although Nick describes the towns beyond the Ohio River as boring and sprawled, it is
obvious that Fitzgerald’s novel is a commentary on the distortion of the traditional
American dream as a result of the East. The lure of the East represents a profound
displacement of the American
dream, a turning back upon itself of the historic pilgrimage towards the frontier which
had, in fact, created and sustained that dream. While the geographic locations of the
East and the Midwest play broad roles in shaping the novel’s view on values and
money, the microcosms of East Egg, West Egg, and the Valley of Ashes further
emphasize the socioeconomic disparity between classes. East Eggers are at the top of
the social ladder, while the inhabitants of West Egg cannot seem to reach them. This
brings to surface the differences between “old money” and “new money.” Gatsby
cannot accomplish his dream partly because of the superior claims that old moneyed
families have over newly wealthy individuals. This directly relates to Gatsby being able
to see the green light on the Buchanan’s dock but not being able to reach it. The
working-class, depressing area dubbed the “Valley of Ashes” reinforces the idea that
corruption surrounds the wealthy. The Valley of Ashes is where Tom acts out his
infidelities. It is also the location for Daisy’s killing of Myrtle. Tom and Daisy
respectively use and harm members of
this class with no remorse.
On the surface, Fitzgerald’s novel may appear to be just a shallow novel about the jazz,
parties, and glitz that he experienced in the early twentieth century. After closer
examination, however, it is apparent that The Great Gatsby is a profound social
commentary on the corrupt and
disillusioning effects that materialism can have on members of society.
The have-nots yearn to be like the haves, yet those who already have wealth and status
are unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. On the whole, the elitist group in the
novel displays characteristics of being bored, disenchanted, and unmotivated.
For example, the Buchanans drift from one place to the next, with no real plan or goal in
mind. Jordan Baker has a constant bored, unaffected look upon her face. These people
are the “haves,” but Fitzgerald makes the reader question whether what they possess is
really worth having. Gatsby has devoted his life to belonging to this exclusive group,
but it becomes obvious that he never will belong because of his disreputable
background. It should also be noted that Gatsby’s romantic idealism does not fit in with
this group; no matter how far up the social ladder he climbed, he would never really fit
in. The great irony seems to be that the people who have the means, monetary or
socially, to grasp their dreams do not have the motivation or
the will.
The drifting, careless, shallow people who comprise the social group of East Egg and
West Egg are representative of the corruption that materialism can bring. Gatsby is
surrounded by this materialism and discontent, which serves to tarnish his dream of
success. His rags-to-riches
dream turns into a dark nightmare that leads to his untimely downfall. His romantic
idealism has not prepared him for the corrupt world in which he enters. Gatsby is
surrounded by proof of the
unhappiness that ‘success’ can bring, as seen especially through Tom and Daisy. Their
marriage is full of lies and deceit, and they are both searching for something greater
than what they already have. Gatsby is so blinded by his dream that he does not see
that money cannot buy love
or happiness. Fitzgerald effectively offers a powerful critique of a materialistic society
and the effects it can have on one’s hopes and dreams.
In conclusion, the Plaza party scene acts as a climax and key turning point in the novel
as Gatsby’s delusional hopes and aspirations are shattered by a harsh and cruel reality.
His dreams are completely dead after this scene and it only remains for the novel to
resolve this death of idealism into the physical death of the protagonist himself. This
scene was particularly dramatic in my view because of the fact that five years of hard
work, and engagement with dangerous criminal activities culminated in such a short
scene in which all of his efforts came to naught. This scene epitomises the corruption
and vulnerability of the American Dream and added to my appreciation of the novel as
whole because it highlighted the greed and selfish nature of the upper classes and set
Gatsby apart from this insular, self-absorbed world by revealing the extent of his
naiveté and hapless delusion.