Themes in The Great Gatsby

Themes

The major themes in The Great Gatsby are: money & wealth, social class, American dream, love & marriage, gender.

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Theme of money in The Great Gatsby.Theme of social class in The Great Gatsby.American dream in The Great Gatsby.Theme of love and marriage in The Great Gatsby.Theme of gender in The Great Gatsby.
Money & wealthSocial classAmerican dreamLove & marriageGender

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🗽 The American Dream in The Great Gatsby

What Is the American Dream in The Great Gatsby?

American dream in The Great Gatsby.

It may seem like this story is all about tragic love, but in The Great Gatsby, the American dream is the central theme. Every scene and every character is connected to the idea of the American dream’s corruption. It is not about a better life anymore but about getting richer and richer.

The Role of The American Dream in the Novel

The American dream was born when Europeans began to move west to America, seeking a better life. As Nick pictures it in Chapter 9, for the first settlers, it was all about discovery. They wanted freedom, happiness, and equality.

However, during the Jazz Age, it turned upside down. Money has become the goal instead of an instrument. After the war, the stock market rocketed up to the point when anyone could become wealthy. That is when the new rich of the 1920s appeared. With time, the greed for money overrode the old dream of free and happy family life. The novel pictures this transition perfectly. Swarms of people moving east to New York represent the American dream’s corruption in The Great Gatsby. Nick Carraway can be counted as one of them since he moved to New York City hoping to start a career in the bond business.

Gatsby has already reached success in terms of making money. However, his dream is controversial. He is completely consumed by the materialistic idea of getting as rich as possible, but love for Daisy motivates him. This uncorrupted dream is what makes Gatsby different from other characters who are empty inside. Nevertheless, he is using faulty means to conquer Daisy. Gatsby thinks that money is an easy and fast solution to everything, but that is where he is wrong. Moreover, he connects with the criminals.

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Initially, hard work and belief were the tools that would lead anyone to the American dream, which is one of the main themes. Gatsby is not the only character in the novel who tries to cheat. Myrtle seems to have fallen for the idea of a wealthy life too. She sees the way to it through Tom Buchanan. At the end of the story, she ends up dead, as well as Gatsby. Their failure symbolizes the danger of taking a shortcut on the way to the American Dream.

One of the symbols representing the hopelessness of materialism is the Valley of Ashes. Just like other characters of the novel, people who live there believe that money will make them happy. Fitzgerald hit the nail on the head because if people try to look for the source of abundance outside, it leads them to frustration.

Quotes about the American Dream in The Great Gatsby

“If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 8

“Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind? He was always great for that.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 8

“…I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 8

♂️ Gender in The Great Gatsby

Women in The Great Gatsby

Theme of gender in The Great Gatsby.

Women in The Great Gatsby represent the struggle to change the usual perception of gender roles. Each female character in the novel has a different approach to gender inequality at that time. None of them seem to take radical measures, but their behavior is noticeable. Women’s rights issue is one of the major themes in The Great Gatsby.

Feminism in The Great Gatsby

The gender roles in The Great Gatsby are represented just according to the way it was at the beginning of the 20th century. Most families, except for old money, follow the unspoken rules. Men work and build careers, while women go out and spend money. Men also show their superiority, often getting physical with their wives.

In the novel, men are described by their social status and their place of work. However, the role of women in The Great Gatsby comes down to being pretty and obedient wives. It is very well shown by Daisy when she said that “the best thing a girl can be in this world” is to be “a beautiful little fool” so that men would use her. Essentially, that is what Daisy does – she pretends to be clueless to stay with Tom. Judging by her cynical statements, she seems to be quite intelligent, but she needs to remain submissive to save her status. Betraying Gatsby, she chose to marry Tom, whose stable wealth guarantees a careless life. Unfortunately, it appeared that her husband is a misogynistic, controlling man, for whom women are just possessions.

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Moreover, he gets physical whenever he feels the urge to show his power. It happened with both Daisy and Myrtle Wilson, his mistress. Now, Daisy is doomed to play the role of a meek wife because it is her choice. Myrtle and Daisy are just common examples of how women had to behave in the 1920s.

Unlike Daisy, Jordan chooses not to surrender to life circumstances and represents feminism in The Great Gatsby. She is a new woman, a so-called flapper, which means that she is independent and free to wear bold, colorful make-up and clothing. Jordan has a career, her own point of view, and doesn’t seem interested in becoming a mere wife. Moreover, she doesn’t limit her choice of partner to males. She challenges patriarchy by taking control of her own life and not depending on men. However, according to Nick, Jordan doesn’t possess the level of femininity other ladies in the novel have. He mentions that her body type resembles a manly athlete, even though she is charming. All in all, Jordan Baker is a representative of a feminist movement of the time.

Quotes on the Role of Women in The Great Gatsby

“‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 1

“She was incurably dishonest… Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply—I was casually sorry, and then I forgot.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 3

“Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with the season; suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men, and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 8

👬 Social Class in The Great Gatsbysocial

Theme of social class in The Great Gatsby.

Every character belongs to a specific social class in The Great Gatsby. The differences between the classes are drastic, but they help create a precise image of the 1920s. Fitzgerald also highlights division inside the social classes, which also appears to be a critical theme in The Great Gatsby.

Social Inequality in the Novel

There are three social classes in The Great Gatsby: old money, new money, and no money. Although old money and nouveau riche may have the same amount of gold in their banks, they are still distinct. Aristocratic old families from East Egg, represented by the Buchanans, simply cannot accept people who just got rich as not only they lack manners, but they may be a threat. Therefore, the new rich, such as Gatsby, have to stay in West Egg while struggling to make enough connections to be accepted in the elite social class. On the other hand, Myrtle and George Wilson belong to no money – the lowest class – just like other people living in the Valley of Ashes.

Power and privilege are divided according to social position. It is especially noticeable by the submissive acting of Wilson when Tom comes by his garage. Wilson knows that money equals power, and it is the reason why Myrtle is so eager to get into the elite club.

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What is more, Myrtle’s attitude toward her husband brings up a relation between status and love. She mentions that she thought her husband was of better “breeding” when they met, but he turned out to be poor hence unworthy. And, eventually, Gatsby fails to get Daisy back because it is not the wealth that she is into. Daisy rejects Gatsby due to his social background. Someone who comes from a low-income family is no match for an aristocrat like her.

Finally, higher social classes can afford to cover up their missteps, just like it happens with Tom and Daisy. Just like Gatsby, as a very prominent persona, escapes the penalty on the road to New York City, Daisy quickly forgets that she killed a person and simply leaves the city. It is also possible that Tom paid Myrtle’s sister to stay quiet about his affair since she never dropped a word about it.

Racism in The Great Gatsby

Not only does Tom feel privileged, but his attitude underlines the issue of racism in The Great Gatsby and the society of the 1920s as a whole. Tom appears to be incredibly racist, and it comes up when he comments on the book called “The Rise of the Coloured Empires.” He is afraid that the white race “will be utterly submerged.”

The Great Gatsby: Social Class Quotes

“Have you read ‘The Rise of the Coloured Empires’ by this man Goddard?.. Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 1

“He’s an Oggsford man… He went to Oggsford College in England. You know Oggsford College?.. It’s one of the most famous colleges in the world.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 4

“An Oxford man!.. Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit… Oxford, New Mexico, or something like that.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 7

🤑 Wealth in The Great Gatsby

Theme of money in The Great Gatsby.

The money question also makes it to the list of the major themes in The Great Gatsby. Not only does it include the amount but also the way people get their finances. Essentially, for all the characters in The Great Gatsby, wealth becomes the only goal, and materialism corrupts the American Dream.

Money in The Great Gatsby

In The Great Gatsby, materialism takes over people’s minds, and they celebrate nothing else but their ability to get more possessions. Poor characters think that the hunger inside will go away as soon as they get wealthy. But it only takes one glimpse to understand that excessively rich people like Tom stay hollow – money doesn’t fix it.

It all comes down to money in The Great Gatsby. The Roaring Twenties have brought the idea that wealth is universal salvation. Tom keeps a mistress, and Gatsby is trying to get love from Daisy, while she only wants security and status. All of them use money as an instrument to achieve their goals. But it goes further as none of them notices the hollowness of the material side of their lives. Gatsby’s flashy parties are one of the symbols of wastefulness and carelessness in the novel. People are trapped in the vicious cycle of consumerism, and they don’t see any other aim than just spending money. It underlines the influence of money as the central theme in The Great Gatsby. Also, materialism is tightly connected to the American Dream’s corruption since it is easy to quit the dream when there is easy money on the table.

Old Money vs. New Money in The Great Gatsby

For the lower class, money is the same everywhere but not for the elite. Old aristocratic families of East Egg hate on the West Egg newcomers since they got rich just right after the war. These two Long Island areas symbolize the clash of old money vs. new money in The Great Gatsby.

The main reason for such a division in the upper class is that aristocrats do not welcome the new rich. The new money vs. old money battle has been going on since the end of the war. Then, people could build up their fortunes thanks to the thriving economy. However, the way from rags to riches does not suggest making social connections. Hence, they have decided to compensate for it with overly ostentatious houses and outfits. Of course, families who have been rich for decades stick to their old traditions, so they only see vulgarity and lack of style in the new money class. But the aristocratic grace and manners appear to be a mask that old money people wear to hide arrogance and hypocrisy.

The Great Gatsby: Quotes about Money

“His family were enormously wealthy—even in college his freedom with money was a matter for reproach… For instance he’d brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 1

“After that I lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe – Paris, Venice, Rome – 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.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 4

“‘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…”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 7

💘 Love in The Great Gatsby

Love & Marriage in the Novel

Theme of love and marriage in The Great Gatsby.

Love is the last of the major themes in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s novel is far from an idealized romance, and the awkward attempts of the main characters to have a romantic relationship only point to the instability of love. Even though love is overdriven by wealth in The Great Gatsby, it affects the development of the characters.

Love in The Great Gatsby

The two married couples in the novel are definitely an excellent example of corrupted love in The Great Gatsby. Both Daisy and Myrtle got married with the hope of getting a stable budget. However, neither of them experience love and support, which are usually the essentials in every healthy marriage. Myrtle’s union turned out to be a disappointment since George Wilson lied about his status wearing a borrowed suit for their wedding. Daisy, on the other hand, got what she wanted – social status and financial security. Still, she has to obey Tom and suffer from his hypocrisy. It may also refer to another theme of The Great Gatsby – wealth and money.

Nick tries to pursue a somewhat normal relationship with Jordan. Throughout the novel, there is not much description of the time they spend together. However, according to Nick’s feelings, it seems like he is closer to her than anybody else. In the end, Jordan and Nick have quite an unpleasant break-up. During the Jazz Age, people were more likely to have casual relationships for fun rather than looking into love and marriage. It seems like the “tender curiosity” is the closest that characters can get to real love. Even Gatsby’s feelings toward Daisy appear to be just an illusion.

The Great Gatsby: Quotes about Love

“He had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes and I couldn’t keep my eyes off him but every time he looked at me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over his head… I told him I’d have to call a policeman, but he knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with him I didn’t hardly know I wasn’t getting into a subway train.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 2

“I thought I’d never seen a girl so mad about her husband. If he left the room for a minute she’d look around uneasily and say ‘Where’s Tom gone?’ and wear the most abstracted expression until she saw him coming in the door.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 4

“She had told him that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw. He was astounded. His mouth opened a little and he looked at Gatsby and then back at Daisy as if he had just recognized her as some one he knew a long time ago.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 7

Jay Gatsby & Daisy Buchanan

Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship is the focus of the novel. It all started in Louisville, and they had a beautiful love, which could have lasted forever. Even after being separated for years, Gatsby’s love has stayed loyal to Daisy. But she got cold-hearted pretty quickly and chose money over love.

Gatsby has gone through a very long and hard way from rags to riches and hasn’t forgotten the purpose of this journey. When they finally reunite, it seems like their love has been reborn. Gatsby is glowing with happiness, just like nothing happened, hardly keeping his eyes dry. It must have been the happiest Nick saw him. Daisy, on the other hand, looks quite confused. She might not even remember everything from their little romance in Louisville. A world full of dreams and illusions is where Gatsby lives. For him, everything has finally come back to how it was. A reality check probably wouldn’t hurt him. However, Daisy has a real family to attend to. She has a hard time choosing between Tom and Gatsby. Finally, she admits that she also loved Tom and betrays Gatsby once again. The latter, though, refuses to believe that he failed and decides to wait until Daisy changes her mind. But she is quick to erase any memory of him after the accident. Eventually, he would have realized that she could not live up to his expectations, just as Nick has suspected.

Gatsby and Daisy used to have a perfect relationship but only for a brief moment. To build a strong union of loving people, they would need to stop looking through rose-colored glasses. Both partners need to see and accept the real identity of their partner. Gatsby, however, has had some surreal expectations towards Daisy.

What Does Daisy Represent to Gatsby?

To Gatsby, Daisy represents total perfection – an idol of beauty, intelligence, and grace. And even though, in reality, she is far from this image, it is not all he sees in her. Since she was born in a wealthy family, she portrays the “golden girl” whose appearance radiates extreme wealth. Hence, Gatsby only sees her status in her.

Gatsby & Daisy Quotes

“He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you.’ After she had obliterated three years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 6

“‘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!’”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 7

“I can’t describe to you how surprised I was to find out I loved her, old sport. I even hoped for a while that she’d throw me over, but she didn’t, because she was in love with me too.”

The Great Gatsby, chapter 8

Daisy & Tom Buchanan

Another failed relationship is the union of Daisy and Tom. They have been married for three years and got a house at East Egg. They also have a child together, a lovely little girl named Pammy. According to Jordan, Daisy was even in love with Tom. It may have only been the result of her excitement after the whole three months of honeymoon. However, her feelings faded with all the burdens of family life. Besides, Tom has started cheating as soon as they came back from the honeymoon.

It is incredible how Tom and Daisy Buchanan are the only couple that survived throughout the novel. There are so many reasons for them to break it up, but they remain inseparable and even seem to have gotten closer at the end. Daisy loving Gatsby, Tom cheating and abusing her, and the murder of Myrtle were not enough for them to separate.

It may not be obvious, but what keeps Daisy and Tom together is their mutual desire to keep the privileges of the upper class. Initially, Tom was approved by Daisy’s family as a suitable match. Their marriage guarantees the stability of their status. That is why Daisy chose Tom over Gatsby once again.

🎓 References

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IvyPanda. "Themes." June 16, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/the-great-gatsby-study-guide/themes/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Themes." June 16, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/the-great-gatsby-study-guide/themes/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Themes'. 16 June.