A Social Theory of Marxism Showing in The Great Gatsby

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A Social Theory of Marxism Showing in The Great Gatsby

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Considering the Marxist theory, the novel can be considered a scathing critique on the flawd aspects of American Society, particularly relating to class dissonance. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of The Great Gatsby, lived a short time after Karl Marx. To what effect Fitzgerald’s examination plays a role in maintaining values and beliefs of the ruling classes of 1920s American society can be successfully determined, by exploring both the features of the text, as well as the historical background in which the text is created. Central to the theme is that the characters’ exhibit conflicts, mostly because of class differences. Marx’s analysis and philosophies helps the reader better understand why there are certain class conflicts between these characters.

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Karl Marx, a German Philosopher who lived in the late nineteenth century presented the world with two famously known notions; one: a theory of society, an explanation of how it works, why history has gone the way it has on account of the nature of capitalism, and two: the idea that capitalism is extremely unsatisfactory, and the ways of eliminating it from society by ways of uprising or revolutions in order to establish a communist society.

The characters to be analysed will be, Daisy Buchanan as an example of a Bourgeois, George Wilson as a proletariat, Tom Buchanan in regards to the manipulation of George Wilson symbolizing the manipulation of the working class by the upper classes, and finally Gatsby, as he tries to jump classes in pursuit of Daisy Buchanan. However due to Marxist theory, Gatsby cannot be socially mobile due to the class consciousness and culture he was born into.

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In the text to be born into “old money” allows characters to carry themselves in a way that isn’t understood and knowledge isn’t gained from learning, but rather experienced by being part of that class of a society their whole life. This is something that Jay Gatsby never had/ never could attain. However, the way Daisy Buchanan carries herself is an impeccable example of a character exhibiting ‘old money’. Fitzgerald uses metaphor to describe Daisy’s voice as ‘full of money’(p.115) making it sound like she lives “high in a white palace of the king’s daughter” (p.115), as if her voice belongs to someone untouchable. Furthermore, because she is part of this higher social stratum she is able to manipulate and use those lower than her. Daisy seems to seduce even her cousin: “leaning slightly forward with a conscientious expression, she laughed an absurd, charming, little laugh and I laughed too…” (p.14). Fitzgerald employs adjectives connoted with daintiness and restrictiveness, such as “slightly” and “little”, to show that all Daisy’s motions are attributed to the well-bred characteristics society expects the upper class to have.

BODY (2):

False Consciousness is a concept derived from the Marxist theory of class. The dictionary definition is “a way of thinking that prevents a person from perceiving the true nature of their social/ economic situation” (Research Gate, 2018). The concept refers to the systematic misrepresentation of dominant social relations in the consciousness of subordinate classes. In other words, those of lower classes do not perceive the situation of upper classes in a realistic way, allowing for exploitation to take place. An example of a character of the Proletariat class who is unconsciously exploited, is George Wilson.

George Wilson, is dictated as a “one of these worn-out men” who has worked hard and diligently for a long time. Wilson’s hard work from selling gas and repairing and trading used cars, seems to facilitate the lives of the Wealthy East and West Egger’s, on their way from Long Island to New York City. This being the only “damp gleam of hope” throughout his “spiritless” (27) days for when “he wasn’t working he sat on a chair in the doorway and stared at the people and the cars that passed along the road’ (312). Wilson gets into contact with Tom Buchanan due to the location of his shop being in the Valley of Ashes: The Wasteland. Wilson is connotated to the Valley of Ashes throughout the book, contributing to his stuck, passive image. Fitzgerald uses imagery to aliken Wilson to dust as he struggles in a have/have not society which has drained all his resources out of him and left him with nothing but drab ashes that envelop him, ‘a white ashen dust veiled his dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity” (26). He also uses metaphor as he describes the “ash-grey men, moving dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air” (26). Fitzgerald has been rumoured to have based the Valley of Ashes on the Corona Ash Dumps, a place where ashes were dumped from coal furnaces. This waste product created a booming industry and is synonymous to the proletariat class of workers, the largest class industry, being dispensable and worthless. All other workers in the text are anonymous, such as Nick’s “Finish Woman”, the faceless butlers, chauffeurs and servants.

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Even in killing Gatsby, it could be argued that Wilson is exploited by Tom, doing the work that Tom is not willing to undertake. Fitzgerald uses descriptive imagery to display Tom’s controlling behaviour, using George as a marionette: ‘he walked quickly over to Wilson and, standing in front of him, seized him firmly by the upper arms. “You’ve got to pull yourself together,” he said with soothing gruffness… Picking up Wilson like a doll, Tom carried him into the office’ (134). Georges limpless body mimicking his wife’s lifeless body. Furthermore, Tom eggs on George into the actions that he does ‘“Listen,” said Tom, shaking him a little. “That yellow car I was driving this afternoon wasn’t mine - do you hear? I haven’t seen it all afternoon.”’ (134). It is devastating for George when he gets “wised up” (p. 118) about Myrtle having an affair before she died, for “when any one spoke to [George] he invariably laughed in an agreeable, colorless way. He was his wife’s man and not his own.” (p. 312). This diction describes Wilson as being powerless and dependant on his wife, “hurriedly” (p.17) following any of her suggestions. Additionally, because Wilson stays in The Valley of Ashes, the long road he took on foot feels especially eerie and desperate. Fitzgerald demonstrates that in this kind of capitalist society, the proletariat’s trying to revolt is essentially futile, for it is an all consuming system where those in power will just move on to exploit other people, in this case Wilson.

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Gatsby’s whole life revolves around the idea of breaking through the proletarian class and into the class of the upper social order. He is not considered into the class of the bourgeoisie but that of as the novel calls ‘old money’. The individuals who associate with this class are the ones who inherited all this money from ancestral success. They didn’t have to work for anything that they had, but were given it, as a birthright. New money, such as Jay Gatsby are more self-made and a lot of them will go through the means of illicit activities such as bootlegging in order to become rich very quickly and be part of that upper social class. Gatsby bases his life on reaching the quintessential American Dream, that “an individual can achieve success in life, regardless of family history or social status if they only work hard enough”[1]. One could argue that Gatsby epitomises this Dream, most effectively revealed through his flamboyant style of dress and the ostentation of his mansion, where he has lavish, hedonistic parties. However if we look through a Marxist lens, we may realise that this Dream is critically flawed, no matter the substantial amount of power, wealth, privilege, authority or opportunities he may gain, he still can't break through that final barrier - and he can never quite grasp the green light, the “orgastic future” (). The green light comes to represent not only Gatsby’s dreams, hopes and desires, but the aspirational American Dream that the novel shows in both its positive and negative aspects :“he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way...I glanced seaward--and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.” (). Like this national myth, the green light is forever just out of reach, but also forever motivating feats of improbable achievement yet ‘he did not know that it was already behind him’(171) exemplifying Gatsby’s idleness and carelessness. The symbolic meaning behind the green light collapses: “possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever.” (). The green colour foreshadows sickness, greed, and death, thus we as the reader watch on as it ultimately leads to the shattering of Gatsby’s quixotic dreams. For Gatsby, the green light is visible, but in reality out of reach, so is the old money contingent of wealthy Long Island society. In summation, a marxist reading has helped develop the idea of how money morph’s one’s ideology into something careless.


Essentially, the notion that money is futile has been developed. This failure of the American dream in Gatsby’s life, displays that the dream is not an index of aspiration but a function of deprivation, is due to the moral decaying of the 1920s. When linking this to society today, we may see more and more people becoming like a cog in a wheel, but for those who have read the Great Gatsby, have been informed. Thank You.

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