Money, alcohol and power are aspects of the American Dream in the 1920’s, The Great Gatsby a fictional novel by, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the film by Baz Luhrmann depict, what life is like having all three. The novel and movie take place in New York City and Long Island, West Egg and East Egg in America. During this time, the economy is booming but, prohibition which is, the ban of alcohol is enforced. The narrative outlines a world of wealth and prestige where status separates who excels and who fails. In the novel and movie characters have idealized goals and they do not care how they achieve them; this is seen as the overarching theme of decay. This comparative essay will explore how characters in the book and movie equivalently demonstrate decay through having affairs, showing signs of corruption and murdering other characters.
To begin, during the 1920s people love to rebel against their partner and have affairs making monogamy and marriage unwanted aspects in one’s life. For instance, in the novel Tom Buchanan a wealthy man who loves to proclaim his wealth, is married to Daisy Buchanan. Tom Buchanan is only with his wife for the status she provides as she is wealthy too, he states, “once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself” (Fitzgerald 132). This alludes to his actions of adultery while being married to Daisy, with other women such as Myrtle Wilson his mistress. Furthermore, decay is seen in characters like Tom in the act of having affairs with other women. In the movie, Tom is with his mistress Myrtle after their get-together in his apartment located on 158th street. Tom and Myrtle have an argument, and she begins to repeat his wives name ‘Daisy’ several times. Out of frustration, Tom then proceeds to break her nose (The Great Gatsby). This relates back to the theme of decay because, Tom is supposed to be in a monogamous relationship but, he fools around with other women like Myrtle. Tom’s need for satisfaction goes so far that it affects those around him, he lashes out on those who attempt to disturb his goals. One of his goals is to maintain his relationship with Daisy. Myrtle repeating Daisy’s name several times can be her trying to wither at Tom’s marriage with Daisy. Tom does not like the idea, so he breaks her nose. Thus, characters having affairs relate back to the theme of decay because, characters only want to fulfill their goal of having a satisfactory love life by any means necessary. Even if the mean involves cheating on the one, they committed to which is seen similarly in the book and movie.
Secondly, in the 1920s the goal in life is to fulfill the American Dream, the novel depicts this but also, shows how trying to attain it can corrupt the character. Jay Gatsby is a primary example of this, as in the novel in a heated argument over Daisy’s love between Tom Buchanan and himself. Tom states, “I found out what your ‘drug-stores’ were.” (Fitzgerald 134) And that, “He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side street drug-stores… and sold grain alcohol over the counter… I picked him for a bootlegger the first time and I wasn’t far wrong.” (Fitzgerald 134) Tom confirms the rumors about Gatsby’s methods of gaining wealth by confirming to the reader that Gatsby is a bootlegger. In the movie, corruption is even seen morally amongst people like Tom and Daisy Buchanan. When Gatsby ends up dying the only person who shows up to his funeral held at his mansion is Nick Carraway not even Daisy his ‘love’ appears (The Great Gatsby). This relates to the theme of decay because, people in the novel and movie are willing to anything to achieve mass wealth or status which can be seen as their goal. Some characters even go as far as entering an illegal career to fulfill their need to attain someone’s love like, Jay Gatsby. Others like Daisy become corrupted through playing with one’s emotions and only staying in relationships for one’s wealth to sustain her dream of living a wealthy lifestyle. Daisy makes Gatsby think she loves him but, after hearing his story from Tom she does not want to risk having a short love life with Gatsby and stays with Tom for his money. Thus, characters become corrupted through trying to gain one’s attention through illegal means and playing with other emotions to sustain their status.
Lastly, killing is prominent throughout the end of the novel which can be seen as decay from the reasoning behind the murder. In the novel, after the argument Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan have with Daisy, Tom tells Daisy to go with Gatsby home. While driving back to Long Island in the valley of ashes they come across Myrtle Wilson running from her husband. At the time, Daisy and Gatsby were feeling stress from the argument at Tom’s mansion. Out of immorality according to Gatsby, “Daisy stepped on it. I tried to make her stop, but she couldn’t, so I pulled the emergency brake. Then she fell over into my lap and I drove on.” (Fitzgerald 145) Meaning Daisy killed Myrtle Wilson by accident. In the movie, George Wilson becomes depressed from the murder of his wife and wants vengeance. At the crime scene Tom gives George the name of the owner of the yellow car who murdered his wife which is Gatsby. The next day Nick Carraway is at Gatsby’s mansion keeping him company, he departs, and Gatsby decides to go into his pool. As he exits his pool, he is shot by George Wilson who then, kills himself out of depression and guilt. (The Great Gatsby). This demonstrates the overall theme of decay because, characters are seen slowly losing their morality as the story continues so much so that they murder another character.
For example, with Daisy she is seen throughout the beginning of the novel and movie as a bright, happy and caring person but as it continues, she slowly corrodes into a dishonest, backstabbing, ingenuine person. She does not end up owning up to her actions of murdering Myrtle, she is rich, so she easily gets away with it. Gatsby on the other hand, deteriorates the most over realizing the one he loves does not love him back harshly and the drudgery he goes through in the novel and movie for her is for nothing. George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband is seen crumbling slowly throughout the movie and novel but at the end decays so much that he results to killing to feel satisfaction. However, he still ends up killing himself over the loss of his wife and the action he commits. Therefore, characters decay through the killing and motives behind their murderous actions in both the book and movie.
Ultimately, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the movie by Baz Luhrmann demonstrates the theme of decay through characters like Tom and Myrtle having love affairs, people becoming corrupted like Jay Gatsby and people losing moral through killing like George Wilson. In the book and movie, Tom and Myrtle are both intimate with each other but not with their spouses. Jay Gatsby becomes corrupt trying to become wealthy through illegal means for Daisy. Finally, George Wilson cannot control his vengeful feelings and wrongfully murders Gatsby. To conclude, these points they relate back to the theme of decay throughout both the book and movie and are shown similarly in both.
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