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Theme of Moral Decay in The Great Gatsby

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The Moral Decay in the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald seemed very interesting to me due to the discussion held in class about the American Dream, and how it was corrupted throughout the book by the characters. Many of my classmates introduced the idea that the American Dream was desired by many, but unattainable for all, specifically Gatsby. This book was during an extravagant time period, where everything excess was applauded, and that is where the corruption was rooted from. It was rooted from the desire to want everything in excess, where one cannot be completely satisfied with what they have and are always left wanting more. Through Fitzgerald’s use of derogatory diction and corruption of the characters, he depicts the 1920’s as a time of moral conflict through the decay of Daisy’s actions, the American Dream, and the working class.

In the 1920’s society was facing one of its biggest moral tests, and Fitzgerald demonstrates moral decay through Daisy’s cruel actions and change in values. Her bad actions lead to the corruption and moral decay of society. To begin with, Daisy seemed like the perfect girl, the golden girl some said in the book, however her morals began declining rapidly right after the tragic incident with Myrtle. Daisy was the one responsible for killing Myrtle, yet she just sits there nonchalantly letting Gatsby take the blame for her. This demonstrates her carelessness and lack of acknowledgment that her actions affect lives, and the fact that she willingly let Gatsby take the bullet for her, little did she know that he would die because of it. In addition to Daisy’s careless actions is that even though Gatsby took the blame for Myrtle’s death, she decides not to show up to Gatsby’s funeral. Nick states at Gatsby’s funeral, “The minister glanced several times at his watch for half an hour. But it wasn’t any use. Nobody came. {…} that Daisy hasn’t even sent a message or a flower.” (174) This perfectly demonstrates her carelessness because if it was not for him taking the blame for her, he would possibly be alive. Daisy showed selfishness for only being with Gatsby when it was for her benefit and convenience but at the time of his death she was nowhere to be found.

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Society in the 1920’s was at victim to corruption, greed and the declining of morals by the wealthy. The wealthy majorly influenced the society in that era. It was the “Roaring twenties” were the focus was on the rich, who flourished in their wealth and extravagance. The Working Class revolved around the rich, so therefore they modeled and demonstrated their declining values as well. Just like Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” speech, the wealthy class in the 1920’s was like the “City on a Hill” where all other cities would look towards the one on the hill for guidance, however in this case the “City on the Hill” is tarnished and corrupted, so that lead to moral downfall in 1920’s society. It becomes evident of the societies many bad facades when Nick notices two girls at one of Gatsby’s parties in costume and says, “A pair of stage twins who turned out to be the girls in yellow- did a baby act in costume and champagne was served in bigger than finger bowls.” (51) By having Fitzgerald use the phrase “in costume” it alludes to the fact that the girls like many of the rich were classifying themselves under false pretenses and wore a façade to mask their identity. This further demonstrates how the 1920’s era was masking themselves and presenting a façade that demonstrated wealth and power leading to moral decay.

The American Dream was challenged through the change in the working classes societies values about them seen through Gatsby’s approach to wealth. The American Dream was being chased by all due to the promise of the opportunity of success and money, however it was misleading because in the 1920’s corruption and easy money was popular among the masses. Similarly, one of the main characters Gatsby was always chasing the so-called, “American Dream” basically his entire life. Gatsby’s “American Dream” consisted of becoming a part of the “elite class” so that he could live with Daisy and accomplish that dream. However, Gatsby was not born from money like the Buchanan’s, instead of working legally for money, he chose the corrupted way into “success” and obtained easy money. The American Dream is corrupted because people just desire a very comfortable and luxurious life, and that desire leads Gatsby into a dark hole that involved corruption of money and power. At the end, Nick looked at Gatsby on the his dock, where it seems as Gatsby has his arms stretched out, and Nick states, “ He stretched out his arms toward the dark water…I… distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute ad far away … When I looked once more Gatsby has vanished.” This signifies that the green light meant the American Dream, and his desire to be with Daisy and how it will always be unattainable. As much as Gatsby thinks he is getting closer to the “green light” he is just getting father from it simultaneously. Nick then states, “Gatsby believed in the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then that, but that’s no matter-tomorrow will run faster {…} So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (180) By having Fitzgerald say, “boats against the current” it illustrates a picture that signifies that as much as one keeps trying to obtain the “American Dream” it will always appear unattainable even as much as one pursues it. The green light symbolizes all that Gatsby dreamt about: Daisy, money and success. And how just as the light is unattainable by Gatsby, he will never stop chasing the dream because it’s a never-ending cycle. The wealthiest of the wealthiest still do not feel satisfied they continued to chase money and power.

Through F. Scott Fitzgerald suggestion of the corruption of the American Dream, the careless actions by Daisy and the decline of morals by the working class was rooted in the admiration and desire of the lavish lifestyle. This moral decay becomes important because just ten years after the booming lifestyle of the twenties came the downfall of the Great Depression. Many during that time, reflected on the lack of morals displayed during the twenties, and showed remorse for the lack of carelessness society showed whether they were rich or poor.

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