The Roaring Twenties was a time of parties and illegal practices; it was a time of change. This change affected society as a whole- both how the people viewed their lives as well as the way they viewed the importance of morality. Before the Roaring Twenties the American people were very traditional in their values. Their values included simple things such as being true to your spouse, raising your family with love and attention and earning an honest living. In the twenties, however, these traditional values seemed to be devalued. This was the time when things such as the bootlegging business became very popular. The Great Gatsby helped to portray the moral degradation happening throughout the time in which it takes place. The Great Gatsby exposes the moral decadence of the Roaring Twenties through its three main characters, Gatsby, Daisy and Tom.
“The parties were biggerthe pace was faster, the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals were looser” (Rayburn) During the twenties, peoples morals seemed to be a lot looser than they had been previous to that decade. The work week went from being a sixty hour week to being a forty-eight hour week giving people more free time to do what they wanted. Many people began to party and drink more, as these things brought everyone together. The social world experienced a lot of change during this era. Girls and young women started wearing more make-up and shorter skirts which only a few years before had been worn only by women of ill repute. As Rayburn points out, “Dresses were loose and skimpy; swimsuits were tight and skimpythe result of both changing morality and an explosion in new industrially fabricated synthetic materials” Another indicator of this change in morality was that sex became more common as well as more discussed. Rayburn notices that “youth freely discussed sexif not always so freely performed it.” Illegal businesses like bootlegging became more popular. “Breaking the law was the rule, not the exception” (Rayburn, 3) As a whole, the twenties was a looser period in which people seemed to have lower morals. Many people began to expose themselves more, and got involved in more illegal actions.
Daisy, a woman of low morals, is one of the most superficial characters in the book. As Gatsby says to Nick ” Her voice is full of money” (pg. 127). Daisy is a prime example of the affect of moral decadence. The decisions that she makes on her own, which are few, are for the most part based in one way or on money. For example, she falls in love with Gatsby but when he proposes to her, she feels that she has to turn him down because he does not have the money she desires. And when Tom comes along and desires her hand in marriage and his proposal is accompanied by a three hundred thousand dollar necklace she can’t turn him down: she is in love with his money. “Daisy is a very material person. She needs to have money. She was very much in love with Gatsby, but because he wasn’t wealthy, she married someone who was. Daisy focuses on the outward rather than the inward.” (Dilling) Ross David Kulberg, creator of the Great Gatsby Guide agrees with these statements saying, “She focuses on outside appearances instead of what’s inside because material possessions are most important to her.” She may love Tom as she did Gatsby but when she finds that Gatsby has money she runs to him, not concerned at all that she might be committing adultery or hurting one that she “loves”.
Daisy is not able to fend for herself nor take responsibility for her actions. One prime example of this is when she hits Myrtle in Gatsby’s car and doesn’t face up to it. She decides not to tell anyone when it is her moral duty to inform George and/or the police of her actions. In the end Gatsby gets killed because Daisy neglected to tell anyone who actually killed Myrtle. She also has a daughter at home who she chose to have but is rarely mentioned throughout the book. A nanny is raising Daisy’s daughter, Daisy feels no obligation to her daughter. The only time that Daisy actually acknowledges her existence was when she wants to show her off. Daisy is obviously morally bankrupt, and she hurts many people throughout the book and yet doesn’t regret any of her actions. “For Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchards and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm of the year, summing up the sadness and suggestiveness of life in new tunes.” (pg.158)
Tom’s inconsiderate and self-centered attitude suggests his ethics were tampered with sometime in his life or that they were never built up to begin with. Tom obviously desired Daisy’s hand in marriage since he bought her a very extravagant and expensive necklace, knowing that Daisy would surely say yes if he gave her such a gift. But not long into the marriage he was off with Myrtle in his New York apartment. He, like Daisy, barely even thinks about the fact that there is someone else that could be hurt by thoughtless actions. While he is having this affair not only is he hurting his wife with whom he has a child, but he also hurts Myrtle. Myrtle is so obsessed with having all of Tom’s affection because he has the money she wants and the “in” to the social class she wants to belong to.
Tom ends up hurting her both emotionally and physically. He hurts her emotionally by becoming emotionally close to her but treating her with disrespect and essentially using her whenever he feels he wants her. Since in the book, there was no instances of physical abuse towards Daisy it was surprising that he felt more comfortable hitting someone who he is less emotionally close to and less comfortable around. “Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her (Myrtle’s) nose with his open hand.” (pg. 41) He views Myrtle as another one of his possessions-one he did not value.
Tom very outwardly has no respect for women, not respecting or valuing them. “Tom is a very immoral character. He doesn’t worry about anyone but himself. In his spitefulness he is ruining four people’s (Daisy, Gatsby, Myrtle, Tom) lives. He cares only about getting what he wants, not caring who he takes down in the process.” (Dilling) Tom plays a major role in the moral degradation happening throughout the book. Gatsby, whom Fitzgerald calls “great”, is also brought down with the rest. Euthyphro once said “one must not give in to the doer of an impious action, no matter who they may be.” And this is exactly what Gatsby allows to happen. Although the information about Gatsby’s earlier life is somewhat ambiguous, I assume, at least, that Gatsby at one point was a decent, and honest man. That, he is no longer. Gatsby has put Daisy on a pedestal, thinking that she is the perfect woman and for her he would do anything. To get Daisy, Gatsby must somehow break into the upper class and acquire the money that Daisy needs.
This is a process that would normally take a couple generations of hard work, but which took Gatsby only a decade. But, Gatsby was in a sort of gold rush, he wanted money and he wanted it quickly. So he lowers himself to participating in the bootlegging business. Just by working in such a business, he gives into illegal actions, and hurting people. On top of that, he lowers himself to committing adultery.
I view the whole Daisy – Gatsby situation in this manner. Daisy is now married to Tom, whether she or Gatsby likes it, she is tied down and has to be true toher vows. She also has a child with Tom, which makes an affair even worse morally than it would normally be. However, some people view the situation in a different way. Ross David Kulberg has his own view on this situation. “Tom was never grateful for what he had with DaisyHe was clearly in the way of Gatsby’s love for Daisy.” So he views Tom as an intrusion on Daisy and Gatsby’s love for each other, even though Tom and Daisy are married. I think that the second you say your vows, unless you get a divorce, you must stay with the person and be true to the person as well. Breaking these vows is an immoral action. If you were to try to point out one character that has the worst morals, you wouldn’t be able to. Daisy, Gatsby, and Tom seem to me to be a few of the worst characters in the book. And “birds of a feather fly together”. They all are attracted to each other in a soap opera sort of way. Daisy is attracted to Gatsby and Tom, Tom to Daisy, and Gatsby to Daisy.
They share the same values (money) and therefore obviously are alike in many ways, which is why there is the sort of “love triangle” going on throughout the book. However, they say “Where there is no trust there is no love.” It is kind of ironic that none of them trust each other yet they all claim to love each other.
The Great Gatsby exposes the moral decadence of the Roaring Twenties through its three main characters. Not one character is the most morally bankrupt, per say. They all can be rightfully accused of having poor morals whether its Daisy’s superficiality and lies, Tom’s affair, Gatsby’s participating in an illegal business, Myrtle’s affair, or George’s murder. This book is an example of society in the Roaring Twenties. Fitzgerald wrote this book partly to tell his story but more importantly to inform his readers of what the modern society, whether it is in the twenties or during the year two thousand, is transforming in to. The actions of these characters helped to show the social decay that was occurring during the twenties but is as current now as it was then.