What is it about money that makes it so desirable, so powerful, and so dangerous? How do the rich live and what is the effect of money on their lives? All are questions that haunt our mind and questions that might never be truly answered; yet F. Scott Fitzgerald attempts to address some of these issues in his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. The book asks the eternal question: what is the purpose of our lives? Tom and Daisy answer for the 1920’s high society, “I don’t know, but it has to do with money and lots of it.
The book also shows the differences among the people within he rich class, most notably the inherently rich, or Old Money, and the New Money represented by self-made millionaires. Scott Fitzgerald uses Tom Buchanan and Gatsby as two symbolic characters to show the differences between Old Money and New Money and that their traits define the class they are and the way they deal with achieving their goals. Fitzgerald tries to portray the image of “Old money” by almost personifying it as Tom Buchanan. Tom has all the stereotypical characteristics associated with Old Money.
He comes from an enormously rich family and he lives in an eye-catching palace. However, his personality is ssential in understanding the symbolism that the author was trying to portray. Tom is arrogant, defiant, with a rude attitude as he is “always leaning aggressively forward. ” His arrogance and lack of respect for people in general shows his belief in his superiority over everyone. All these traits seem to be characteristic of people who come from rich families. Fitzgerald makes sure his character makes that obvious through his conversations and remarks.
Very soon after he is introduced, Tom starts a racist conversation saying that, “it’s up to us who are the dominant race to watch or these other races will have control of things”. He is not only racist, he discriminates against women when he says, “I might be old- fashioned in my ideas but women run around too much these days to suit me”. This conservative trait can also be attributed to the entire Old Money group who typically try to keep the status quo that grants them what they have, and change is viewed as a threat to their wealth.
Tom’s character was created keeping that in mind. In fact Fitzgerald makes sure that Tom’s character does not change throughout the story. To accentuate Tom’s conservatism, Fitzgerald uses the beautiful metaphor of the stables. In hapter 7, when Gatsby is visiting Daisy, Tom makes sure to point out that he was the “first man to make a stable out of a garage” while everyone else was doing the opposite. Tom not only shows the conservatism by trying to bring back the past but also shows it off to a man he feels threatened by in an attempt to indicate his superior status.
Overall, Tom is the stereotypical example of Old Money because of his awareness of his supposed superior status as well as his conservative ways. As a contrast to Tom, Gatsby’s character is charged with obvious hints showing him as a symbol of New Money. As many New Money people, Gatsby is a dreamer. He has a fantasy that he follows to the end and that pushed him to acquire that vast wealth he possessed. Whether it is called the American Dream or a mere wish that serves as a driving force, it proves to be essential to any New Money person.
Gatsby’s physical appearance and his personality are skillfully tailored to fit the pattern of a New Money member of the wealthy class. He is young, energetic, very elegant, and “whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd”. He is educated and the author uses the scene with a huge library as a symbol of Gatsby’s interest in education. He has acquired wealth and now he wants to get accepted into the inner circle of the wealthy class. As many of the New Money ideas are based on seeing the good side of things, Gatsby is a chronic optimist.
He tries to be elegant, refined, educated and most importantly popular. He not only bluntly asks Nick what he thinks of him by he repays a guest who has torn her gown at one of his parties. Why? Because, in his own words, he says that “he doesn’t want any trouble with anybody”. Fitzgerald does that intentionally to portray Gatsby as a onstantly developing, constantly changing character. Change is therefore another encrypted message in Gatsby’s character always learning, refining to win an opportunity to have Daisy.
That translates to the New Money idea by showing positive attitude towards reform, toward making things better and cherishing the opportunity that got them what they have. Gatsby is literally part of a complete idea, of a template of what New Money represents. Encompassed in this battle between old and new, the author doesn’t overlook making the point that all the characters in the novel are haracterized by superficial personalities and exceptional lifestyles.
They all enjoy enormous wealth, even the narrator, Nick Caraway who is somewhat below the level of others in either East or West Egg, is wealthy by the standards of the period. The ’20s were a period of prosperity in U. S. history and the author tries to reflect that in his writing. He makes sure show the drama that comes with money, as well as the unhappiness resulting from it. This is a common theme throughout the literature early in the 20th century where we see authors endorsing non-material lifestyles.
This is exemplified in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, which describes a family that is plagued among other things by a burning sense of materialism. Perhaps Arlington Robinson makes the point most clear in the poem Richard Cory, where the most educated, wealthy, and envied person in a small town is perhaps the unhappiest person who “one calm summer night, went home and put a bullet through his head”. A non-material life, as advocated by Fitzgerald, Williams, Robinson and many other is the path that will lead to happiness, away from the negative aspects of life.
Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby are used as symbolic characters to show the differences between Old Money and New Money and how that alters one’s moral perspective. They are also used to show that wealth and status don’t always guarantee a carefree and happy life. Fitzgerald addresses the eternal question of old versus new in a very subtle and critical way. He focuses on the ’20s as the turbulence in class separation and moral decadence, but the message is universal and it addresses a slanted perspective of society that has been preserved through time and is still prevalent in our modern contemporary world.