The concept of money creating power is a characteristic seen far too often in society. The news always has different stories of wealthy individuals acting irresponsibly or obtaining money unethically. This is a trait highlighted in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. In this fast-paced novel about the life and struggles of the 1920s elite, it is clear to see the idea of money causing character to darken and motives to become less ethical. Whether it is Tom abusing the system of marriage and the lower class or Gatsby’s suggested illegal income source, the flaws money creates are entirely shown.
While Fitzgerald’s main purpose of writing such a novel may not have been to highlight these flaws, he accurately portrays questions of character in and out of the family and the greed driven questionable business ideas that have perpetually plagued society within his novel. Money is quick to corrupt the morals of man, and the first place this can be visible is within the family. The character of Tom Buchanan is the man that Fitzgerald chooses to represent this idea.
Tom represents all the cravings of the time period; a rich, athletic, charming man with a large and successful business, a tremendous house in the suburbs, and a gorgeous wife and child. Any person would say this is the ideal sort of life, yet his dark side is exposed to his family. Soon into the novel, Nick, the narrator, visits Tom and Daisy, Tom’s wife and Nick’s cousin, and immediately the flaws are exposed. While looking like the perfect couple to the world, soon after coming into close contact the flaws are evident.
Almost right after seeing Daisy, Nick notices something, he describes her face as “sad and lovely” (9), two traits that are not often mixed. This suggests the idea that while Daisy is living a spectacular life, the lovely, that she is not happy in her currents situation, the sad. This eludes to the idea that her life at home is not as spectacular as one would expect. An idea which is confirmed only moments later when Tom is phoned at dinner. When he goes to answer it and is shortly followed by Daisy, it is revealed to Nick that Tom is having an affair with another woman.
Clearly showing a lack of respect that Tom has towards Daisy and his family. The effects of this are strengthened when the phone rings again and Daisy “[shakes] her head decisively at Tom)” (15), thus demonstrating her disapproval to the situation. Despite this Tom goes to answer the call and continues with his affair throughout the novel, demonstrating his neglect to the well-being of his family. This concept is one that has plagued society for years. A person finds themselves in a position of power, often financially, and with this power feels as if the world is less of a reality and more of a playground.
This results in the dismissal of care for other humans. While the main repercussions of this can be first seen in, and are sometimes limited to, the person’s family, it often extends outside of the family as well. Tom’s disregard for others does not stop at his family, it carries over to individuals of a less standing than him as well. This can possibly be attributed to the fact that since Tom has been wealthy his whole life. He has never understood what it is like to be a member of a lesser social class than himself, therefore not caring for the emotions and feelings of those people.
Possibly, the power of money as simply turned his morals around or he simply never had them, but likely it is a mixture of both. From the first dinner with Tom we understand that he does not view the Negro community as equal, demonstrated by his reading of a white supremacy book The Rise of Colored Empires. As awful as this sounds today, it was somewhat acceptable during the time period, and had this been his only socially moral flaw, he could possibly be viewed as a decent man simply affected by the culture of the period, but this is not the case.
Cheating on his wife is terrible enough, but cheating on his wife with a married woman is even worse. Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson, is a lower class woman married to a mechanic, George Wilson. In order to get close to Myrtle, Tom deceives Wilson, as he calls him, with the promise of a car Wilson can sell for a large profit. Every time he arrives he claims “I’ve got my man working on it now” (25), but these are empty words. By doing this Tom does two immoral actions. One he breaks apart a marriage that is not even his own and two he plays up the hopes of a poorer man in order to take advantage of him.
Both of these are societal wrongs that further demonstrate the flaws of Tom’s character. Later in the novel, when Myrtle annoys Tom by saying Daisy’s name, Tom reacts by hitting her and breaking her nose. This goes against one of the first rules a man learns, which is never hit a woman. It is one of the most profound rules that an honest man should follow, but Tom even disregards that rule. This shows that Tom not only has little care for his family, but for everyone. He acts in a way that a kind man should never act and disregards the lives of others.
This is another trait that is common today, especially those who are born rich and remain rich their entire life. It demonstrates that money creates this feeling of superiority, and if someone has never witnessed both sides they are not aware of the feelings of the other side and abuse it, another way which money trumps morals. The craving to receive this monetary power is another way it taints morals. For the majority of people, money is seen as one of life’s most desirable possessions. With it one can live their dream lifestyle.
In the novel, Gatsby is an example of someone who came up from a poor childhood to become one of the wealthiest bachelors of the time. With a lavish suburban mansion, where he through some of the most amazing parties, it is clear he found that wealth. However, at what cost. While the novel never explicitly states how Gatsby generates his income, it is hinted that it is not from an ethical source, “I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him” (132). This demonstrates that Gatsby was driven by greed to make his money illegally. While bootlegging alcohol is not the worst of the illegal jobs, the principle is what is important.
At this time organized crime was on the rise and this idea is highlighted by Fitzgerald in the character of Gatsby. He uses him to represent everyone entering illegal crime syndicates with the hope of gaining the ultimate prize of money, even though few attain this goal. This concept of doing illegal and shady action is still commonly practiced today and is another societal flaw caused by money Fitzgerald demonstrates. While money can be viewed as an amazing object to have in abundance, it has the power to twist and break people. It can turn people against their family and the society in which they live.
It can create illegal businesses, which thrive on the desire of money. Regardless of the ways in which the corruption occurs, it is abundantly clear that the power derived from money can corrupt people. Fitzgerald demonstrates these flaws of society with Tom and Gatsby and how the wealthy life has driven them to go against the morals founded by society. This being said, not everyone who is rich has not morals, but the truth is that money can break any man at any moment, for when the desired object can fulfill dreams, many will disregard all others to obtain it