Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

F. Scott Fitzgerald and New Consumer Culture

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What do you think of the view that obsession with money and the new consumer culture of the 1920s dominates human thinking and behavior in ‘The Great Gatsby’? One of the key themes in The Great Gatsby is ‘The morality and importance of Wealth’ in high end New York social circles of the 1920s. Fitzgerald himself lived during this period of significant culture change in America and therefore I feel his own feelings and concerns on obsession with money and the new consumer culture was one reason as to why he wrote this novel. He begins by establishing this theme through Daisy and Tom.

Daisy’s voice often has references to wealth: “Her voice is full of money”. The synecdoche here represents Daisy herself as an object of desirability and high status. Daisy represents perfection to Gatsby because she has the wealth, class, charm and sophistication that Gatsby has wanted all of his life. The life that they lead seems to lack direction and meaning, the couple drift unrestfully to wherever people “were rich together”. This shows that their behavior is dominated by social conventions of consumerism, it is important for them to be seen with people like themselves.

Although Daisy has such a privileged life style her face is “sad”, here Fitzgerald is commenting that money cannot buy happiness or true fulfillment. In chapter 2 Fitzgerald creates a gothic vision, using bleak descriptions of the waste land that lies between the two eggs. Fitzgerald uses ashes as a way to symbolize the impure, dim and dirty lives that the rich lead: “ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys” which “ash grey men” inhibit (if you come to close to them it can become harmful).

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The desolate waste land is an industrial dumping site and I feel Fitzgerald uses it as a device to contradict the world of beauty glamour that its creators live in. It is a way of showing the darker, less glamorous truth of the new consumer culture as the vast amounts of waste create such an unpleasant sight. This introduces one the key themes in the novel which is the morality of wealth. The “white ashen dust” that covers Wilson and his surroundings is representing the poverty that he lives in due to his lack of money.

In comparison to Tom, Wilson is much more passive and shy which could be due to the fact that he is much less wealthy. Tom seems to have automatic dominance over Daisy however Wilson clearly lacks control over Myrtle, suggesting he is respected more. This displays the theme of The Importance of money as their different fortunes influence the way these men behave and the quality of life they have. Myrtle is a key character in the novel in displaying Fitzgerald’s concerns with the new consumer culture and the way it dominates human behavior.

As the party in the small apartment develops, her mannerisms completely change: “with the influence of her dress her behavior had also undergone a change”. This shows that the luxurious lifestyle hugely influences people often, like myrtle, badly. In the comfort of her new, fake privileged lifestyle and raised status she becomes more confident and ‘haughty’. This could suggest that myrtle is shallow as the way she conducts herself changes as easily as the colour of her dress, which is often used in The Great Gatsby as a technique to represent social status or class.

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