Great Gatsby Morality


Great Gatsby Morality Essay, Research Paper

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 bigger?the 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 skimpy?the

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 sex?if 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 Daisy?He 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.

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