A Goal of Corruption
Wealth, assets, and attaining a superior net worth are the dreams and fantasies of many Americans. The goal to have a better life is pure in essence, but, for those with weak wills and simple minds, this goal can twist their morals and values from a fair-skinned maiden to a withered screeching harpy. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a contemporary novel published in 1925. Fitzgerald shows that material wealth can have a corrupting through his novel. He does this through the characters of Tom Buchanan, Myrtle Wilson, and Jay Gatsby.
Fitzgerald gives a perfect example of a morally deficient person through Tom. Tom’s only concern is keeping his highbred social and his flowing bank account. Obtaining his money from his family, Tom has no compassion for the lower class. Tom looks upon the “valley of ashes where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hill and grotesque gardens” with a superincumbent discontent (Fitzgerald 27). He fails to realize that it is people like him who produce these valleys. Tom is also a white supremacist. He feels that “the white race will be utterly submerged” by the minorities (17). This is probably because he has no friends that are minorities and most if not all of his business associates are white. Tom has arrogance about him, an air of superiority, that he feels gives him control over those around him. Tom also takes great pride in the fact that Daisy is his wife, not only because she is beautiful, but also because she “is the most expensive item on the market” (Fetterly 104). She ads value to his already substantial estate. When Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy is leaving him he is so self-confident that he refuses to believe or accept that his wife would leave him “for a common swindler who’d have to steal the ring to put on her finger”(Fiztgerald 140). Tom has no real sense of morality or values. His corruption from birth will stay with him until he dies.
Fitzgerald presents the reader with an example of someone who is not wealthy, but is already corrupted by money through Myrtle Wilson. Myrtle is a woman with a which “is corrupt to begin with” since she only seeks to become rich (Gross 23). She is Tom’s lower-class mistress, but she acts as if she is his aristocratic wife. She would like to be, but she lacks the years of sophistication to do so. When the reader is first introduced to Myrtle, in her home in the valley of ashes, she has an “intense vitality” which is uncharacteristic of most people who live in the valley of ashes. (Fiztgerald 35). Myrtle’s energetic and spontaneous attitude seems strange. Her intensity and love for life make her “the only inhabitant of the valley of ashes not infected with the deadly ashen dust”; unlike her husband George “who is literally covered from top to toe with the deadly dust” (Gross 23). When the setting changes from one of an ashen garage to that of a stylish New York apartment, this vitality is “converted into impressive hauteur” (Fiztgerald 35). Myrtle’s own view of the wealthy is that they are arrogant and spiteful people, so while trying to fit in with them she imitates this behavior. She makes the spiteful comment “these people you have to keep after them all the time” about a bellhop that is in her same social class (36). Myrtle is also dissatisfied with her husband whom she blames for her current social position. Myrtle is planning to leave George for Tom, because she “thought [George] knew something about breeding but he wasn’t fit to lick [her] shoe” (39). Myrtle is attracted to Tom’s classical elegance. By the end of the story, however, she is “wide with jealous terror” over the fear that Tom will not leave his wife for her. In the end of the novel she dies while still reaching for her dream of being rich.
Jay Gatsby, the namesake of Fitzgerald’s novel, is a character with questionable morals. Fitzgerald reveals that Gatsby, in his youth, has the pure and simplistic goal of becoming a better person. However when he meets Daisy, while stationed in Louisville. She has a “tremendous power over Gatsby and his fate”; so powerful that his dream metamorphoses into one of attaining wealth so that he may have her (Person 164). As his new dream is born Gatsby “like God create[s] himself, name and all” (Scott 91). How Gatsby acquires his wealth is never fully revealed, but Fitzgerald hints that “he bought up a lot of side-street drug stores [in New York] and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter”(Fiztgerald 141). He is a bootlegger and, even with the innocence of his determination, his means of reaching his goal corrupts him along the way; he becomes the “gentleman gangster” (Shain 161). Gatsby is very liberated though, permitting the guests who attend his elaborate parties to “[conduct] themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks” (Fiztgerald 45). Allowing this to occur shows the reader that Gatsby does not know how to project an image of someone whose family is rich with the sophistication of generations. Instead he acts like a child who receives a dollar from his father for some candy. Gatsby shows, in his own actions, that material wealth corrupts when he is pulled over for speeding. When the officer approaches Gatsby’s car Gatsby “taking a white card from his wallet [waves] it before the man’s eyes” (73). The policeman, in consequence, lets him go. This action shows that Gatsby feels he is above the law, because of his status. In the end, Gatsby also dies because of his corruption.
Fitzgerald proves that material wealth can corrupt human beings through his novel. Two characters die because of this corruption; the other is so accustomed to dealing with it that he escapes unharmed. People should not work so hard to gain material wealth for themselves, but they should work as a whole to better humanity.