Understanding the Great Gatsby: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

By Dalton Gross; MaryJean Gross | Go to book overview

5
Why Not Be Rich? Money in the 1920s

One of the main themes of The Great Gatsby is the attitude of its characters--especially Gatsby--toward money. From the poem bout the gold-hatted lover that serves as an epigraph, to Nick Carraway's meditations on the green light at the conclusion, money symbolism runs through the novel. Gatsby says Daisy's voice is "full of money," and worships the green, money-colored light across the bay where Daisy lives as though it were the Holy Grail. Even minor details of the novel remind the reader of money. The man who sells Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson a mongrel pup is said to look like John D. Rockefeller.

Gatsby's love of Daisy is partly based on the glamor he associates with her money, and he pursues her by becoming wealthy himself. His passion for Daisy blends with earlier desires for financial success going all the way back to the daily schedule he established as a boy. His dream is completely misguided. The wealthy in this novel--Daisy and Tom Buchanan--turn out to be empty, worthcess people. Through Nick Carraway's disillusionment as he observes Gatsby's failure and destruction, Fitzgerald is commenting on American attitudes toward money and success in the 1920s. When Nick sees how these attitudes destroy Gatsby, he is warned off adopting them himself. He is left, however, with nothing with which to replace them.

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