Great Gatsby the old rich and the new rich. The power play between these two sectors at the East Egg and the West Egg is one of the most immediate themes of the novel. The old rich or traditional aristocracy is represented by Tom and Daisy Buchanan, and Jordan Baker who behave with ingrained grace, simple taste, subtlety and elegance. They are suspicious about, and discriminating against, the new rich, who are represented by Jay Gatsby (Fitzgerald 1925). In contrast with the aristocratic rich, he is ornate, exaggerated, outlandishly clothed, ill-mannered and an absolute wastrel. Both the old and the new rich measure themselves and others with materialistic standards as to their existence and excellence and use these standards in achieving non-materialistic objectives, such as relationships and loyalty.
A the rise of national wealth and material prosperity in the 20s. Fitzgerald uses the material and social conditions of the 1920s as the setting of this novel. The conditions began with the peaking of the stock market after the War and the massive increase of national wealth and evolution of an overpowering sense of materialism and luxury. The unprecedented trend led people to spend widely and wildly and become greedy. Wealth was so bountiful that anyone of any social background could then suddenly get rich. More so when the 18th Amendment was passed in 1919 that banned the sale of alcohol. The disappearance of alcohol in the market, in turn, made it a source of much money in the underworld, where there was steep demand for bootleg alcohol both by rich and poor underworld characters.
Materialism is the value assigned to physical wealth and pleasure, and the novel, as well as the 20s, teems with both. Fitzgerald shows that marked search for pleasure in the characters of his novel and the resulting social, physical and moral decay in the times and in the characters. The exuberance and waste by Jay's Saturday evening parties with wild jazz display in his mansion are all the fading noise and color of vanity and fantasy that miss the American dream. The extravagance and unrestrained desire for money and pleasure were out of sync with the genuine American dream of discovery, individualism and the pursuit of true wealth. All the barrage and flicker are mere sense data and stimulation, aimed at something in the inside from the outside.
A the West and the Mid-West. Nick Carraway describes their struggle:
That's my Middle West... The street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark see now that this has been a story of the West... - Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I... possessed some deficiency...subtly adaptable to Eastern life (Fitzgerald Chapter XI)."
He places the East and West starkly as opposed cultures: the East had a fast-paced life style, extravagant parties, decaying morals and an obsession for wealth. The West and the Midwest, in contrast, observes more traditional values. Nick describes the goings in the East Coast in New York and his and Gatsby's inadaptability to the milieu, which creates the tensions and misbehavior in them and towards their companions who are at home in the milieu. These tensions and misbehavior reflect each of these characters' response to the overwhelming materialistic attitudes that prevail. Only Nick manages to resist the pressure and return to Minnesota and realizes that materialism has swallowed Jay Gatsby whole and destroy him rather than fulfill his illusion and delusion. East is East and West is West and never the two shall meet, according to a saying, but the power of money, power and lust can narrow or erase the gap.
4. Jay Gatsby's wealth, pomp and "mystery." Nick reveals slowly in his narrative how intrinsically intertwined his fellow-soldier friend Jay Gatsby's garishness, deceitfulness and materialistic values. He introduces Jay only in the third chapter, but before that, Nick relates how Jay first becomes the subject of wild gossips in New York for his newfound and fantastic fortune and then his inordinate Saturday evening parties for the rich, famous and powerful men and women (Fitzgerald). Something has made him an overnight legendary success and celebrity who awes everyone and that something is his accidental fortune. As long as he has wealth, he will retain the aura of success and excellence and the toast of opportunists and advantage-takers. This appears to give him the power to create his own identity because money seems to be able to buy everything, including different names. With money in his possession, he is able to assume another name - James Gatz - and modify his hopes and dreams according to circumstances, as other individuals are willing to impose the power of his money over their will and influence their behavior. He develops - or the power of money allows him to develop - reinvention skills, which, in turn, ascribe "greatness" to him, hence his name the Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald). He becomes the epitome of excess, mundane-ness and excellence can ever come to mean to all others who look up to material and physical superiority and bounty. Adulations come his way from the multitude, which believes that what Jay Gatsby has is what Jay Gatsby is. These adulations feed his ego and blind him with passions, disabling him from recognizing his limitations.
Jay's mystique exceeds his opulence. Even his quizzical smile is an object of fascination and intrigue:
He had one of those rare smiles... Of eternal reassurance... that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrate in you..."
Fitzgerald Chapter III)
His smile works as a kind of magic wand that establishes his role or identity itself in a situation. This has a materialistic theme in that Jay Gatsby gets evaluated physically, without regard to what is inherently in him. Those who are limited to and by appearances admire how he smiles and are controlled by it. But Nick only describes and infers from it - how Jay's smile acts out a role that he himself defined at age 17 in Louisville. That smile, Nick views, is an important part of the role Jay Gatsby carves out for himself and which the latter "awards" to the lucky object of that smile. The mighty self-assurance the smile carries with it arrogates upon Jay a superiority of the eternal variety that is in itself a rare experience to others who get to see him smile.
The other side of the interpretation of that smile is that it dawns only on the privileged few. It serves as a prize to the object in that it endows the recipient an irresistible kind of favor. This other side, as the former, is completely materialistic.
5. Jay Gatsby's self-image. He becomes so vastly successful, bountiful and powerful that he compares with Jesus Christ in Chapter VI (Fitzgerald):
Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island... A son of God -... And must be about his Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty... And to this conception he was faithful to the end."
When a person has virtually everything in this world, he or she gets to feel like a deity. If this everything is materialistic or physical in nature, the person relies only on the body and matter for that level and nature of perfection. And if that state of "perfection" stays long enough, the person can begin to believe that it is permanent and something due him or her. He or she can be deluded into thinking that he or she must be a god or the son (or daughter) of God Himself, Jesus Christ. After all, there is a parallelism between Jesus Christ and Jay Gatsby, according to the thinking of Ernest Renan in his book, "The Life of Jesus." Renan (SparkNotes.com 2004) suggests that Jesus Christ simply made Himself the Son of God, so that when the "factual truth" hit Him in the end, He and His claims got caught and crushed in between. Similarly, Jay Gatsby uses his superfluous luck in creating his identity, options and establishing fashion with the clothes he wears. He establishes the rules of beauty as a privilege, as he is the son of God, a demigod with his astonishing ornate mansion, Rolls Royce, expensive parties and taste, and fat assets. The adulation of bootlickers, opportunists and ingratiating individuals around him adds to his self-image as a supreme deity who can get anything he wants and cannot miss.
Jay Gatsby's self-image developed from the time he was 17 as a military man who was ss infatuated with the rich and prim Daisy that he misrepresented himself as being as rich as she is, just so she would accept him. His initial success at attracting her into a relationship so obsessed him that he worked his arduous way to the peak of fortune through very wrong means, only to re-acquire her (Fitzgerald). His immeasurable physical and psychic lust for Daisy - and…