In The Great Gatsby, social stratification is a well-developed motif. It elevates Fitzgerald’s book to the level of brilliant social satire by giving a detailed overview of what the United States experienced in the 1920s. Notably, Fitzgerald deliberately splits the plot into distinct social classes and aims to transmit persuasive messages about elitism, which is a characteristic that pervades any social stratum in the society portrayed in the book. The theme of social stratification is clearly prominent in the book, as shown by the opening scene in which the narrator, Nick Carraway, enters Daisy’s bed. Here, he finds Daisy seated on a couch with her friend Jordan and immediately feels a form of intimidation from Jordan (Fitzgerald 2). Their interaction also implies people are divided by social status. Many actions in this book reinforce social boundaries, and the lower class are exploited by the wealthy individuals. As such, the theme of social stratification depicts to be an essential element in promoting the actions of the novel and makes the novel to be intriguing and captivating as well as igniting the social conflicts in the story.
Analysis of Social stratification Theme in Fitzgerald’s Novel
The theme of social status denotes to be an extremely vital element in the novel that differentiates the various geographical locations where people live. Additionally, it portrays the mentalities of people that belong to dissimilar social classes. Evidently, this influences the events that happen in the story along with molding many characters and make them behave in a particular manner. The reader can see that the characters are distinguished by the wealth they possess as well as where they work and live. The high-class society is represented by people who live in East Egg (Liu 17). Here, individuals are inherently wealthy and labeled to own “old money”. They are educated and have contempt towards the “new money” owners who live in the West Egg. These individuals are also wealthy but have recently acquired their richness. Examples of these people include Nick and Gatsby and cannot afford to live in the East Egg. On the other hand, the Valley of Ashes is inhabited by poor and lower class people who frequently fall victims of the rich people.
Wealth and social status mold characters and other derive happiness from it. For instance, Wilson and Myrtle live in the Valley of Ashes but hate their poor lifestyle and view money as the glamour of life. Sadly, this shows how social status affects characters and transforms them. George, a husband to Myrtle, devotes his life to working hard in order to make his wife happy. However, Myrtle is still not contented with this and opts to have an affair with Tom. The influence of the wealthy people to the poor is reflected through character Jay Gatsby. After getting rich, he only mingles with the high-class people like him. He does not fit in the East Egg society and develops affection for Daisy despite the fact that he would never be accepted as he is viewed to be poorer to them. Daisy loves wealth, and Gatsby chooses to impress her with a magnificent collection of clothes and a good house (Dickstein 31).
Fitzgerald in his novel attacks the rich and wealthy people. Presumably, he communicates to the reader that the rich depict to be unified by their money. In his book, the rich are presented in two distinct types of people. He uses characters such as Buchanan and Jordan Baker to indicate the first case comprising of the “old money” are people who were born into wealth and passed down to many generations. Fitzgerald portrays that people with old money hardly work due to the already accumulated wealth. Characters such as Jordan, Daisy, and Tom along with the distinct social class represent the most elite group of the story (Liu 14). They impose a distinction between them and the other wealthy people like Gatsby who have “new money.” Here, considerable importance is attached to where the money came from and when it was acquired as opposed to how much one possesses (Dupré 20). The fact that Gatsby has recently acquired his richness forms basis of being discriminated from the old money owners. According to old money thinkers, these people cannot have a similar sensibility, refinement, and taste as they hailed from the low-class background before becoming rich. For this reason, the social elites are judgmental, superficial and fail to look at the essence of the people around them. In fact, Fitzgerald communicates that these people live their lives with the purpose of perpetuating their sense of superiority in the society.
Besides, the novel argues that some people have strong desires for money and an affinity to move up to the social hierarchy. In respect to this, men take this as an advantage to exploit the middle and the low-class women. For example, Myrtle, a middle-class individual is trapped in the poor lifestyle evident in the valley of ashes. She spends many of her days attempting to make out things to become rich. Arguably, her strong desire to be in the high social hierarchy makes her have an affair with Tom. She says that “These people! You have to keep after them all the time” (Fitzgerald, 69). The reader can see how Myrtle is excited with the entire arrangement. The misery pervading her life makes her distance herself from the society’s moral obligation and finds no problem cheating on her husband. She aims to get a better lifestyle no matter the outcomes. However, and perhaps what is more interesting is that Myrtle fails to realize that Tom along with his friends will never agree to take her into their prestigious social circle (Dickstein 12). In view of this, Tom only develops patterns of picking the low-class women with the intention of sleeping with them. Undisputedly, Tom thinks that the powerlessness of these women makes him own a superior position in the society. This makes him perpetuate an illusion that he is most important and a famous man and thus women fall for him. It is vivid to the reader that Myrtle is nothing but a sexual object to Tom.
One can easily view The Great Gatsby to be a novel that is grounded in an intriguing love story. However, the theme of social stratification clouds many of its scenes making it appealing to the reader. In the entire novel, Fitzgerald depicts how social status defines one in the society through the various geographical locations. Every social class has its traits, lifestyle, and mentalities that distinguishes one from the other. The novel represents the high, middle and lower classes. Equally, it illustrates people with old money, new money and no money and how every group views the other one.
Dickstein, Morris. The Great Gatsby, By F. Scott Fitzgerald. Pasadena, Calif., Salem Press, 2010,.
Dupré, Mhairi. “The Great Gatsby.” Nature, vol 440, no. 7087, 2006, pp. 1086-1086. Springer Nature, doi:10.1038/nj7087-1086c.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, and Stephanie Colomb. The Great Gatsby. Harlow, Longman, 2004,.
Liu, Xiangqi. “Stylistic Analysis Of The Great Gatsby From Context Category.” Journal Of Language Teaching And Research, vol 1, no. 4, 2010, Academy Publication, doi:10.4304/jltr.1.4.416-425.