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Gatsby Critical Perspectives:
Transcript of Gatsby Critical Perspectives:
Marxism as a Critical Perspective
The Great Gatsby
by Scott Fitzgerald centers around the lavish upper class of 1920's New York. The post-WWI economic boom fueled the American Dream and the prospect of living a lavish life. As seen through a Marxist lens, the novel revolves around the abundance (or lack) of money, and its affects on the thoughts and actions of each character. Money coincides with a disconnection from reality.
In chapter 8, in light of Diasy's murder of Myrtle and Tom's murder of Gatsby , both Buchanans “smas[h] up thing and creatures and then retrea[t] back into their money” (179) as if nothing ever happened. Because they both treat people like objects, they see the death of another as a small inconvenience. Becauuse Myrtle had learned the truth and Gatsby's rich facade was destroyed, they were damaged goods - Tom and Daisy could easily find more sutable replacements with their wealth.
One image that appears throughout The Great Gatsby is the valley of ashes, which first appears in a few paragraphs at the beginning of Chapter 2. It is also referenced as "the ashheaps" on page 124 and 136. The significance of the valley of ashes as it applies to a Marxist perspective is that, essentially, the working class is nothing but the ashes that are left over after the upper class has burned up their flame, or their motivations and dreams. The American Dream is supposed to have its beginnings in small, poor areas such as this one, but there is little hope in the people that live here.
What is the major theme?
When looking at
The Great Gatsby
through a critical Marxist lens, a repetitive series of the commodification of people as objects becomes evident, as the upper class (most notably Tom Buchanan) uses their status and wealth to gain influence and power over those they perceive to be less than human.
Tom Buchanan is the embodiment of capitalist commodification: the act of treating people as if they were objects to be bought. (Though Gatsby can arguably represent this mindset, Nick's romantisization of and bias towards him dilutes his wrong doings.) Tom "buys" Daisy and Myrtle for his own benefit. Daisy is 'bought' with" a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars" (76) for her social status and money, while Myrtle is 'bought' though the promise of someday marrying her and whisking her away from her impoverished lifestyle for (surprisingly) her social status - Tom enjoys feeling superior to others. Myrtle's desperate situation leaves her at the complete whim of Tom, who uses her as an escape from Daisy- a fun past time. Though Myrtle may be seen as a victim of Tom, Daisy is guilty of commodification of her own.
A second motif that appears throughout the novel is Tom Buchanan purchasing objects with the intention of winning or buying women over. For instance, "he gave [Daisy] a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars" (76) on the day before they got married, along with buying out an entire floor of a hotel and bringing hundreds of guests. He didn't care enough about Daisy to realize her doubts about the wedding, only bought her expensive gifts and flaunted his wealth to make him seem a better husband.
Similarly, Tom buys Myrtle a dog, albeit with some disdain, simply to placate her (28). This is a large contrast to what he gave Daisy ($10 vs $350,000), but the motive is the same. Tom views not only the dog, but Myrtle as well, as a thing that can given the maximum happiness through commodities, and needs nothing else from him.
"You see, everyone’s terrible anyhow… the most advanced people think so… Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s” (17) Daisy, though she presents herself differently, is just as affected by wealth than Tom. She two enjoys feeling superior to others, rejecting anything that contradicts her way of thought. Though she seems to be aware of Tom's affaris with other women, she takes no action to stop him, even offering him a pencil at Gatsby's party to "'take down any adresses'" (105). She views romance and relationship as a sort of game, something to pursue in her leisure time. She does not take relationships seriously, as seen in her sporatic relationship with Gatsby.
In Chapter 2, at Myrtle and Tom's small party, Myrtle's sister, Catherine, says that she thinks the two should get married, since neither like their current spouses (33). Though this is true in Myrtle's case, it is not in Tom's, and though Myrtle tries desperately to believe that Tom does not like Daisy as much as he likes her, she cannot change it. When she finally pushes him over the line, he "broke her nose with his open hand" (37). This scene presents Tom's non-tolerance when it comes to Myrtle. He'll buy her a dog, but he won't let her mock his wife or think that she's better than Daisy, revealing how he views her as an interesting object to have fun with, but not as a real person.
by Katrina Earles and Kaitlyn Sugihara