The Great Gatsby: Social Mobility
The 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, critically discusses the ideals of the American Dream and recapturing the past. In the 2013 film adaptation, producer Baz Luhrmann translates the plot to portray a more modern take on the text. Although he uses verbatim quotes and loosely follows the pattern of themes, there are several distorted facts and altered settings. The movie is overall weighted more towards the beginning of the book, highlighting the first two chapters the most. When comparing relationships between the two texts, Nick, Gatsby, Myrtle, and Daisy exhibit several differences in social mobility.
In the book, many of the characters believed in “The Dream” that wealth and social mobility was achievable. Fitzgerald illustrates three specific social-economic classes: old money, new money, and the lower class. Authors Janny Scott and David Leonhardt state, “Mobility is the promise that lies at the heart of the American Dream… It is supposed to take the sting out of the widening gulf between the have-mores and the have nots” (1). Gatsby represents new money because he succeeded through shady dealings and bootlegging. Gatsby’s lover, Daisy, represents old money. Although she earned nothing but her inheritance, Gatsby attempts to act as though he is old money by being accepted by her class.
The 2013 film demonstrates the clear connection between the geographical location and social values of East Egg, West Egg, and the Valley of Ashes. Though they are separated by a small stretch of water, each character symbolizes the differences between new and old money. East Egg, home to Tom and Daisy, represents the sophisticated manners of hereditary nobility, West Egg, home to Gatsby, represents the newly rich, and the Valley of Ashes, home to Myrtle and George Wilson, represents the poor. According to Janny Scott and David Leonhardt, “It appears that while it is easier for a few high achievers to scale the summits of wealth, for many others it has become harder to move up from one economic class to the other” (1). In Chapter 2 of the novel, Fitzgerald describes, “About half way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land” (23). In an area of poverty, Myrtle is viewed as a crude and vulgar character because she mocks Tom by saying “Daisy, Daisy, Daisy” (37). This shows she has little respect for Tom, who is of higher class than her; however, Daisy supports the view that the lower social classes presented as unfaithful.
In contrast, the communities in East Egg and West Egg flourish with people living prosperous lives and hosting elaborate parties. In both texts, the parties are large and grand, but the novel gives the feel of a party in the 1920’s rather than a modern-day twist. According to Fitzgerald, “They were at least agonizingly aware of the easy money” (46). Although the film exemplifies these overwhelming aspects regarding the rich, the book describes Jay Gatsby as a person who hoped for a future while living in the past. Fitzgerald says, “A sudden emptiness seemed to flow… endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host” (55). The illusion of a great life seemed to fool the narrator, Nick, because of Gatsby’s outside image. Scott and Leonhardt state, “Trends are broad and seemingly contradictory: the rise in standards of living and the blurring of the landscape of class” (1). Gatsby’s multiple attempts to win Daisy over with luxury slowly seemed to fade when Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, kept his standards high coming from a solid family and a lot of money.
In the movie when Gatsby takes a trip to the city with Nick and the Buchanan’s, Gatsby yells at Tom to “shut up,” giving the audience a reason for Daisy to have doubts. Attitudes from each character differ from the two texts, yet the societal issues during the time are clearly evident of the American Dream in both. According to Scott and Leonhardt, “They say the very rich have too much power, and they favor the idea of class-based affirmative action to help those at the bottom” (2). Tom Buchanan is ultimately the person who led George Wilson to kill Gatsby. Both Tom and Daisy are presented as indecent because they do not own up to the consequences of their actions and instead let innocent people suffer for their stupidity. Fitzgerald says, “Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known” (59). Similarly, Scott and Leonhardt state, “Class is classified as attitudes, assumptions, identity, and a system of exclusion” (2). Gatsby used money as a cover, which led to his dishonesty.
In conclusion, the characters in The Great Gatsby failed at conquering what they believed was the American Dream. Gatsby, in both versions, is lonely in death. After he is shot, he dies believing that Daisy was going to ditch Tom and go away with him. The film portrays it in a deeper vision by showing the appearance of his father and the unexpected arrival at the funeral of a man who Nick met previously. Daisy’s true happiness is never fulfilled and Tom’s wrong-doings were masked by his money. Looking at the differences between East Egg, West Egg, and the Valley of Ashes, narrator Nick Carraway tries to escape from the emptiness of the society. In the book, he is a man who comes from a poor family and leaves home to become a bond man. In The Great Gatsby, Nick says, “I have been drunk just twice in my life…” (29). Drunken Nick leaves the party shortly after Myrtle is hit by Tom, unlike how it is referenced in the movie. Although producer Luhrmann does not directly follow Fitzgerald’s plot, the materialistic ideas and tendencies is the most evident issue of the social classes of the characters.
The Great Gatsby: Social Mobility