How and why is a social group represented in a particular way? The Great Gatsby presents different social groups to embody and transmit the idea that each class has it’s own problems to prevail over and unhappiness transcends over all the social classes. The problems in each group, despite the social stratification, reveal the instability of the world they live in. The three classes are old money, new money, and no money in which all three believe their own rules of survival in society and enforce boundaries between social classes.
Fitzgerald uses the similarities between the poor and the rich to reinforce his opinion and his characterization of the upper class. The new rich represented by West Egg have newly accumulated wealth and lack any connections which they make up with lavish displays. They lack social grace and taste evidently seen in Gatsby’s flamboyant mansion and pink suit compared to the Buchanan’s home and Daisy’s white flowing dress.
The lack of social connections is evident when Gatsby does not take hint of the subtle signal of the hypocrisy in the Sloane invitation to eat.
Since the new rich have only recently acquired their wealth and once belonged to the lower class they are seen as antithesis of the old rich. Even though Gatsby who represents the new rich and has ties to criminal activity as the source of his wealth he still manages to have a heart filled with love and be characterized by loyalty. These qualities eventually lead to his downfall as he takes the blame for Daisy regarding Myrtle’s murder.
The “old money” class represented geographically by East Egg is characterized by their accumulation of wealth before the 19th century, influential and important social connections, and a propensity to conceal their money and dominance behind a veil of courteousness. They scorn the new post war, wealthy industrialists that surge in the booming economy of the 1920’s. The Buchanans and Jordan Baker are the ones that impose divisions in the upper class based on how and when they acquired their fortunes.
Since they were born into money they do not work and rarely do they ever speak about business instead they entertain themselves with whatever pleases them. The old rich lack the ability to see the essence of others and themselves due to their superficiality and judgmental attitudes. They scorn the new rich because they do not have the elegance and subtlety that the old rich possesses. However what the old rich lack is heart. They are inconsiderate people who use their money to replace emotions and avoid the guilt of hurting other people.
The Buchanan’s show this when they buy a bigger house far away and purposely miss Gatsby’s funeral. Their money allows them to remove themselves physically and emotionally from the tragedy they just witnessed. Fitzgerald uses the no money class to make a strong statement as well. Nick although he doesn’t have money proves himself to be an honorable man. Almost immediately social discomfort is characterized by the Buchanan marriage however the affairs and actions of the old rich eventually lead to similarities between the wealthy and the poor.
George and Myrtle’s interaction with the wealthy serve as a reinforcement for Fitzgerald’s social commentary on the rich. Myrtle is like Tom and she displays the same qualities that he does. She tries to exert a sort of superiority with her husband just as Tom does with people who he considers inferior to him. Myrtle’s actions cause the rich’s behavior to be seen as absurd and ridiculous by the reader. Her ambition and desire to have the lifestyle she wants leads her to cheat on her husband.
Even though she desires to enjoy social experiences, like the Buchanans, in her lavish apartment the drunken incident of her broken nose compared to the calm dinner at the Buchanan’s serves as evidence that she is nowhere near the world that the Buchanans live in. On the other hand, George Wilson serves to contrast the submissive nature of the poor to the dominance of the rich and to sharpen the cruelty of the rich presented in the novel. George cannot stand up to Tom when Tom threatens not to sell him the car because he needs the work. This goes further on to demonstrate the cruel and dominant economic influence of the rich on the poor.
Unhappiness is seen in the cold empty world of the Buchanans who hide behind their money to erase all physical and emotional troubles, in the futile pursuit of Gatsby’s reinvention of the past, and in the inescapable poverty of the Wilson’s in the Valley of Ashes. In a sense the struggle between the upper class represents the struggle between Tom and Gatsby for Daisy. Undeniably, wealth and social status are needed in order to enjoy the almost unrealistic social circle of the rich as evidenced by Gatsby’s and Myrtle’s attempts to incorporate themselves into those roles.