Society and Class in The Great Gatsby The Roaring Twenties, or the Jazz Age, was a period characterized by post-war euphoria, prosperity, profligacy, and cultural dynamism. There were significant changes in lifestyle and culture in the asses; many found opportunities to rise to affluence, which resulted in groups of newly rich people, such as the hero of Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby. Set in this booming era, the novel portrays the lavish and reckless lifestyle of the wealthy and elite. With the aristocratic upper class in the East Egg and the nouveau richer in the West Egg, people are divided into stint social classes.
Contrasting the two groups’ conflicting values, Fitzgerald reveals the ugliness and moral decay beneath the glamorous faded of the rich to criticize the hollowness of the American upper class. On the surface, the quality of East Egg society seems much superior to that of the West Egg society. East Egger are regarded as elegant, polite, well-bred, and fashionable people with well-groomed houses such as the “white palaces glittering along the water”(5) and the Buchanan “cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion”(6).
On the other hand, the people of the “less fashionable”(5) West Egg are hardhearted as flamboyant, gaudy, and lacking social refinement and taste. Gatsby, for example, wears a pink suit, drives a Rolls-Royce, and lives in a gaudily ostentatious mansion. He also does not pick up on subtle social signals, such as when the lady with Sloane and Tom invites him for supper out of courtesy, even when it was largely insincere.
East Eager’s look down on such West Egg class and don’t approve of them, as seen through Cordon’s “contemptuous” remark, Mimi live in West Egg”(11) when introduced to Nick, and Tom saying that he’d “be a God damned fool to live anywhere else” than East Egg. However, when looking into the East Egger’ actions closer, their qualities are revealed superficial and empty, and their superiority over the West Egger, a mere illusion. Rather, West Egg Nick and Gatsby prove to be much more considerate and loyal people, which leads Gatsby to protect daisy until the end, and Nick to be one of the very few who goes to Gatsby funeral.
As Nick says, “Gatsby turned out alright at the end”(2), despite all the scornful things Gatsby has represented. Despite the general characterization of the upper class as gentle, well-mannered people, the kind, well-bred characters are more of the West Egger than the upper lass East Egger. In fact, the upper class displays the worst behaviors. Tom, for example, is arrogant, selfish, hypocritical, and constantly rude to Gatsby. He proudly speaks out racist and sexist views, and shows violence such as when he breaks Myrtle’s nose for merely annoying him.
When the Buchannan at the end, simply move away than attend Gatsby funeral, they prove to be inconsiderate, careless people who “let other people clean up the mess they had made. “(179) Jordan, who is dishonest and a cheater, is not such a refined character either. Gatsby, on the other and, is a “perfect gentleman”, what Wolfishly regards as “a man of fine breeding”(71) He always maintains a polite and kind attitude, even when he’s with Tom and his condescending friends. He is continuously considerate and loyal, and gorgeous about him”. When it comes down to personal charm and character, wealth and class mean nothing.
Another contrasting value between the East Egg upper class and the West Egg new rich is the role of family. To the aristocratic class, family is a significant provider of wealth and of tradition. Wealth, as well as traditional values, are passed down from generation to generation. Tom’s family is “enormously wealthy’, and Nicks family is also well-going. Fitzgerald shows, however, that their families do not have much meaning or relevance beyond that; Tom and Daisy never see their family, hardly even their own daughter, and marriage to Tom is not valued shown by his continuous extramarital relationships.
Again, beneath the faded of the luxurious and prestigious looking family, is emptiness. Ironically, Gatsby, whose “imagination had never really accepted them as his parent’s at all”(134) shows the only example of familial love. Although his background remains a mystery throughout his life, Nick earns in the end that Gatsby had kindly bought his father a house, and his father displays strong affection and admiration for his son.
By establishing the contrast between the two groups, Fitzgerald shows the conflicting values between classes in modern America. He strongly criticizes the upper class, showing the superficial qualities that only prove to be empty. As Nick says, “a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth”, and through Gatsby tragic fate, Fitzgerald makes it clear that, regardless of the effort and money put into the dream, the pursuit of social mobility in this corrupt, hollow society is futile.