Gatsby's world is corrupt but ultimately glamorous. How do you respond to this statement?
“Gatsby’s world is corrupt but ultimately glamorous.”
How do you respond to this view of the novel? (21 marks)
Fitzgerald reveals the life of Gatsby through the retrospective narrator Nick Carraway. Through this, it is clear from the opening chapter that Gatsby’s life is glamorous ‘there was something gorgeous about him.’ Through the description of Gatsby’s house it is evidently home to affluence and subsequently glamour. It is described to have a ‘marble swimming pool’ and ‘forty acres of lawn’ which evokes imagery of glamour and ostentatious displays of wealth. Furthermore, in chapter 3 Fitzgerald accentuates this glamorous image of Gatsby’s life through the lavish party complete with ‘salads of harlequin designs’ and ‘in the main hall a bar’ ‘stocked with gins and liquors.’ These descriptions of Gatsby’s life and himself permeate the entire novel, therefore it cannot be denied that Gatsby’s life is glamorous. However, Fitzgerald also describes the people who appear at his parties who ‘conducted themselves according to the rules of behaviour associated with an amusement park.’ Through this symbolism Fitzgerald demonstrates how Gatsby has a grave desire to be accepted into the hedonistic society of the Roaring Twenties. The people he throws parties for and who he associates with are irresponsible, vacuous and rude, therefore suggesting that Gatsby’s lavish life is simultaneously corrupt.
Similarly Fitzgerald uses contrast to demonstrate the corruption in Gatsby’s life. ‘His station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug’ this is not a very glamorous image which seems incongruous with the previous descriptions of affluence, this could show how Gatsby’s life has dual reflections; it is both wonderful and corrupt. Moreover the repulsive imagery could reflect the parasitic quality of people the ‘station wagon’ carries to Gatsby’s house ‘to and from the city’ thus furthering the argument that those who Gatsby associates with, corrupt his life and negatively impact upon him. Through this Fitzgerald is reflecting the wider immorality of those in a high economic position in the 1920s. People such as Jordan Baker and Lucille who says ‘I never care what I do, so I always have a good time’, highlighting the corruption and irresponsibility in America during the 1920s.
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Similarly the meaningful absence in Gatsby’s character endorsed by Fitzgerald contributes to the suspicions of corruption in his life. For the beginning of the novel Gatsby is an elusive image in the reader’s mind, it is only in chapter 4 that Nick and Gatsby have a momentous encounter revealing the “truth” about Gatsby. Fitzgerald employs direct speech to enhance the reader’s understanding of Gatsby’s past, that his ‘family all died’ and he was ‘educated at Oxford.’ The fact that this more developed image of Gatsby has only appeared in chapter 4 attributes a nefarious side to Gatsby’s life, since it’s as if part of his life needed to be kept secret. Through Nick’s narration Fitzgerald continues to highlight corruption in Gatsby, since after Gatsby reveals his past Nick questions its reliability. ‘The very phrases were worn so threadbare’, the use of the word ‘threadbare’ suggests that Gatsby’s story has no foundation and is about to break, he is lying showing a side of him which he doesn’t want to incorporate into his ‘glamorous’ image at his parties.
Alternatively, Gatsby’s ‘threadbare’ story could merely be to cover his less sinister but poorer lifestyle which he shared with his ‘unsuccessful farm people’ parents. Fitzgerald tells the reader that Gatsby was previously called ‘James Gatz’, he had ‘had the name ready for a long time’ this shows how desperate he was to evade his old, unprosperous life and cover it with a new identity. East Egg represents the patricians in the 1920s who despised the parvenu or ‘new money’ bourgeois at West Egg to which Gatsby belongs, symbolic of the real social divide in the 1920s between new and old money. Consequently Gatsby’s lies to Nick about his parents were incumbent for the realisation of his dream of becoming part of a higher social class. East Egg wouldn’t have accepted him with the knowledge that he was ‘new money’, however the garish displays of his wealth render his lies futile. Consequently the description of Gatsby’s past and his lies do not necessarily mean his life is corrupt.
In ‘The Great Gatsby’ Gatsby’s reputation precedes him and he is already the subject of a whirlwind of gossip before he is introduced to the reader. These rumours surrounding Gatsby’s life reveal a sinister past linking to crime which ultimately leads us to believe that Gatsby’s life is corrupt. He is thought to be ‘a bootlegger’ and ‘nephew to Von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil.’ The context of reception in 1925 would have probably been enveloped into these rumours since bootlegging was very common during the prohibition of the 1920s and many of the nouveau riche such as Gatsby, had made their fortune from bootlegging. ‘Devil’ has negative connotations and implies that parts of Gatsby’s character are baneful and the ways he has achieved his glamorous life are not noble. However, the rumours are revealed to be said by ‘the hundreds who had accepted his hospitality’ and those who haven’t even met Gatsby ‘who is he?’ ‘I think he killed a man.’ Therefore the fact it is the hedonistic society in East Egg who spawn these rumours diminishes the reliability, consequently in the first part of the novel we see there is no corruption behind the glamour of his life. Furthermore Fitzgerald reveals the truth of James Gatz in the centre of the novel to ‘clear this set of misconceptions away’ implying the rumours had very little truth in them.
In chapter 7 Tom reveals he has heard the truth about Gatsby’s ‘drug stores’, that he had used them to sell ‘grain alcohol over the counter’ in order to achieve his affluence. However it is previously revealed that Gatsby ‘revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from’ Daisy. This is therefore suggesting that Gatsby was a ‘bootlegger’ to achieve his glamorous life but ultimately not for himself but for Daisy because she is his dream, he needs to satisfy her materialism to rekindle his romance from ‘five years’ previously. Therefore Gatsby’s aim to attract the love of his life is noble and pure, yet his crooked methods he employs to achieve this are repulsive to Nick and subsequently the reader. This causes an internal dilemma within the reader as emotions constantly fluctuate between approbation and revulsion. This makes the reader question the essence of Gatsby’s character and wonder if he is ultimately corrupt.
Fitzgerald uses Gatsby’s ‘elaborate dream’ as a wider symbol of the fallacy of the American Dream. Gatsby’s obsession with his dream, shown through his constant admiration of ‘a single green light’ reflects the captivating energy of the American Dream over Americans during the 1920s, even still somewhat today. Moreover it shows the power of dreams and the extent people are willing to go for them, even engaging in ‘bootlegging’ which was an illegal activity during the 1920s. Therefore it can be considered that it is not Gatsby’s life which is corrupt, but merely the world he lives in. Furthermore it is the American Dream which Fitzgerald is suggesting to be corrupt, since it pushes people to their limits for success and glamour, creating a corrupt and immoral society.