The Impact Of Social Class In The Great Gatsby

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Sometimes dreams are much more elusive than they may originally appear. This is apparent in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragedy novel, The Great Gatsby, where a young male arriviste wishes to regain the love of a married woman- in the process, conflict ensues, ultimately ending in the death of the ambitious man. Although all members of society are considered equal, the lavish lives of wealthy individuals create delusions of supremacy in them, which erroneously justify their questionable acts; individuals belonging to families of historically lower social classes often admire this apparent superiority of those who are widely respected society members and desperately attempt but ultimately fail to climb the rigid social hierarchy.

Individuals of higher social classes disregard others due to the misconception that they are of higher priority. While waiting outside the Buchanan’s home, Nick informs Gatsby of Myrtle’s death, and Gatsby nonchalantly responds, “‘I thought so; I told Daisy I thought so… She stood it pretty well… I don’t think anybody saw us but of course I can’t be sure’” (143). By casually acknowledging Myrtle’s fatal condition (“I thought so”) before quickly diverting to Daisy’s condition, as well as his hope that nobody had seen them fleeing the crime scene, Gatsby displays his indifference to Myrtle’s condition. He knows that because the victim of the accident is most likely an individual of a lower social class, as it occurs in one of the poorest parts in the state, the Valley of Ashes, it is acceptable to disregard Myrtle’s death. While Gatsby himself is not revealed to be an arrogant character in the novel, his natural ability to dismiss Myrtle’s death in favor of trivial discussions discloses that even relatively respectful, wealthy individuals incline to dismiss the condition of those with less societal influence. Thus, Gatsby’s statements after the death of Myrtle reveals that high-class figures, regardless of morals or humility, are often blinded by feelings of superiority, causing them to possess apathetic attitudes to the welfare of others.

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The security of political power causes the rich to comfortably mistreat others. At the end of the novel, Nick unintentionally runs into Tom, who admits to framing Gatsby and even claims that Gatsby deserved to die. Nick thinks to himself, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money…”. Based on Tom’s insensitive remarks and lack of sympathy towards the late Gatsby, Nick realizes that Tom and Daisy are inconsiderate, “careless people” who commit invidious actions and then simply use “their money” and political power to clear their names. The fact that Tom even believes that he was completely warranted in misinforming George Wilson about Gatsby coupled with the underlying fact that Tom and Daisy recently moved from Chicago before leaving East Egg to abscond to an unnamed destination fuels the claim that they “smash(ed) up things and creatures” and then utilize their societal influence to safely escape to a new area, where the cycle of instigation repeats. Therefore, Tom’s ruthlessness amid Gatsby’s death depicts the idea that powerful individuals often discount the welfare of others due to beliefs that they will be protected regardless.

The highly respected positions of those of the historically higher social classes appeal to less privileged individuals, who despairingly strive to reach such heights of prosperity but fail, due to the rigidity of the social hierarchy. As a new money citizen, Gatsby is viewed as a shady character by the venerable, old money figures. He desperately tries to escape this societal tag throughout the novel, which is evident when he tells Nick during a car ride, “‘I don’t want you to get a wrong idea of me from all these stories you hear. I am the son of some wealthy people in the middle-west… I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years. It is a family tradition’” (65). Gatsby’s indication that he doesn’t want Nick “to get a wrong idea” about him reveals his lucid determination to not be confused for a dishonest citizen; the fact that he then quickly moves on to discuss his “true” identity as a descendant of a wealthy Midwestern family as well as his preeminent education at the renowned Oxford University reveals his urgent wish to be considered a respectable, “old money” citizen, instead of a suspicious, rags-to-riches individual. Thus, through Gatsby’s unreliable autobiographical accounts, the tendency of less respected individuals to attempt to force their way into positions of honor is revealed.

In conclusion, the social hierarchy of Long Island plays a significant role in the aspirations and relations between characters. Through the depiction of the indifferent nature of higher class individuals, the unethical actions of those shielded by political power, and the desperate desires of individuals to attain roles of wide respect, Fitzgerald conveys the central idea that false sentiments of superiority in wealthy individuals cause them to haughtily disregard the condition of others- the respect garnered by these highly respected individuals causes others to strive to reach similar societal positions, which they ultimately fail to do, because of the rigid social hierarchy.  

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