The Theme of Materialism in The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a novel that aims to express a critic regarding the American dream in the 1920s which turned into an age of extreme prosperity and materialism. The author portrays this era as a time where social and moral values decayed into “cynicism, greed, and empty pursuit of pleasure”; a period where “easy money and relaxed social values” reigned. The corruption of the American dream, where the desire for pleasure and money became greater than the more noble goals, is what led the character of Jay Gatsby to host exuberant parties every Saturday night in his mansion. Before the 1920s women’s main role in their lives was to take care of their husbands and children, but in the novel we can see that they become more interested in themselves and their place in society becoming unfaithful towards their families. Women in the novel are portrayed in a negative light to represent the corruption of the American dream. The two main female characters, Daisy Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson, are represented as unfaithful, materialistic, dependent on men and, at the same time, objects of desire for them.

Both depicted as unfaithful and materialistic. Daisy Buchanan, wife to Tom Buchanan, is the woman Gatsby has always been in love with. The two had a relationship when they were younger, but, the war forced Gatsby to separate from her. Despite this, Daisy promised him that once he returned, they would be together, however, she doesn’t maintain her commitment and gets involved with another man. When Gatsby suddenly reappears in her life, she becomes interested in him again as he has now become wealthy and is part of the nouveau riche. Gatsby knows Daisy is interested in his money therefore, he takes her to his mansion to show her all of his properties. “‘They’re such beautiful shirts,’ she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. ‘It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before’” (Pg. 92). In this scene, the real essence of Daisy’s character is exposed as she starts crying for materialistic goods.

Fitzgerald wants to show that this behavior is not only typical of higher class women but it applies to all which is why Myrtle Wilson, who pertains to the working class, is portrayed in the same way. She is married to George Wilson, however, she feels unhappy about her relationship with him because they are poor, therefore, she decides to have an affair with Tom Buchanan who is of a higher social status. “The only crazy I was was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake. He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in, and never told me about it, and the man came after it one day when he was out.” (Pg. 35). In these words, we can clearly see the importance she attributes to physical objects over pure feelings. She is also represented as a fool in that what she saw in Tom was a man who gave her lavish gifts because he was in love with her but really, he was just using her.

Although in the 1920s women had just been given the right to vote, the author chooses to depict their continuous dependence on men. Daisy is represented as a woman who is not capable of staying by herself. When Gatsby leaves to fight in the war, Daisy settles in with Tom because she needed a man by her side and was tired of waiting for him. She is financially provided by Tom and dependent on his social status. Her idea of the role of women in the world is cynical as in her eyes, women have no place in this world to be intelligent, only beautiful and stupid which is why she is disappointed when she finds out she is going to have a girl. “I hope she’ll be a fool that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (Pg. 17).

As we can see here, she embodies the values of irresponsibility and detachment in her treatment of her daughter, showing how she has become careless and how the role of women in society has changed. In the same way, Myrtle is dependent on Tom. He is her source of happiness because he can give her the wealth and social status that she has always dreamed of which Wilson will never be able to obtain. Even when Tom abuses her and slaps her, she stays with him and tries to go back to him for the sake of his money. “Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.” (Pg. 37) Myrtle is yet again submitted by men when she is locked in her room by Wilson which portrays how men had control and power over their wives.

In regard to women being an object of desire for men, Daisy Buchanan is the character that best embodies this attribute as Tom and Gatsby constantly attempt to win her over. When the two men are fighting, Daisy isn’t given the opportunity to speak and express her feelings. “‘Your wife doesn’t love you,’ said Gatsby. “She’s never loved you. She loves me.’ ‘She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved anyone except me!’” (Pg. 130). Through the entire novel Gatsby and Tom fight for Daisy because she is beautiful. It is interesting to see that even though Myrtle is not even remotely as appealing as Daisy, Tom still desires her and is able to obtain her with his money.

As we saw though the characters of Daisy Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson, women of a high and low social status are both depicted as unfaithful, materialistic and dependent on men. The reason why the author decides to emphasize these negative aspects about the women at the time is to represent how this social group was affected by the fall of the American dream. Corrupted social norms had repercussions on the individuals who abandoned their established role in society and became careless.