Social Class in The Great Gatsby Essay Example
The 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a tale about the unfortunate working-class residents of New York City and the challenges they face from inequality created by the reckless and oblivious nature of the upper-class society. In comparison, the 2012 documentary Park Avenue: Money, Power and The American Dream, directed by Alex Gibney, still explore the inequality the working class faces in New York over ninety years into the future.
Although the Great Gatsby and Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream are set ninety years apart, they both identify that one can never be satisfied in life because they are always striving for more. The American Dream has been chased by both the privileged and the underprivileged. Still, the rich have rigged the system to become wealthier and continue to chase the American Dream leaving the less fortunate and less wealthy in the ashes.
Both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Alex Gibney create a clear representation to highlight the class divide and the obliviousness of the rich, with Gibney going into more depth to explore the corrupt economic system. The class divide is first represented to the audience of The Great Gatsby through the differences in freedom and prosperity through the character representations of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. They are the residents within the high upper class. George and Myrtle Wilson, who are in the low working class, both couples are both residents of New York.
Tom and Daisy Buchanan are residents of East Egg, the traditional, class, and cosmopolitan area of Long Island. Inhabitants of East Egg have inherited their money from family members, also known as the old money, meaning the people have been born into wealth and have been spoilt with the upper-class lifestyle without having to work for any of it. When the storyteller, Nick Carraway first speaks of East Egg and the Buchanan’s, he exposes Daisy and Tom to their true wealth by the use of this quote; “They had spent a year in France for no particular reason…” (Fitzgerald 1925, pg.11). This identifies the Buchanan’s have enough money they can spend it for no reason.
The wealth and lifestyle of the Buchanan’s is something that the lower and middle class strive to achieve. When the wealth of the Buchanan’s is compared to the existence of the Wilson’s, a couple from the working class who live in the “desolate area of land…where ashes grow like wheat” known as The Valley of Ashes, Wilson’s wealth is so distant from the Buchanan’s that their dream of richness is only a fantasy.
Mr. and Mrs. Wilson own a repair garage beside the railway station in The Valley of Ashes. “Then the Valley of Ashes opened out on both sides of us, and I had a glimpse of Mrs. Wilson straining at the garage pump with panting vitality as we went by.” (Fitzgerald 1925, pg.85). As Nick passes through The Valley of Ashes, he identifies Myrtle working thoroughly in their shop. A woman at work in the 1920s was nearly impossible to come across, and it left Nick startled. Myrtle Wilson is the perfect candidate to be contrasted against Daisy as she did not have to endure or pant throughout her life. The “dismal scene” of The Valley of Ashes can identify the dissimilarity when contrasted with the clean, upper-class suburb of East Egg.
This inequality demonstrated by Fitzgerald is a result of the divide between the upper class and lower class due to the reckless and oblivious nature of the rich. As the rich constantly strive for wealth and success, they become more arrogant and self-absorbed. This theory of inequality is further observed in the documentary Park Avenue: Money, Power and The American Dream.
Contrastingly, Gibney highlights the social inequality present within America through the use of aesthetic features. Gibney uses the Harlem River metaphor to create a social and wealth divide between Manhattan and the Bronx. Throughout the film, Gibney refers to the river, inquiring whether it is a “channel to prosperity or a barrier that prevents the poor from crossing” (Gibney, 2012).
This metaphor draws attention to the social division present within New York. It articulates how the poor living in the Bronx cannot reach the “castles of wealth and power” as the rich use the river as a “deep and forbidding moat”. To help explain the castles of wealth, Gibney uses panning shots of items that only the richest individuals can own. For example, he recognizes the tall well-kept “castles”, the luxury cars, and water fountains with extravagant upbeat music created by orchestras to boost the wealth and sophistication within Manhattan, “home to the ultra-rich”.
The Bronx, one of America’s poorest suburbs is only ten minutes away. The Bronx is introduced with littered streets, untidy gardens, and beggars, accompanied by emergency service sirens and slow, hollow music. “On the other side of the water, there is another Park Avenue. This is the South Bronx, home to America’s poorest congressional district.” (Gibney, 2012) The 400 wealthiest residents of America have accumulated the same amount of money as half of America’s population (150 million people).
This helps the audience to understand the wage gap and the inequality of wealth dissemination. Gibney constructs an obvious difference between the rich and the poor in the documentary. The Harlem River is thought of as Manhattan’s or the rich’s “moat” to keep the poor people that inhabit South Bronx out, indicating the wealthy’s selfish complexion.
Both the Great Gatsby and Park Avenue exemplify the class divide between the upper and working classes. Furthermore, The Great Gatsby exhibits how inequality is created through the recklessness and carelessness of the upper class. The Buchanan’s are one of the many couples who could have made a difference if they depleted their selfish ways to assist in tightening the class divide.
This is clear when Daisy’s lack of sympathy causes her to murder Myrtle Wilson without demonstrating emotion. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back in their money… and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” (Fitzgerald 1925, pg.218) Nick defines Tom and Daisy as reckless people who take no obligation for their behaviors. Their wealth gives them satisfaction and warmth, causing them to only think for themselves.
On the contrary, throughout Park Avenue, the increasing wealth of the upper class creates imbalance and a larger class divide in New York City. It is not the carelessness of the rich that is causing inequality. Still, the rich rig the economic system in their favor to create more money for them and even less for the middle and lower classes. “The rich here haven’t just used their money to buy fancy cars, private jets, and mansions. They’ve also used it to rig the game in their favor” (Gibney, 2012). Gibney uses the children’s game of Monopoly as a metaphor to example this on a much smaller scale.
Monopoly was played, where one player was given a large advantage over the other. Although the game was rigged in the fortunate person’s favor, they still did not show sympathy for the poorer player. A real-life example of this can be seen through the actions of David Koch. Koch is a right-wing oil tycoon with a net worth of $25 billion. Koch uses his fortunes to influence politics to rig the system. “Together, the Koch Brothers may have spent more money to influence American politics than anyone else in the country” (Gibney, 2012).
Koch funds many plans to make the poor and the rich even richer. Koch cuts government-based programs such as food stamps and provides bigger tax cuts for the rich, so they do not lose as much. Therefore, Koch is taking away the fundamentals from the poor to add to his $25 billion. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby recognizes that one can never be satisfied because it entails always striving for something more than we already have.
Ninety years have passed, but people are still constantly striving for more. Alex Gibney, director of Park Avenue: Money, Power and The American Dream, believes that the selfish acts of the ultra-wealthy wanting more have led to the growing inequality in America. Both of these texts highlight the inequality and class divide in America. Ninety years have passed between the two texts, yet the class divide has only grown larger. It will continue to expand if nothing is done to support the poor and stop the wealthy’s selfish acts. Will the rich ever be willing to donate a fraction of their money to save lives?