The Great Gatsby Themes, Motifs, Symbols
Fitzgerald is by no means a Marxist, and perhaps does not have a complicated class philosophy. But that makes this novel an even more interesting and rich portrait of class during the time period than if he had an ideological goal to accomplish. Fitzgerald is mainly interested in showing how in America, class status has been put into a confused state by unprecedented social mobility. People search for social status by claiming origins that are aristocratic in nature or of long standing, but the competition for status fuels violent competition among the wealthy.
The treatment of gender in the novel is a bit elusive, but it is clear that gender roles for the women in the novel are dangerously circumscribed. Myrtle, Jordan, and Daisy all rebel against the limits of their world in different ways, and in the case of each rebellion has negative consequences. Jordan, however, as an athlete, manages to attain more genuine freedom than either Myrtle or Daisy.
Prohibition is only dealt with obliquely in the novel. But the fact that liquor is illegal, while Gatsby is a bootlegger and characters like Tom, Daisy, and Nick imbibe at will, indicates that there are major contradictions between the ideas of American identity and the everyday reality.
There is a tension in the novel between the East Coast of the US and the rest of the country, particularly the Midwest. Although Tom becomes disgusted with the East, it is worth noting that the characters who anger him are from the Midwest as well; so, perhaps their tragic plight has to do with being out of place in the East. For Fitzgerald, the East seems to epitomize the competition, extreme wealth, and recklessness of America at the time.
Gatsby’s story is a uniquely American story of rising to success from nowhere, but his transformation also has the feeling of a fairy tale. This is especially the case in terms of his house, which feels like an enchanted castle. The spell wears off, though, under close scrutiny. One implication is that we can judge all of what makes America so special a place…