Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
There are many themes in this complex novel. The central theme, however, is a comparison of the corrupting influence of wealth to the purity of a dream. Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, Dan Cody, and Meyer Wolfsheim are examples of people who have been corrupted by their money. Daisy, born and married to wealth, has no values and no purpose in life. She finds her existence to be boring as she floats from one social scene to the next; usually she is dressed in white with accents of gold and silver (the colors of money); even her voices sounds like money. In spite of the wealth, she verbally wonders what she will do with the next day, the next thirty days, and the next thirty years; unfortunately, she does not have a clue. Even her daughter, Pammy, does not give any meaning to Daisy's life, for she views the child only as a toy or a plaything. Because of her boredom, she has an affair with Gatsby when she is eighteen, for she is attracted by his good looks and his army uniform. After her marriage to Tom, she has another affair with Gatsby to relieve her boredom; it is a trifling entertainment to her. She does not value the feelings of others or even human life. When she hits and kills Myrtle Wilson, she does not even stop. When Gatsby is shot, she does not even telephone or send flowers. Daisy is only worried about protecting and entertaining herself.
Tom is probably more purposeless than Daisy. With no real career, he plays with polo ponies and race cars. He also has one sordid affair after another. During the course of the novel, his mistress is Myrtle Wilson. He has rented her an apartment in New York and commands her to go there for his entertainment whenever he desires. When he does not like her behavior, he strikes out at her, as evidenced by the fact he hits her and breaks her nose. For him, Myrtle is simply a toy to be used. Tom also toys with her husband, George Wilson, teasing him about selling him his automobile; it is his cover for hiding the fact that he is having an affair with his wife. When Tom realizes that Daisy is involved with Gatsby, in true hypocritical fashion, he is enraged and confronts his wife's lover, exposing that he is a bootlegger and a nobody. Even though he admits to having various affairs, he says he always loves his wife and comes back to her. Daisy calls him disgusting, but refuses to leave him because of his wealth. After Daisy accidentally kills Myrtle, the two of them flee together, refusing to own up to any responsibility.
It is only Gatsby who is not corrupted by his money. Although he has a large, ostentatious mansion, drives flashy cars, gives extravagant parties filled with excess and waste, and has far too many gaudy clothes, he has not amassed his wealth or its accoutrements for himself. Everything he has done in life has been done to fulfill his dream - to prove to Daisy that he is worthy of her. He believes that his possessions will convince his golden girl to forget the past five years of her life and marry him. When he takes Daisy into his house and shows her his belongings, he values each item according to the worth that she places on it. When she shatters his dream by accepting Tom over him, Gatsby has no need for any of his possessions. No longer searching for his holy grail, the house, the clothes, and the cars mean nothing. Nick, who has thought Gatsby to be vulgar throughout the novel, finally realizes that his neighbor has more worth than all of the East Eggers put together.
All of the wealthy characters, including Gatsby, use people and things and then discard them as trash, destined for the Valley of Ashes. Tom uses Myrtle, and she dies amongst the ashheap chasing after him. He also uses George Wilson, and he is so much a part of the wasteland that his eyes have become ashen. Gatsby uses the butlers and the cooks to provide for his parties. They are left to clean up the ravages of Saturday night on Sunday morning. Fitzgerald is clearly saying that the American Dream has gone awry. People are so into chasing the almighty dollar that they have forgotten real human values. Like Tom and Daisy, their lives wind up in the Valley of Ashes, devoid of meaning or purpose. The all-knowing eyes of T.J. Eckelberg, a symbol of God, looks sadly down on the wasteland that has been created by the extravagant and careless lifestyles of the wealthy.