A man looks anxiously at the agitated crowd pressing harder and harder on the doors. The doors give way and the man holds up his hands as a final attempt to keep the crowd back. The front of the crowd pushes him aside but the rest of the crowd doesn’t know he’s there. The man’s fellow workers clamber and shove their way into the crowd to save him, but they too are trampled. The man dies of a broken neck, lung collapse, and head trauma. Two years later, people are bringing guns to toy stores in hopes of getting in line first, all to save 30% on items they don’t even need.
The clearly defined reason behind this horrific event has become part of most Americans’ lives:the drive to acquire more stuff In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatz, a member of the lower class, exemplifies this intense desire for wealth and material goods. Although he only does this to impress the woman he loves, his story is a perfect way to summarize the birth of materialism. That driving force that causes Americans to want huge cars, huge houses, and tons of “stuff” to fill them with is the reason why so many Americans are in irreparable amounts of debt.
Materialism, no longer restricted to a single class, is becoming the norm rather than the exception in America’s society today. In the Roaring Twenties, the American dream changed from a goal of success, to an unrealistic level of happiness, brought on by advertising and the availability of “stuff. ” “Stuff” (as in material goods not directly required for an enjoyable lifestyle) not only became available and was advertised, but began to be viewed as a necessity. People began to view the accumulation of material goods as a sign of fortune, and so they began to accumulate possessions until they felt they had enough.
The amount of “stuff” that signified “enough” depended on the person or people that the American in question looked to in setting their materialistic goals. These “Model Americans” were usually members of the upper class. Those with the money to buy large quantities of items at their leisure appeared to be the most well off, and “upscale” when compared with the people of a lower class. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby himself observes the materialistic lifestyle of Dan Cody, a rich, yacht owner for whom Gatsby works.
Gatsby hopes to inherit Cody’s fortune, and use it to win the heart of Daisy; whom he had been planning to reconnect with and marry after his time in the war. As Daisy is now married to Tom, Gatsby thinks that the only way to win her back is to be better than and have more “stuff” than Tom. As Nick discovers, and Gatsby utterly fails to comprehend, having the outlook that anything important is material can consume a person to the point that they can loose touch with their original ambitions. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…” (Pg. 179) Materialism cannot, by it’s very nature, belong only to one social class. Gatsby, a member of the lower/middle class, dedicated his life to trying to impress Daisy with his materialistic values. He dealt with shady people in order to get the money he needed for his luxurious lifestyle.
Daisy, overwhelmed by his enormous wealth, does not know Gatsby to be the same person he was when they met. A human’s tendency to be jealous, and their urge to be noticed by others will drive them to great lengths. In today’s society, as in the society of the Roaring Twenties, “keeping up with the Jones’s” was and is not an option, but a necessary and expensive part of the American way of life. In the setting of The Great Gatsby, New York City is a place where “anything can happen,” a place that makes the poor want to be and feel rich, and is the place where materialism in the book emanates.
The same principle exists in today’s society as well, but instead of the city being the source of materialistic values, Itis corporations and their advertising. The corporations of today that sell to average Americans as their main source of profit know the way people will respond to certain advertising techniques. For instance, making it seem like buying the company’s products is a need, rather than a want, causes people to be more willing to purchase the items, even if they don’t have the money for them. Myrtle, George Wilson’s spouse in The Great Gatsby, is poor and lives in the valley of ashes.
The valley of ashes signifies poverty and is where the people who are effected most by the influence of the city, live. Myrtle’s poverty and desperate longing for wealth is significant because it connects readily with a strange phenomenon of today. Black Friday is the day when, for only one or two days, stores lower the price of all their merchandise by 10-40% and advertise competitively to draw in customers. Toy stores for example stress in their ads, the fact that the shoppers “must buy their children the toys! Because they’re on sale! Because you must buy your child everything he asks for, for Christmas. “The rich get richer and the poor get — children. ” (Pg. 95) People are crazed on Black Friday and as a result, people have, and will likely continue with increasing frequency, to be hurt or even killed in the madness. This shows the power that materialism can have on a society. The valley of ashes, although not intended to be a representation of the third world, is in fact, a perfect parallel to the way the third world is viewed by people in America. The people in the middle and upper classes of The Great Gatsby watch the poor in the valley of ashes as if they are not real people.
They use them as a form of entertainment, taking pictures of them, and documenting them for the enjoyment of others. In American society today, people don’t view the countries in the third world as real, because that way of life is not part of their “reality. ” Every person deserves the same equal rights and respect, but in the world today, that doesn’t happen. In The Great Gatsby, Nick realizes that every man is equal, the rich and the poor. “and it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.
Wilson was so sick that he looked guilty, unforgivably guilty” (Pg. 124) This quote shows Nick’s realization that quality of life is not measured by how rich or how poor someone is, but by how that person views them self. Nick’s discovery is the exact principle missing from American society’s “perfect life” image. Although people in impoverished countries struggle, when given the chance to improve their lives, they will not try to be richer than everyone else, but simply strive to live happy lives. This is a lesson that all Americans need to learn, and one that Gatsby never had a chance to.
Gatsby’s attempt at perfection led to Daisy being more overwhelmed than impressed by his luxurious lifestyle, and eventually led to his death. Materialism used to be restricted to the upper class, because nobody in the lower class cared how much stuff they had, as they were trying to put food on the table. Starting in the Roaring Twenties however, city life’s materialistic mentality, especially in the East, began spreading to the lower classes. The Great Gatsby shows this extremely well because all of the major characters (Nick, Gatsby, and Daisy,) are from the West.
They all struggle with adjusting to the stresses and pressures of Eastern, martialist life. By the end of the book, the Eastern madness had such a negative effect on Nick’s psyche that he is forced to move back to the West. Materialism is so common today that it would be hard to find someone who is not a little bit of a materialist. Materialism becoming the majority rather than the exception is feeding large corporations’ profits, and wracking up a hefty 2. 5 Trillion Dollars in consumer credit card debt as of 2009.
That number rose five fold from 1980 to 2001 and at the same time, the profit for American corporation and department store chain Walmart has nearly tripled in only the last 10 years. The connection between corporations’ profit and the rise in debt and materialistic practices is nothing but distinct. Something must be done to stop materialism from destroying more lives than it already has. Just as Nick received a shock in the events of The Great Gatsby, it’s clear that the people of The United States need the same type of wake up call.
Sources: Rosenbloom, Stephanie. “Wal-Mart Worker Trampled to Death by Frenzied Black Friday Shoppers. ” The Seattle Times | Seattle Times Newspaper. 29 Nov. 2008. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. Shmoop Editorial Team. “The Roaring Twenties. ” Shmoop. com. Shmoop University, Inc. , 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 03 Dec 2010. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print. J. D. Trout and Paul Moser. “Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind – Materialism. ” Department of Philosophy – University of Waterloo. 11 May 2004. Web. 07 Dec. 2010. .