Fitzgerald’s Marxist Great Gatsby.- S Syndercombe-Steyn Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby can be read as a critique of capitalism.
A critical sketch of a victimised working class is juxtaposed with a satirical portrait of the destructive rich. The demise of rich and poor alike is presented by the critical, almost class-neutral Nick, like Gatsby from the less materialist West. George the financially marginalised mechanic is powerless in the face of the wealthy, as his acts of despair attest. If the poor Myrtle is a casualty of the rich at play, then Gatsby is ironically a casualty of the desperate proletariat - as much as he himself exploits others. Evidently the rich should not stray into the valley of ashes. Those from the valley of ashes should keep away from the cafés. The dispossessed, silenced characters ironically determine the outcome of events through their physical being. Equally, if industrialisation has produced the car, the car will shape society. Material production and culture coincide. Much can be made of the the substitution of car for woman – the irony of the cuckolded mechanic, bribed by the promise of a car, losing his wife to the automobile. The symbol of the poor mistress run down by the rich, unfaithful wife of her lover stands central to the novel. With humans objectified, whether by rich or poor, objects exact revenge. Fitzgerald’s novel is structured around class, with Gatsby and Tom sharing vices. The powerful men are the most villainous. If the bigoted Tom exercises his power over mistress and cuckold, wife and friends alike, Gatsby is no different. Tom’s relationship with Myrtle and Daisy is based on class status, as his control of Daisy, and his public abuse of Myrtle, his financial manipulation of her, and his humiliation of her husband demonstrate. Myrtle’s pet dog, a plaything bought out of misery, symbolises herself. Both Tom, George, and Myrtle objectify Myrtle. If Myrtle prostitutes herself for money, her husband George does the same. Daisy, Gatsby and the crowds at his parties are no different. Only the critical narrator Nick is somewhat neutral in this class war played out for the reader, enabling his role’ as commentator. In a time of economic crisis all parties submit to the power of the modern grail the dollar. Daisy, for example, must choose between love and honesty, and class status. Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy mirrors Tom’s, both in his initial rejection, and subsequent pursuit of her.
At the outset Gatsby is rejected by Daisy because of his class. He thus thinks that outbidding Tom will enable him to own Daisy. Protagonist and antagonist have the same economic and moral characteristics – they are hollow, greedy men pursuing women financially ‘at a cost’ to those women, others, and themselves. These capitalists have sacrificed their anima for money, and ironically, seek the idealised female ‘grail’ – the Other - financially. Fitzgerald viciously parodies the romantic novel in this text, demystifying erotic love, and critiqueing the control of sexual reproduction through privilege. If no fairy tale ending is possible in an unequal society, that concurs with Marx’s premise that inequality and misery is an intrinsic aspect of a capitalist society. Fitzgerald closely correlates class identity and behaviour. For example, Tom and Daisy’s relationship reflects the significance of class loyalty. Gatsby is the fall guy of the American dream – its shadow aspect brought into the light. Gatsby is fated to fail in his pursuit of the American dream because of his financial hubris, his transgression of the law of class status. In a world juxtaposing the valley of ashes and a café society, autonomous self-creation means disintegration. Fitzgerald thus rewrites tragedy within the capitalist paradigm, exploding the myth of the self-made man. A contrary view suggests that Fitzgerald critiques society morally rather than in terms of class, conservatively judging pragmatism. Fitzgerald equally critiques the weak and the powerful, portraying a deromanticised proletariat. Personal choices, not social structures bring misery. Gatsby pursues his romantic dream, Myrtle chooses Tom, George is a party to his emasculation, Daisy makes her own bed, and Tom is complicit in losing his mistress and wife. Fitzgerald is, however, inconsistently critical of Jordan Baker’s emancipated pragmatism, excusing Nick’s similar neutral position. Gatsby’s enigmatic nature transcends class identity, and the novel can thus be seen to reject class as a primary determination of human behaviour and experience. Even so, Fitzgerald’s cautionary moral tragedy does pivot on the question of economic hubris. Fitzgerald’s ‘romantic’ novel is a social critique of a society in economic crisis – as America undoubtedly was in the time of the Great Depression. It is a tragic rewrite of the Cinderella myth framed by the social realities of industrial capitalism.