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Sara Garcia

AML 3051
Money as God The Great Gatsby
The eerie eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, peering down at the barren
wasteland of the valley of ashes, is probably one of the most striking
images of F. Scott Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby. This allusion to God is
often cited as a way for Fitzgerald to convey the moral decay of society
during the period of the 1920s. However, this disintegration of religious
beliefs, as well as other societal transformations, caused the moral
compass not to simply disappear, but to shift in a new direction. People
began to value different things, specifically materialism and the
frivolous pursuit of entertainment. In the novel, money becomes the
new source of worship for American society, and the wealthiest
individuals are revered as quasi-gods, and given limitless power that is
unrightfully warranted.
Several key factors contributed to the moral shift in society
during the 1920s. The most distinctive trait of this era is the infamous
period of prohibition. The ban on alcohol was obviously not successful;
drinking was so deeply ingrained into American culture that rather than
abandon their customs and traditions, people chose to revoke the ban
and continued to purchase and consume alcohol, thereby creating a
sense of abandonment of the moral code that would have previously

kept them from breaking the law. Essentially, the prohibition laws
undermined the influence of abiding the rules, and they turned
ordinary people into criminals. In addition to this change, the role of
women in society was beginning to shift. Of course, in comparison to
contemporary society, women of this time were still heavily repressed.
But the emergence of the flappers, with their short haircuts and
revealing dresses, represented a new wave of women who were
beginning to break the constraints of their typical roles in society.
Additionally, prior to World War I, the social code of the United States
was strongly centered on relatively strict religious beliefs, because
people of that era behaved as though there was an almighty and often
spiteful God watching over them. However, the Great War brought with
it horrors that the world had never seen before, and it shook the faith
of many who witnessed the merciless cruelty that was inflicted upon
humanity. Young American men, exposed to one of the most brutal
wars in history, suddenly had evidence presented before their own
eyes that forced them to question the justice of their God. Bringing
home with them this shattered illusion, returning soldiers entering back
into their communities at the beginning of the 1920s is one factor that
is partly responsible for the shift in societys moral focus. Interestingly,
the subject of God is never explicitly discussed in the novel, except for
the allusions to the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. It is worth noting that this
symbolic representation of God is specifically placed in the barren

wasteland of the valley of the ashes, which is devoid of money and

luxury, and not in West or East Egg, where the incredibly wealthy
Gatsby and Buchanans live.
The Buchanans are gods in the sense that they represent the
very top of the social status quo, and for the fact that their power and
esteem are unequivocally unattainable for anyone except for a select
group of elite people. Tom and Daisy appear in the novel as the
reigning king and queen of Old Money, and they are revered not just
for their wealth and the lavish lifestyle it affords them, but also for the
lineage from which they descend. Like Nick, they come from the kind of
prestige that can be granted only birthright; no amount of money could
give one access to the top of the 1920s social hierarchy without the
kind of ancestry it requires. For this reason, Tom and Daisy, as well as
those who also occupy their social strata, consider themselves to be
superior to individuals like Jay Gatsby, who has an abundance of
money but no honor, apart from the honor he tries to forge through his
tales of his time in war and the education he received abroad. For Tom
and Daisy, the power and reverence that surrounds them, molding
them into almost god-like figures, is only warranted from others who
want what they have but will never be able to attain it.
Daisy, who was raised in a world where her most esteemed
characteristic was her beauty, ostensibly views herself as a sort of It
Girl. All of the appealing qualities she possesses, and all of the

experiences she has been afforded would naturally garner much

admiration from others, and it would be inaccurate to say Daisy is
completely unaware of her allure. Try as Gatsby might to impress and
amuse her with his extravagant displays, star-studded party guest list,
and opulent lifestyle, he falls short in his attempts to make himself
seem worthy in the eyes of his wonderful Daisy, whom he worships. His
ultimate attempt to win her admiration results in what he considers a
disaster; the party to which he invites her and Tom appears to be not
to their taste, and Gatsby despairs over her dislike of the event and
vows to never throw a party again. His fervent attempts to please her
are reminiscent of a devout worshiper, eager to appease his goddess.
However, all Daisy sees are extravagant displays that distortedly
reflect her charmed life, reminding her once again that although she
and Gatsby both have money, they live in different worlds that can
never coincide.
From the very moment Tom Buchanan is introduced in the novel
it is clear that he is someone who is used to being respected and
revered. A Yale football star, he is described as having peaked in his
college years. His confidence veers into arrogance, and his selfassuredness often translates into horribly inconsiderate social
occurrences, to which he seems wholeheartedly unashamed. For
example, he takes phone calls from his mistress during dinner, and
parades her around town, forcing others to be confronted with the

knowledge that he is blatantly cheating on his wife. Tom views himself

as invincible; he can do as he pleases and doesnt have to deal with
the repercussions. Though his unlimited power makes him as
omnipotent and influential as any human can be, Tom is the most
obvious example of a revered individual whose power is unauthentic,
because he maintains it only through his name and by invoking fear in
others, not because he justifiably deserves it in any way.
To view Jay Gatsby as a god is may seem counterintuitive;
despite his wealth he is depicted as a deeply flawed character, the kind
of man who lets a former love interest ruin his life with her apathy. The
ultimate question surrounding Jay Gatsby is whether he is actually a
great man, or whether his greatness is only a faade that he was able
to build up around himself. However, when Nick first arrives to the
island, before any of Gatsbys personal characteristics are brought to
light, he hears of Gatsby only through rumors. These stories paint him
as something of a god, or at least a man powerful enough to
accomplish legendary, and sometimes illegal, feats. Regardless of his
personal flaws, Gatsbys name and reputation made him so important
that he had movie starts attend his parties and a wait staff perpetually
at his beck and call, as well as an incredibly successful business that
he operated illegally without a hitch. Gatsbys parties were a paradise
in their own right, entertaining the guests with opulent displays for
their amusement, and providing for them a sort of heaven on Earth.

When Nick attends one of Gatsbys parties for the first time, he finds
himself struggling to find the host so he can introduce himself. The
partygoers either dont know who Gatsby is, or they have heard his
name, but know only of the extravagant parties he throws and not the
man personally. This anonymity provides Gatsby with a cloud of
mystique, and initially he appears to the reader as the epitome of a
man bestowed with greatness; his good manners, cordiality,
hospitality, and generosity, along with his incredible wealth, portray
him as the ultimate paragon of a respectable man and someone who
should rightfully be revered. However, Gatsby differs from the
Buchanans in the fact that as soon as his true character is revealed, he
loses the presumption of god-like qualities. While the man Jay Gatsby
may have appeared as an impressive figure with an incredible amount
of money, it is eventually revealed that he comes from humble
beginnings and made his money illegally, which separates him from
Tom and Daisy and the inaccessible prestige that their lineage entails.
Additionally, although Gatsbys money gives him a great deal of
influence, he is always overly keen to please others and often spent
excessive amounts of money on unnecessary endeavors, such as hiring
gardeners and filling Nicks house with flowers before Daisys arrival.
Finally, Gatsbys obsession with Daisy triggers his ultimate demise,
further illustrating his tragic flaw. Although Gatsbys money puts him in
a powerful position, and causes people to flock to his parties and

admire him from a distance, the illegitimacy of his power is illustrated

when hardly any of his devoutly attending partygoers show up to his
Although each of these characters was revered in a specific way,
it is clear that none of these flawed individuals deserve the esteem
they had been given. However, their money was all that they needed
to invoke respect from others, and this unauthentic bestowal of power,
based solely on materialistic worship, contrasts starkly with the
unblinking eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, staring below and the decaying
landscape of the valley of ashes.

Fitzgerald, F S. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction,

1995. Print.