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The Subject of Sociology of Literature

Dede Iskandar


Dede Iskandar
The Conflict as Represented in The Great Gatsbys Story Through The Lens of
Marxist Criticsm
A Study of Sociological Approach
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) is regarded as a great twentieth-century
American novelist. In many ways his legendary life has had a huge impact on
critics and readers in overshadowing his great work. The 1920s can be seen as a
transition time with a great change in American history from the Victorian period
to modern times and with the huge impact of World War I on peoples lives. It is
only recently that critics have moved away from studying Fitzgeralds work as
that of a merely superficial and historical story and examined his works in various
other perspectives. In addition to historical and biographical studies, Marxist
theory is an important approach to bring a new depth to our understanding of his
Keywords: marxist, criticsm, social class

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1.1. Background of The Research




Marxist Criticsm Theory


Marxist Criticsm

The Objection to Socialism and The Emptiness of Life in
Bourgeois Society

ii. The Story Represents about Society

The Collective and Main Individual Problem
3.2 The Social Class Conflict




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1.1 Background of The Research
In the middle to late 19th century, Marxism appeared and brought by two
German philosopher namely Karl Marx. Marxist analyses and methodologies have
influenced multiple political ideologies and social movements throughout history.
Marxist understanding has been adopted by academics in the disciplines of
archaeology, anthropology, political science, sociological theory, and etc.
Marxist criticism deals with focusing an ideological content of literary
works through social class distinction. Marxist criticism views a literary works as
a reflection of the social institution and social status from which they come. The
English literary critic and cultural theorist, Terry Eagleton defines Marxism
criticism as a criticism which is not merely sociology of literature, concerned with
how story get published and mentioned the working class. Its purpose is to explain
the literary work. This means an analysis with a sensitive attention to its forms,
styles and meaning. It also means an analysis which bases on forms, styles and
meaning as a product of particular history.


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Marxist Criticsm Theory

In this research, the researcher uses a Marxist approach to analyze how the

events in The Great Gatsby reflect the changing society and the norms and values
in America during the 1920s. The Great Gatsby includes characters from several
different socio-economic classes and this essay aims to study the relationship
between these social classes. The researcher will examine the presence of social
class in the novel and the effect it has on the relationships between the different
characters. In Critical Theory by Lois Tyson explains the differences in socioeconomic class by dividing people into the haves and the have-nots:
From a Marxist perspective, differences in socioeconomic
class divide people in ways that are much more significant than
differences in religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. For the real battle
lines are drawn, to put the matter simply, between 6 the haves and
the have-nots (54).
In a Marxist perspective it is the control over the natural, economic and
human resources of the world that divides people, the division is made between
those who have and those who do not have. The haves are those with the control
over these things, the natural, economic and human resources, while the havenots are everybody else.
The researcher will use Max Webers theory on social class. Much like
Marx, Weber believed that class was related to wealth. However, Weber separated
status and class in his theory, and status was not necessarily dependent on wealth.
Regarding social class, Weber points out four social classes and they are: a) the
working class as a whole b) the petty bourgeoisie c) the property less
intelligentsia and specialists d) the classes privileged through property and
education (Weber 305). Max Weber also writes:
In the generational sequence, the rise of groups a) and b) into c)
(technicians, white-collar workers) is relatively the easiest In
banks and corporations as well as in the higher ranks of the civil

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service, class c) members have a chance to move up into class d)

(Weber 305).
This means that, according to Weber, a person does not, necessarily, remain
in the same social class forever as it is dependent on factors such as work, wealth
and property. With Webers class definitions, the characters in the novel belong to
different classes. The Buchanans and Jay Gatsby belong to the class privileged
through property and education, Nick Carraway could be considered to be a
member of the propertyless intelligentsia and the Wilsons are members of the
working class.
On the subject of status, Max Weber claims: Status may rest on a class
position of a distinct or ambiguous kind. However, it is not solely determined by
it: Money and entrepreneurial 7 position are not in themselves status
qualifications, although they may lead to them (Weber 306). In comparison
with social class, money does not guarantee a certain status. The lack of
something is not an automatic disqualification of a status (Weber 306). Jordan
Bakers character, from the novel, could be seen as an example of this as her
economic situation is unknown but she still has a status that is comparable with
the Buchanans.
Max Weber continues on the matter: The class position of an officer, a civil
servant or a student may vary greatly according to their wealth and yet not lead
to a different status since upbringing and education create a common style of life
(306). This exemplifies the fact that there are other factors involved in
determining status compared with social class. Upbringing and education can
contribute to a common style of life and values that brings people together.
Also, in all around the world, someones social status lately is being
important. It is because people live in the society with different backgrounds. And
the effect of those differences are differentiation of social status or nowadays
more popular with social classes in the society.
Those differentiations of social classes also portrayed in Fitzgeralds work
The Great Gatsby. The researcher can see from this story that there are any

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conflicts of social classes impressed by every character in their roles in the

society. The researcher consider that those differentiations are appeared by a
discourse of materialism in that story. Materialism is often known as a concept
that glorifies things. We had know before that The Great Gatsby has an inclination
to the wealth as portrayed most in some characters such as Jay Gatsby, Nick, Tom,
and Daisy. Therefore, the researcher has a conclusion that this conflict of social
classes is an effect of materialism concept in this story.
Truly, beside Max Webers theory, Marxist criticism also tends to talk about
social classes. It is because Marxism is a materialist philosophy as the researcher
said above as cause of differentiation social classes. Marxism sees progress as
coming about through the struggle for power between different social classes
(Peter Barry, 1995: 157).
However, it is probably true to say (as ken Newton does, p.244,
Theory into Practice) that traditional Marxist criticism tends to
deal with history in a fairly generalized way. It is talks about
conflicts between social classes, and clashes of large historical
forces, but contrary to popular belief, it rarely discusses the detail
of a specific historical situation and relates it closely to the
interpretation of a particular literary text (Peter Barry, 1995:
From those theories, the researcher can take the point that Marxist criticism
explains that in the conflict of social classes, which is affected by clashes of large
historical forces. It means that according to Marxist, historical aspects become a
main factor to the differentiation of social classes. Historical forces aspect here is
an aspect of discrimination of black and white; slavery also has big influence to
the differential classes because the authorities control the workers.


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3.1 Marxist Criticsm
i) The Objection to Socialism and The Emptiness of Life in
Bourgeois Society
The author narrated his story in summer of 1922. This year has been chosen
as a setting of time was not without reason. It seems that the author wanted to
show something in his story. If we notice the story The Great Gastby, it will be
clear to see that this story told us about the objection to socialism that happened in
America especially New York in 1922. This year is one of the years where many
unprecedented changes happened in America. Jazz music, flapper culture and
bootlegging and other criminal activity happened. The author used these societal
developments of the 1920 to narrate Gatsbys stories.
Since the many unprecedented changes, objection to socialism appeared.
The author showed in this story by making a very distinctive description between
the poor and the rich people. In the story, the author arrange an unsuccessful affair
between Tom who came from the high social class and rich people with Myrtle
who lived in Valley of Ashes. The Valley of Ashes is the wasteland left behind by
the rich. The people who call it home live in extreme poverty. The Valley
symbolized the delusion and futility of the American Dream. Poor people like the
George Wilsons (Myrtles husband) must scrape for a living in a place destroyed
and abandoned by the rich.
The author also told the reader every character in the story almost all
materialistic. For example, the description of the character of Daisy that is too
materialistic. She is not really in love with her husband. Pure love was not the
reason she got married. Despite that she ever fell in love with her husband, in the
beginning she just adored every luxury that her husband provided for her. This
also happened to Myrtle toward Tom Buchanan. Besides that, the main character
is also told in the story as a man who pursued and adored the wealth and luxury.

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ii) The Story Represents about Society

The Great Gatsby has represented the society in detail. It told the reader
very clearly how people behave and perceived. The Great Gatsby depicts the New
Yorkers as people who were really fond of having party, drinking alcohol,
gambling and etc. This description makes the idea that in 1922 American people
grew greedier about money clear. In addition, The Great Gatsby is very clear that
social status and richness became the most important point at that time. Daisys
character is even described as a woman who ignored about the sincerity in her
relationship. She would fall in love easily with the man who could provide her
many pleasurable things, that is the wealth and money. However, in the last The
Great Gatsbys story told the reader about the emptiness and futility of money. It
seems that The Great Gatsby tried to convince the readers about the emptiness of
being wealthy and rich, also led the reader to think that sometimes money and
high social status doesnt get us happiness in life.
iii) The Collective and Main Individual Problem
The main problem in The Great Gatsbys story is actually experienced by
each character. The internal battle that Jay Gatsby is fighting. He is obsessed with
winning back the affections of Daisy Buchanans character. The conflict is his
inability to let go of the past and the realization that Daisy has moved on with life
without him. He can not and would not accept this and his stubbornness and
hopeless obsession was what lead him to his death. Despite that the main problem
was individual problem, the reader can see that materialistic phenomenon
happened to all New York at that time.
3.2 The Social Class Conflict
In The Great Gatsby, we can apply Marxist theory to analyze the conflict
of social classes. Generally, in this story really tend to explore wealth aspect as if
want to represent power between upper and lower class. And we can see it from
the beginning of the story in which Nick as a narrator tell his status first.

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I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father

snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental
decencies is parceled out unequally at birth (Chapter 1: 1).
Nick is fully aware of how important class is to personal identity,
especially in the society in which lives. He knows that he was born into a life of
privilege and a certain amount of wealth. The rich may be "above" him, but there
are many people "below" him, and Nick keeps the influence of class in mind with
everyone he meets.
This story also emphasize the distinction between the social status of white
people are seen to have power over blacks. Tom reflected it from his statement to
"Well, its a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if
we dont look out the white race will bewill be utterly submerged.
Its all scientific stuff; its been proved." (Chapter 1: 16)
"Well these books are all scientific," insisted Tom, glancing at her
impatiently. "This fellow has worked out the whole thing. Its up to
us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will
have control of things." (Chapter 1: 16)
Nicks playful suggestion that they talk about something less upper class
gets Tom ranting about race and class. Tom thinks he is at the top of society, and
wants to stay there.
Besides high class and lower class, in this story also the researcher thinks
there is a discourse about feudal and bourgeois. The researcher can say that the
terms old money is representation of feudal people and nouveau riche is
representation of bourgeois people as a concept of Marxist theory of class
struggle. And this concept is supported by Marxist theory as it said below;
Thus, the conflict in King Leur might be read as being really about
the conflict of class interest between the rising class (the bourgeois) and the
falling class (the feudal overlords) (Peter Barry, 1995: 167).


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In addition, in this story, Tom represents feudal people with his wealth and
authority; whereas Gatsby represents bourgeois people with his effort to get the
wealth and changes his social status. This is a complicated comment. We are
thinking that Tom is referring to the old money way of life, a way of life that is
inherited. The West Egg lifestyle or the world populated with the nouveau riche.
Furthermore, we have Toms comment that most newly rich people are
bootleggers this is true in some cases, but the generalization allows Tom to write
off all of the nouveau riche as crooks or imposters. Nick stands up for Gatsby
possibly because Nick is starting to like the guy.
"Who is this Gatsby anyhow?" demanded Tom suddenly. "Some big
"Whered you hear that?" I inquired.
"I didnt hear it. I imagined it. A lot of these newly rich people are
just big bootleggers, you know."
"Not Gatsby," I said shortly. (Chapter 6: 115)
On the other sides, there is a distinction out of wealth; it is about a
distinction of status between man and woman. As in this story portrayed in which
girl is considered as a fool one and did not has a value at all in the society.
Itll show you how I have gotten to feel about things. Well, she was
less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out
of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling and asked the nurse
right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, so I
turned my head away and wept. All right, I said, I am glad its a
girl. And I hope she will be a fool-thats the best thing a girl can be
in this world, a beautiful little fool. (Chapter 1: 20)
From this quotation, we can know that there is a different status between
boy and girl. It is proved by Daisy itself that indirectly she admit that boy is better
than girl and she realize it.


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4.1 Conclusion
According to this story, the American Dream is real and as Gatsbys
character exemplifies, it is possible to come from practically nothing and get
almost everything. However, the Great Gatsby also stresses the importance of
social class and how difficult it is to ignore a persons social background. Even

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though Gatsbys character can display an enormous wealth but he still does not
possess the same status as the Buchanans character and is not seen as an equal in
their eyes. It is evident that background is just as important as money in the
assessment of social status, or at least how important it was in the world of 1920s
American upper class.
To conclude, the author clearly shows the significance of social class and
status in society and the depth of it, as there are more factors to it than what we
can assume by looking at a certain lifestyle. As is shown in The Great Gatsby, no
matter how hard a person tries to create a different life or past, stratification by
social class is very difficult, if not impossible, to escape. Also, The Great Gatsbys
story is critical of the Jazz Age and the American Dream. The American dream
was originally about discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness. In the
1920s depicted in the story, however, easy money and relaxed social values have
corrupted this dream. Through The Great Gatsbys story, people can see that
money cant buy our happiness.

4.2 Bibliography

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby Novel

A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature, fifth edition
Weber, Max. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive

Sociology, Volume 1. Ed

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today A User-Friendly Guide. New
York: Routledge, 2006. Print


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