Corruption and Failure in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby


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Corruption in The Great Gatsby

 

   The theme of human corruption, its sources and consequences, is a common

concern among writers from Shakespeare through J.D Salinger. Some suggest that

it attacks from outside, while others depict corruption occurring from within the

individual. In the case if The Great Gatsby and it's protagonist's fate,

Fitzgerald shows both factors at work. The moral climate of the Roaring Twenties,

Daisy Fay Buchanan's pernicious hold on him, and Jay Gatsby's own nature all

contribute to his tragic demise.

 

    First, the loose morality of Dan Cody, Gatsby's unfortunate role model, and

superficial people who flock to Gatsby's parties contribute to Gatsby's downfall.

Their examples encourages Gatsby's interpretation of The American Dream- his

naive belief is that money and social standing are all that matter in his quest

for Daisy. The self-absorbed debetants and their drunken escorts are among

those who "crash" his extravagant soirees. As Nick Carroway tells us, "People

were not invited- they went there." (pg.40) Shallow, corrupt people like Jordan

Baker gossip with reckless abandon about their mysterious host. Their careless,

superficial attitudes and wanton behavior represent Fitzgerald's depiction of

the corrupt American Dream.

 

   Another force of corruption responsible for Gatsby's fate is his obsession

with a woman of Daisy's nature. Determined to marry her after returning from

the war, he is blind to her shallow, cowardly nature. He is unable to see the

corruption which lies beyond her physical beauty, charming manner and playful

banter. That she is incapable of leaving her brutal husband, Tom, of committing

herself to Gatsby despite his sacrifices escapes him. As Nick observes,

Gatsby's expectation is absurdly simple:"He only wanted her to tell him [Tom]

that she never loved him." (pg.91) Daisy is not worthy of the pedestal on which

she is placed. Since she is hallow at the core, so is his dream which is based

on a brief flirtation, nothing more.

 

   Finally, Gatsby's own character-especially his willful obsession-contributes

to his fate. Despite his naiveté about Daisy and her friends who "are rich and

play polo together," he, too, has been seduced by the lure of money and fame.

Unable to control his obsessive desire to have Daisy, he cares little about the

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means by which he acquires the money to marry her. He associates with known

criminals such as Myer Wolfsheim, appears to be involved with bootlegging, and

is rumored to have killed a man. Finally, he lies about himself and his family

to enlist Nick's support of his grand quest. The means he uses to achieve his

goal pervert his sacred dream. He prefers the pretty illusions he concocts to

the harsh reality of the obsession he allows to corrupt his life.

 

   Gatsby's character is probably the single most important factor in the story

of his life and death. But Daisy and a society which rewards corruption play a

part as well. F. Scott Fitzgerald's depiction of the soured American Dream

dramatizes the internal and external forces at work in a modern tragedy about

human potential for corruption


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