Social and Moral Values in Relation to the Downfall of Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby

Social and Moral Values in Relation to the Downfall of Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby

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‘The Great Gatsby’ is social satire commentary of America which reveals its collapse from a nation of infinite hope and opportunity to a place of moral destitution and corruption during the Jazz Age. It concentrates on people of a certain class, time and place, the individual attitudes of those people and their inner desires which cause conflict to the conventional values, defined by the society they live in. Gatsby is unwilling to combine his desires with the moral values of society and instead made his money in underhanded schemes, illegal activities, and by hurting many people to achieve the illusion of his perfect dream.


Gatsby downfall came when he sacrificed his morality to attain wealth. Gatsby realises that the illusion of his dream with Daisy, demands wealth to become priority, and thus wealth becomes the desire overriding his need for her [Daisy’s] love. Gatsby claims to others that he has inherited his wealth, but Nick discovers "[h]is parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people" (Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, pg 104) and that Gatsby has lied about his past. In a society that relies on luxuries, Gatsby throws parties to attract Daisy’s attention. Also, Gatsby expresses that same need to keep busy, just as Daisy does, in a society of the elite. Nick describes Gatsby as "never quite still, there was always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand" (Fitzgerald, pg 68). Gatsby fills his house "full of interesting people...who do interesting things" (Fitzgerald, pg 96). Gatsby's dream is doomed to failure in that he has lost the fundamental necessities to experience love, such as honesty and moral integrity.


Gatsby hasn’t just lost his morals but also his sense of family because he has created such an elaborate illusion. Catherine scrutinizes the couples of the story, "Neither of them can stand the person they're married to" (Fitzgerald pg 37). The marriage had become very weak when Daisy "had told [Gatsby] that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw. He was astounded" (Fitzgerald, pg 125). More than his morals, Gatsby loses all sense of family, his wealth has metaphorically become it. He relies on his money rather than a family to bring comfort and security to his life. Gatsby takes advantage of his wealth to replace his deteriorated spirit and emotions. As a result of shallow family relationships, all love for that matter becomes based on social status.

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Gatsby’s losses of social values take place when he uses and lies to his friends to gain wealth, material pleasures, maintain his reputation and continue to live his life as the illusion that he has created. He abused people’s trust in order to obtain what he wanted. He saw something that he wanted, and used everyone to achieve the glorified feeling of happiness, no matter how temporary.
“Gatsby turned out all right at the end, it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of me" (Fitzgerald, pg 9).
So without his moral and social values Gatsby could not truly understand what it was like to be loved and in doing so ruined his chances of living his dream.


Gatsby has the core values of the illusion of the American Dream, wealth, material possessions and power and could be compared to several people in modern day society. Although these things in that time seemed important they just aided his need to continue his horrible charade, he was no smarter because of it and certainly was no different. "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" (Fitzgerald, pg 118).
Gatsby was motivated, optimistic and brave. Whether or not he believed his dream, having these qualities in a person show Gatsby has "some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life" (Fitzgerald, pg 6). Gatsby was captivated by the lies he fed to maintain the illusion of his wonderful life and even though he tried to fit in, he was inevitably an outsider all along.

Although Gatsby did not retain his moral or social values he did maintain the illusion of his perfect life, his American Dream, arguably the reason for his demise, nevertheless "[Gatsby's smile had] a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life....It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself” (Fitzgerald, pg 48) Gatsby based his whole self-being on how much money he earned and the possessions he had. He felt that with money came many other advantages to life. Gatsby is the stereotype of the American Dream, "his brown, hardening body lived naturally through the half fierce, half lazy work of the bracing days" (Fitzgerald, pg 104) but although he embodies the American Dream, reality becomes Gatsby's enemy because it prevents him from reliving the past that he so desperately wanted to relive.
Although Gatsby lived in hope that he would fulfill his dream, his unwillingness to combine his desires with the moral and social values of society meant that although he had created an illusion that his life was perfect, the way that he chose to go about achieving the American Dream caused conflict and in turn led to his downfall.
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