In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald creates a divide amongst the characters by separating them into different layers of society in terms of wealth. New Money is the category in which characters have previously been poor but have gradually earned vast amounts of money; old money is the situation of some characters that have always been rich through generations. Some money and no money are clear; certain characters simply have either some money or no money. Jay Gatsby falls under the category of New Money. Gatsby was born into a poor family and joined the army for the First World War.
When Gatsby returned back to America, it had become a country transformed by prohibition; this was a period in American History when Gangsters were able to make vast amounts of money. Gatsby saw this as opportunity to make his fortune and became a bootlegger; this was someone who smuggled liquor, this was through Gatsby’s association with Meyer Wolfsheim who is notoriously “The man who fixed the World Series back in 1919. ” One may say that Gatsby is a cheat as he earned his money illegally but he appears to be the only character whose wealth and popularity has made him such a success.
At the beginning of the novel, Fitzgerald presents Gatsby to be somewhat of an enigma. We don’t hear Gatsby speak until the third chapter but before we meet him we hear of him on numerous occasions. We figure out he is someone known for extravagant parties as in the opening chapter Jordan Baker tells us she has been over to West Egg to attend Gatsby’s parties as well as the moment in chapter two when Myrtle Wilson’s sister, Catherine states how she has previously attended a party of Gatsby’s.
Also before we meet Gatsby we hear lots of gossip about him which mainly question his wealth, for example Catherine states ‘”Well, they say he’s a nephew or a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm’s. That’s where all his money comes from. ”’ This is the first of many German connections, we see more at his party when guests state that he was a German spy and grew up in Germany, as well as being a nephew to Paul Von Hindenburg but mainly, there is a lot of speculation of him killing a man.
Gatsby is ashamed of his deeds in getting money, he lies to Nick and tells him he was born into a rich family and went to Oxford University, and Nick however, can almost see through Gatsby and tell there’s something strange about him. Fitzgerald appears to have used this technique to make Gatsby a character that you neither like nor hate as one may admire his kindness but question his true background. One may possibly say that Gatsby is a masterful illusion this is suggested by the title, The Great Gatsby, a name similar to the names of vaudeville magicians of the era.
The Buchanans, Tom in particular fall under Old Money, this is the situation of having been born into wealth; Tom was a successful footballer and YALE Graduate, but threw his footballing ability away. Nick describes Tom as “Having such acute excellence at 21 that everything afterwards savoured of anti-climax”; this means that Tom was quite a restless character. Evidence of Tom being old money is the fact he owns a Colonial Georgian Mansion, houses were used as a symbol of wealth and status by Fitzgerald, Tom’s house is not only expensive but classic representing the fact he is of the ‘Old Money’ variety.
We can also see Tom’s credible wealth when “A String of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars”, for this period that equates to a rather substantial amount of money for an item which could be regarded as unnecessary, three hundred and fifty thousand dollars today equates to four million dollars. Fitzgerald presents Tom as to be quite an arrogant, restless and destructive misogynist, generally he is given a very negative portrayal.
His arrogance comes across when he is condescending towards Nick in the opening chapter by stating he has never heard of the company where Nick works. Restlessness is portrayed when we are told he frequently moves house, “Drifted here and there unrestfully”; Tom can be seen as a destructive misogynist in chapter two when he breaks Myrtle’s nose and also the incident of bruising his wife, Daisy’s knuckle. Conclusively for Old Money, it is generally presented negatively through Tom Buchanan.
Nick Carraway represents ‘Some Money’, Nick was born into a well situated family, like Tom, he spent his college days at YALE but like Gatsby, he joined the army for the First World War. In 1922 Nick travels to New York to learn the bond business, Nick states he joins the bond business as it was something everyone was doing, so we can see he is a bit of a sheep. Nick rents a small house which is overlooked by the colossal mansion of Gatsby. One would say that Nick is a representation of Fitzgerald as he tells us he is writing the novel in the opening page.
He also represents part of Fitzgerald’s personality, a quiet and reflective Midwesterner who finds himself in the East which is completely alien to him. If Carraway is a parallel to Fitzgerald then you may argue that Fitzgerald would present the group of ‘Some Money’. Also the fact the fact that Nick is the wise and omniscient narrator who does not pass remark to be judgemental are reasons he comes across well. A key example of ‘No Money’ would be Myrtle Wilson, otherwise known as Tom’s ‘”Girl”’.
She comes from a poor, working class background and is the wife of George Wilson, the owner of an automobile garage in major decline of business. There are multiple representations about Myrtle representing the lower class, for example, being ugly, stupid and subservient but apart from that we find in her apartment that there are ‘small scandal magazines of Broadway’, this shows that unlike the people at Gatsby’s parties who gossip amongst themselves, she gets her fix of gossip from cheap magazines, therefore being an implication of low status.
We are also told of her dead mother in chapter two, as she is one of the few characters who has experienced death, this suggests a harder life in the lower classes. When Myrtle is with Tom she feels her class has changed, we can see this as she takes advantage of the opportunity and purchases unnecessary items, such as the dog. Tom refers to her as “My Girl”, this suggests Tom’s ownership, despite the discouragement of this though, she finds it flattering that such a high class figure would want to have a sexual relationship with her.
Like Gatsby, Myrtle has desired to escape her low class status birth and move up and join the upper class; However, Gatsby has achieved this but Myrtle hasn’t. This shows that Fitzgerald’s view on the world is that it is one in which women have no place to move up to such levels, this leads the reader questioning, is it possible for women to achieve the American Dream?
Fitzgerald views on ‘No Money’ can be seen as possibly patronising, mainly due to the fact Myrtle is a woman, or maybe even sympathetic; there is the possibility of Fitzgerald creating Myrtle as a character for the reader to almost feel sorry for as she is juxtaposed with almost every other character and does not live their carefree lifestyle except when she is with Tom, although, Tom brings her back into reality when he hits her. Myrtle’s gruesome death is described as a ‘tragic achievement’, this means the only way she could escape her poor lifestyle was through death. In Conclusion, Fitzgerald represents the four architypes differently. New Money’, represented by Gatsby is something you may either like or hate due to one admiring his personality but also an element of dislike due to illegally earning his money; Fitzgerald could be showing that the only way for someone with originally ‘No Money’ to make it big is by cheating in life. ‘Old Money’ is represented by Tom Buchanan, Fitzgerald presents Tom Buchanan as more or less the villain of the novel due to being an arrogant, destructive and restless misogynist. ‘Some Money’ is represented by Nick and Fitzgerald has created Nick as a character for us to like and trust.
Finally, ‘No Money’ is represented by Myrtle Wilson, which we are unsure of Fitzgerald’s idea behind Myrtle, it can either be seen as patronising or sympathetic, but Fitzgerald does show sympathy to a greater extent whom we may dislike from the beginning but could feel sorry for her at her death; at Myrtle’s death we are given the vulgar image of her ‘left breast swinging loose like a flap’, the breast being a symbol for femininty. The fact her breast has been torn off at her death suggests that her feminity led to her death or that her feminity was taken from her at birth. The gruesome image also suggests the harshness of lower class life.