Old Money Versus New Money in The Great Gatsby

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Old Money Versus New Money in The Great Gatsby
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The essay analyzes F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby" and its portrayal of the social stratification and values in the 1920s society. The book is known for its representation of the Roaring Twenties, a period of economic growth and social hierarchy in the United States. The central theme revolves around the influence of money and wealth on individuals and society as a whole.

The essay delves into the differentiation between "old money" and "new money" in the novel, using the characters of Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby to illustrate how social differences affect their values and actions. Gatsby, representing new money, undergoes a transformation to fit into high society, even resorting to illegal activities to maintain his facade. He sacrifices his authenticity for social acceptance.

Daisy, on the other hand, represents old money and is driven by greed and superficiality. She believes that being a beautiful fool is the key to happiness in her wealthy world, despite her unfulfilled life and her husband Tom's infidelity. The characters of Gatsby and Daisy exemplify the moral failings of a society obsessed with wealth, as they engage in betrayal and selfish desires without feeling guilt or remorse.

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The acclaimed novel The Great Gatsby was written by the American author F. Scott Fitzgerald in the year 1925. Throughout time, the book has been recognized for accurately representing the Roaring Twenties’ society in the United States, a point in history where economy grew and the country began to focus on spending money and in social hierarchy. In order to represent this mentality throughout the book, high-class society is divided in new money and old money with the aim of exemplifying two contrasting lifestyles.

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‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’. ​The Great Gatsby revolved around the essence of money and wealth. As noted in the quote above, some are fortunate to be born into such wealth, whereas, others may have labored and fought their way to the top. Throughout the novel, multiple characters undergo their own personal turmoils regarding wealth and all in may entail. The portrayal of wealth in this novel is displayed through two sub categories: old money and new money. The differentiation of the two is the level of intensity that the wealth is displayed and the actual worth it carries pertaining to life itself. Particularly, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the characters of Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby to represent how social differences between “new money” and “old money” affects the values of an individual. On one side, the author uses the character of Jay Gatsby to represent how economic corruption can lead to satisfaction, even if this means losing authenticity along the way.

In the novel, Gatsby represents new money, where he is seen as inferior due to the fact that he wasn’t born rich and has had a recent taste of a wealthy lifestyle. Thus, Gatsby constructs a new elite identity based on old money by saying he inherited his wealth, when in reality, he sells illegal alcohol in order to hide his poor background. Moreover, Gatsby uses his loved one, Daisy Buchanan, and her materialistic needs as the justification as to why he changes his identity to become a rich and corrupt man. This can be illustrated towards the end of the book:

He might have despised himself, for he had certainly taken her under false pretenses. I don’t mean that he had traded on his phantom millions, but he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same stratum as herself – that he was fully able to take care of her. (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 149)

Here, it is seen that Gatsby might have hatred towards his new identity, yet he has accomplished to be in the same stratum as Daisy, allowing him to finally be with her. Particularly, the author uses different punctuation marks to divide his ideas, creating a reflective and sincere tone that allows the reader to further understand Gatsby’s perspective and his relevance in the whole situation. Overall, Fitzgerald uses Gatsby to show the extremes people would take in order to socially fit in, such as breaking the law and losing their authenticity; but ultimately, by accomplishing to please others, Gatsby pleases himself.

On the other side, Fitzgerald uses Daisy Buchanan to portray how greed and superficiality can lead to success, even if this means downgrading one’s human value. Daisy represents old money, as well as all the social benefits and luxuries this social status had. Nonetheless, the character lives in a state of unfulfillment due to the fact that the man that provides her this lifestyle doesn’t value her true self. Daisy’s mentality can be illustrated towards the beginning of the book: “ ‘I’m glad she’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’ ” (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 17) By saying this, Daisy is implying that in order to be happy, a woman needs to be beautiful and a fool. Because her husband, Tom Buchanan, is cheating on her, Daisy believes that if she were a fool, she wouldn’t be aware of the infidelity and would joyously continue to live her wealthy life. Likewise, her beauty is what made Tom want to be with her, allowing her to have the stigma and control that wealth provides. With the preciseness Fitzgerald uses, the reader understands that Daisy’s mindset is indifferent towards change, implicitly stating that she would rather superficially live in a high social status where she’s looked up to than having a life where her feelings, opinions and value are taken into consideration.

Despite the contrast that is given between both socioeconomic groups, Fitzgerald uses the characters of Gatsby and Daisy to illustrate the overall moral failings of a society driven by wealth in the 1920s. Both protagonists certainly represent distinctive values due to their background differences. Nevertheless, they share predominant values of betrayal that influence most of their actions. For instance, Daisy and Gatsby’s biggest disloyalty was having an affair while Daisy was still married to Tom, where their selfish desires clouded their moral reason. Here, neither Gatsby nor Daisy feel somewhat guilty about the infidelity, representing precisely their lack of interest towards the consequences their actions may bring. In Daisy’s case, she led Gatsby into believing that she only loved him and that they would be together, despite the fact that she was married to Tom Buchanan. Nonetheless, she decided to turn her back on Gatsby and return to her rich husband, and once Gatsby died, she didn’t even attend to his funeral. Gatsby, on the other hand, didn’t only betray his country’s law but also himself. He could’ve been a very successful man in his life with great accomplishments. However, he lost all of his potential, and even his life, by following Daisy’s caprices rather than his.

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After thoroughly analyzing and understanding the social stratification and its implications within The Great Gatsby, it can be concluded that Daisy’s high-class society is motivated by wealth, while low-class descendants such as Gatsby are driven by emotion and human value due to their lack of capital stimulus. As a result, none of the characters accomplished to be neither successful nor satisfied, contributing to Fitzgerald’s overall message: an immoral lifestyle will lead you to an unhappy and tragic ending.

Works Cited

  1. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2010). F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Infobase Publishing.
  2. Cowley, M., & Fitzgerald, F. S. (1966). The letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Charles Scribner's Sons.
  3. Donaldson, S. (Ed.). (2003). Critical essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. G.K. Hall & Co.
  4. Eble, K. (1950). F. Scott Fitzgerald. University of Minnesota Press.
  5. Fitzgerald, F. S. (1925). The Great Gatsby. Charles Scribner's Sons.
  6. Kazin, A. (Ed.). (1985). F. Scott Fitzgerald: The man and his work. World Publishing.
  7. Mizener, A. (1951). The Far Side of Paradise: A Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Houghton Mifflin.
  8. Prigozy, R. (Ed.). (2002). F. Scott Fitzgerald: A literary life. Palgrave Macmillan.
  9. Sova, D. (2002). Critical companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald: A literary reference to his life and work. Infobase Publishing.
  10. West, J. (2001). The perfect hour: The romance of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King. Random House.
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Old Money Versus New Money in The Great Gatsby. (2021, December 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 3, 2023, from
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