The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is set during the Roaring Twenties. For many Americans, this was a time full of prosperity and free-spiritedness because the economy was on a steady climb after the war. Fitzgerald’s narrator in the novel, Nick Carraway, moves from his home in Minnesota to pursue the bond business in New York. Nick rents a bungalow in West Egg, a community where new wealthy individuals reside across from the East Egg. The East Egg is another division on the Long Island Sound and it is home to established individuals with reputable money.
Upon arriving to West Egg, Nick is thrown into a world full of lavish parties and materialistic desires where people despise poverty and long for money and sophistication. Greed and dishonesty are dominant issues in the novel and corruptive wealth is the cause of the majority of the conflict regarding the morals of the secondary characters; Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker. Tom Buchanan is a rich, influential man who lives with his beautiful wife and daughter in East Egg.
It is understood that he is from a well-to-do, respected family however it is also apparent early on in the novel that the wealth he so easily inherited has affected his principles. Tom did not have to work to establish the aristocratic position he has in Fitzgerald’s society and essentially he was given all the luxuries he could ask for. As a rich man in the 1920’s Tom believes that he can have whatever he desires and this includes both Myrtle Wilson and Daisy Buchanan.
Tom seems to have it all however he is not satisfied with his life and is greedy for more, hence the reason why he takes George Wilson’s wife, Myrtle, as his mistress. Tom thrives over their inferiority and his complete ease when with Myrtle’s husband is a prominent example of his low morals. There is a distinct difference between Tom and Wilson’s personality which is heavily influenced by their financial background. When the two characters meet later on in the novel, after Wilson has discovered that Myrtle is having an affair, Nick notices how “Wilson was so sick that he looked guilty, unforgivably guilty,” (Fitzgerald 118).
Wilson felt solely responsible for Myrtle’s affair and it made him physically sick whereas Tom did not feel a shred of guilt for ruining Wilson’s marriage. His aim was to satisfy his desires and what he desired was Myrtle. When Gatsby attempts to win Daisy’s love, Tom begins to realize that “His wife and his mistress… [once] secure and inviolate, were slipping precipitately from his control,” (Fitzgerald 119). Myrtle is merely Tom’s guilty pleasure however it is with Daisy that he upholds a respectable image; a picturesque life with a beautiful home and family.
When Tom thinks Gatsby and Daisy are having an affair he becomes infuriated because his life is spiraling out of control and it seems like he cannot have either women. Tom’s wealth enabled him to believe that the pleasures in life were for him to consume however it can be seen that the corruptive nature of money drove him to develop amoral values. Daisy Buchanan, much like her husband, had everything given to her throughout her life. When she meets Jay Gatsby early on in her life, Daisy promises to wait for him to return from the war but her insecurities and lavish lifestyle force her to break her promise and marry Tom instead.
Daisy does not believe that Gatsby can provide for her however Tom’s high social class and family background are reason enough for her to believe that she can live a comfortable life with him. Daisy aimlessly attends parties and social events and her carelessness can be seen with her relationship, or lack there-of, with Pammy. Daisy’s daughter is introduced late in the novel and it can be seen that she is merely an ornament Daisy can show off to her guests. She does not truly care for Pammy but rather uses her as a prop for the image of her ‘perfect’ family.
Daisy has very little moral value for herself and others and these low morals are seen throughout many other parts in the story. Daisy is not satisfied with her life either though she has been given everything. She craves more attention and is in a constant search for entertainment. Daisy exerts her charms over Tom and Gatsby, and it demonstrates how materialistic she truly is because she would rather string along two men who desire her rather than pick one. Daisy continues her relationship with Gatsby in an effort to keep the means of her husband and the love of Gatsby.
At the end of the novel Daisy picks Tom because he can provide her all the luxuries Gatsby cannot and they move away before Gatsby’s funeral. The ultimate act of carelessness by Daisy, however, is the violent death of Myrtle. Daisy does not think twice about the night she hit Myrtle with the car, and Nick discovers later on in the novel that she never told her husband the truth when Tom tells him, “He, [Gatsby], ran over Myrtle like you’d run over a dog and never even stopped his car,” (Fitzgerald 169).
To Daisy and Tom their actions seemed justified and Nick believed it was because “They were careless people… they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money… and let other people clean up the mess they had made,” (Fitzgerald 170). Daisy’s unethical actions are prominent examples of the moral corruption created by the excess wealth found in The Great Gatsby. Jordan Baker is a wealthy and famous golf player from the East Egg. She seems to have a respectable status however she is not content with her life.
Jordan wants nothing more than to win and she resorts to dishonesty because she cannot be at a disadvantage to anyone. In the novel, Nick soon discovers that there is a rumor going around that “… [Jordan] had moved her ball,” (Fitzgerald 58) during a tournament. It is said, that she would do almost anything to win or get her way. In theory, Jordan should have been content with the wealthy lifestyle she was given however like Tom and Daisy, Jordan is greedy for more and thus she is corrupted in her quest for more wealth.
Nick, who is fond of Jordan, said that, “She was incurably dishonest,” (Fitzgerald 58). Jordan’s immorality is also evident when she is shown to be very reckless, especially in her driving. When Nick points out that she is a rotten driver, Jordan callously retorts that other people should stay out of her way. Had Jordan grown up working for what she desired she would have developed strong values that would not be heavily influenced by the carelessness she seems to have acquired with her wealth.
Jordan is similar to Daisy in the respect that they both show affection to men in the novel but they are eventually driven away by them because of their financial status. Although Nick finds Jordan haughty and careless, he finds himself attracted to her anyway. Jordan, however, cannot truly see herself in a relationship, especially with a man who is not of the same status as herself. Jordan evidently looks down upon Nick because he lives in the West Egg and thinks of herself as having much more style, dignity and superiority over him because she is from the East Egg.
Jordan’s wealth influences her moral standards and ultimately drives her to cheat and continually bend the truth. The Great Gatsby illustrates the corruptive nature of wealth and how it can confuse a person’s morals. Several secondary characters in the novel that reside in the East Egg inherit their fortune and thus never have to work for it. With this in mind, they grow up making small, insignificant achievements that are supported by their money and reputation and essentially they are given whatever they want.
The characters’ decisions in the circumstances that unfold are on this basis. They are not content with their comfortable lives and lust for more. Their greed eventually influences their morals and their actions reveal dishonesty and carelessness. Tom becomes a hypocritical bully who wants everything he desires, Daisy believes she is above everyone else and Jordan leads a reckless life filled with lies. Wealth is one of the main factors in deciding a person’s morality and Fitzgerald demonstrates this to the fullest in his novel which is set during a time period where money is everything.