An Examination of the Juxtaposition of Midwestern and Eastern
Values and Attitudes in The Great Gatsby
I have lived all my life in a small suburb of the steady, levelheaded, hard-working city of Chicago. My parents were both from lower middle-class Midwestern families; neither of my parents was financially able to finish college. My family and I have always been deeply religious and morally strict, and we have constantly involved God in our everyday lives. We are not wealthy--though certainly not poor--but we have never placed great importance on worldly possessions. My father has worked overtime for years in order to pay for my education and extracurricular activities, and he has a strong work ethic. My mother stayed at home for the entirety of my sister's and my childhood years in order to provide us ample attention, education, and preparation for our adult lives.
It is with this background that I approached my first reading of The Great Gatsby, and it was due to this background that I came to feel an intense pity for the shallow, self-absorbed characters in this novel. Therefore, I have decided to analyze the contrast between what are commonly known as traditional Midwestern values and the morally depraved, spiritually empty attitudes of the Eastern, flapper-era characters in this book. To do so, several preliminaries are necessary. First, I must delineate my definition of "Midwestern values"-certainly a vague term in any sense of the phrase. Second, I will give a short summary of the plot and characters in The Great Gatsby. Third, I will give a brief synopsis of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life and upbringing, which make up such a large portion of the basis for this semi-autobiographical novel. And finally, I will analyze certain aspects of this book which reveal the characters' dearth of spiritual/moral fulfillment and other traditionally Midwestern values. First, I venture to define such a dangerously ambiguous term as "values." For the purpose of my analysis, however, my own simplified definition must suffice: I view traditional Midwestern values as encompassing all significant areas of life-home, work, and religion.
In the home, I see Midwestern values as emphasizing a close-knit, loving, nuclear family-a wife and husband deeply committed to each other and to their children, the pride and joy of their life together-children who learn early on, by their parents' examples, the essence of commitment and duty to family, children who appreciate the worth of a stable home environment. The father traditionally serves as breadwinner, in accordance with the Biblical principle of the father providing for the family, while the mother often stays at home full-time (or nearly full-time) to care for school-age children and to make the house a home by cooking homemade meals, handling bills, and taking care of other domestic activities. Family life is strong, divorce and broken families are discouraged, and the nuclear family is the basis for everyday life and for the community. Infidelity is severely frowned upon, and marriage is considered a life-long commitment.
I also believe that Midwestern values are influential in the workplace, emphasizing a healthy work ethic-an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. Quite often, this brings to mind manual labor, appreciation of the value of the dollar, the smart, sensible use of financial resources, and practicality in all things. Midwesterners are known for their eagerness and ability to stretch a dollar for all its worth, and for the productiveness of their work-whether it be in farming, Chicago's industries, service-oriented businesses, or other typically Midwestern endeavors.
Finally, Midwestern values are seen in religious beliefs and standards-putting God first and basing all areas of one's life on Biblical principles. Adhering (more or less, depending on the individual) to the moral code as set forth in the Scriptures, and disapproving of-yet eager to help-those who flout that standard. Going to church services every Sunday, being a good Samaritan, seeing God's hand in the lives of individuals, believing that this life is merely a pathway to eternity, and acknowledging that God's rules must be followed in this life if happiness is to be found in the next-these practices and beliefs are common among the religious sector of the Midwestern people. Religion is not compartmentalized into a "Sunday morning" ritual-it is a pervading force in everyday life that influences all of one's decisions, both major and minor.
All of these aspects combine to produce what I would term the "typical" Midwestern attitude-one that, while possibly already a thing of the past for most Midwesterners, was quite prevalent in the Midwest of the 1920's. And certainly, it is an attitude that is blatantly missing from the lives of the main characters in The Great Gatsby, while its effect is still evident through the viewpoint of the storyteller, Nick Carraway. In fact, Nick provides the ideal contrast to Gatsby, Daisy, and the other characters who are so thoroughly enveloped in the Eastern lifestyle. By allowing Nick to narrate the story, Fitzgerald encourages the reader to judge the characters' behavior in light of Nick's own Midwestern values and viewpoint.
Now for a brief summary of the plot of The Great Gatsby. The protagonist of this story, Jay Gatsby, is seen through the eyes of Nick Carraway, his new next-door neighbor. They live in West Egg, on the less extravagant side of Long Island, New York, yet Gatsby is the host of the most glittering parties in all of New York, where his illustrious guests are held in wary awe of his mysterious past and enigmatic personality. At one of his elegant parties, Gatsby introduces himself to Nick, who has recently moved to New York from Chicago in order to work in the money market. Gatsby befriends Nick, knowing he is the second cousin of Mrs. Daisy Buchanan, who lives across the bay. Daisy and her husband Tom also socialize with Nick after he moves to Long Island and introduce him to their friend and pro-golfer Jordan Baker, with whom he shares a quasi-romantic relationship throughout most of the novel.
After a while, it is made known that Gatsby and Daisy had passionately loved each other when they were both younger and living in the South. However, Gatsby was a poor soldier at the time, while Daisy was a Southern belle, the spoiled and beautiful heir of a huge fortune. Daisy truly loved Gatsby-at least, as much as was possible for a woman obsessed with physical appearance and superficial attractions. However, duty to her family and social status caused her to refuse Gatsby and marry Tom Buchanan, a gallantly rich man of appropriate wealth and reputation. Gatsby, heartbroken and bitter, then determined to go out and make more money than Daisy had even dreamed he could acquire. He was successful in his mission, which he carried out with incredible zeal. After amassing a staggering fortune, he built his mansion on Long Island, directly across from Tom and Daisy's house on the opposite side of the bay.
After learning something of this tale, Nick (rather naively) arranges a meeting between Gatsby and Daisy at his cottage. From that moment on, Daisy and Gatsby relive their old passionate infatuation, and Gatsby glories in showing Daisy what a success he has made of himself. However, tension mounts as Gatsby meets and spends time with her husband (who is also having a side affair with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of his mechanic). Daisy and Tom, as well as Nick and Jordan, spend more time with Gatsby, although it is becoming obvious to Tom that Daisy and Gatsby are involved. At this point, Gatsby entreats Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him and to break off their marriage. While all five of them are out for a day in the city, Daisy does admit that she loves Gatsby and always has; yet she is unable to disrupt her life and marriage completely when she refuses to lie and say that she never loved Tom at all. Tom sees this as a triumph and Gatsby, shocked yet still believing that Daisy loves him more, drives home with Daisy at the wheel.
Meanwhile, Myrtle's husband George has just discovered her affair with Tom. After a fierce argument, Myrtle rushes out into the street just as Daisy flies by in Gatsby's flashy yellow car. Myrtle blindly steps into the car's path and is struck dead, while Daisy frantically keeps driving. As Tom, Jordan, and Nick arrive at the scene several minutes later, Tom learns of Myrtle's death.
Even after these disastrous events, Gatsby salvages his idyllic vision of his beloved Daisy. He still expects her to give up her life with Tom, and stands watch outside her house that night for hours, making sure that Tom does not hurt her. However, Gatsby is about to be disappointed, as the uneventful night segues into dawn. Back at home, he has his yellow car removed to avoid recognition by the public and continues to wait for Daisy to come. As the hit-and-run accident becomes known, buried rumors about Gatsby's criminal activities begin to surface, and he comes under close public scrutiny.
Meanwhile, George Wilson has discovered that it was Gatsby's car that killed Myrtle. Armed with a gun, he makes his way toward Gatsby's mansion, intent on revenge. After shooting Gatsby to death as he lay in his swimming pool, he points the gun at himself. Nick is left with Gatsby's funeral arrangements, although only Gatsby's neglected father, a solitary guest of Gatsby's parties, and Nick himself attend the service. As events return to normal for Daisy, she recovers with amazing agility and re-embarks on a life of careless ease with Tom and their daughter. The novel ends as Nick, disillusioned with the East and the frivolous, callous lifestyle that it encourages, moves back to his native Midwest. Indeed he seems to blame the influence of the East almost entirely as the cause of the ruin of the main characters. In the last chapter, Nick notes, "…after all, Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life" (p.155).
A brief biographical sketch of F. Scott Fitzgerald will aid the reader in discovering several parallels between his own life and that of Gatsby. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in 1896 to Catholic parents in St. Paul, Minnesota-in the heartland of the Midwest. He was a distant cousin of Francis Scott Key, author of the lyrics to our national anthem. After failing in a business in New York, Scott's father moved his family back to St. Paul when Scott was twelve. Scott's mother then inherited a large sum of money from her wealthy family, and Scott attended a Catholic preparatory school in New Jersey. It was here that a teacher first encouraged him in his writing, but his grades were so poor that he was placed on academic probation. Instead of graduating, he decided to enlist in the army.
It was while stationed in Montgomery, Alabama that Scott met and fell madly in love with Zelda Zayre, a charming 18-year-old belle and the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. His love was returned, but Zelda would not marry a relatively poor boy. This would leave Scott scarred for life, and he would create the character of Gatsby much in his own image, as is evident by a statement made by Fitzgerald himself, recounted in Milton Stern's book The Golden Moment: The Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald:
"That was always my experience," he wrote near the end of his life, "-a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy's school; a poor boy in a rich man's club at Princeton…I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works." He told a friend that "the whole idea of Gatsby is the unfairness of a poor young man not being able to marry a girl with money. This theme comes up again and again because I lived it"(p. 164).
Although The Great Gatsby was published to critical acclaim while the Fitzgeralds were living in France, their alcoholism, combined with Zelda's involvement with a French aviator and her increasingly erratic behavior, led to tension in the family. They moved back to America-to New York, and later to Delaware-with their only daughter Frances in 1927. Fitzgerald seemed to recognize the appeal of the East to the Jazz Age's younger generation. In The Golden Moment, Milton Stern comments that "…Fitzgerald was acutely aware that the idea of the self had been relocated, from the 1880's on, in the shining wealth of the growing, magnetic cities of the East"(p. 167).
The Fitzgeralds continued to spend time in Europe and lived for the most part outside of their means. Zelda eventually experienced a mental breakdown in 1929, and she would spend the rest of her life in and out of sanitariums. Scott continued to write and had several more small successes, and he even wrote a successful movie script adaptation of his work The Three Comrades in 1938. He continued to write short stories for the Esquire, but he died-considering himself a literary failure-of a heart attack in 1940.
It is easy to see that many of the events in Fitzgerald's life formed the basis of the storyline of The Great Gatsby. In a way, the book can almost be seen as an embellished autobiography, with Gatsby patterned after Fitzgerald himself. The parallels are quite obvious-both Fitzgerald and Gatsby fell in love with high-class southern belles. Both were poor military men who were rejected based only on their financial and social status. Both later made their fortunes in order to win the objects of their affection. However, Fitzgerald did so in a more efficient and less extravagant fashion than did Gatsby. Additionally, Fitzgerald's means of attaining that wealth was legal, while Gatsby's Prohibition-era bootlegging involved him in the world of underground crime. And, of course, Fitzgerald succeeded in convincing Zelda to marry him, while, in contrast, Daisy quickly decided to marry a rich man as soon as she had refused Gatsby. Nevertheless, the embellishments that Fitzgerald added to Gatsby's story can be seen merely as literary techniques included to further intrigue the reader, while the essentials of Fitzgerald's own past and views are left intact. It is with these experiences and attitudes that Fitzgerald wrote this novel, and one cannot help but infer that Fitzgerald wrote the book as a method of expressing his frustration with the unspoken caste system of American society.
Since Fitzgerald felt so much bitterness towards this highly stratified society with its prejudice against those of lower social status, it is not surprising that the majority of the characters in The Great Gatsby exemplify the haughty Eastern attitude and emphasis on wealth, possessions, physical beauty, and social status. Let us look more closely at the three main characters (Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom), each of whom represents distinct characteristics of the hedonistic Eastern lifestyle of the 1920's.
First, we have the main character, Mr. Jay Gatsby. While born in the Midwest, Gatsby realizes that the money with which he believes he can reclaim Daisy's loyalty can most easily be won in the East. Not only that-his obsession with Daisy blinds him to the danger and consequences of involving himself in the illegal underground world and bootlegging liquor under the guise of running drugstores. However, from his youth, Gatsby seems to have the beginnings of a typical Eastern attitude; at the end of the book, his father shows Nick the notebook full of "resolves" that Gatsby kept as a child-resolutions to improve his mind, to be more successful, and to make wise use of his money and time. His emphasis is on wordly success, and his appreciation is centered on earthly things. In accordance with this thought pattern, very little is mentioned of Gatsby's feelings for Daisy except as they relate to her wealth, physical beauty and magnetism, her breathless, excitable voice, and her carefree attitude…no praise of her values, her kindness, or her steady, untainted character. His infatuation is based on much less lofty attributes. Upon their reunion in Nick's cottage, Gatsby's elation at seeing her again is plainly evident. Note Nick's description of him immediately after their initial meeting: "…there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room"(p. 81). Daisy's stunning appearance seems to have "rubbed off" on him.
Gatsby realizes why this rendezvous is suddenly possible once again, that it is not just good luck; his wealth is what has reunited them. While Daisy is washing away her tears of joy, Gatsby walks out of the cottage with Nick, as the three are about to tour Gatsby's mansion. Gatsby then remarks matter-of-factly to Nick, "My house looks well, doesn't it? …It took me just three years to earn the money that bought it"(p. 81). Later, in the mansion, he proceeds to show off his abundant rooms and treasures to an awestruck Daisy-even taking her into his wardrobe to fling about his seasonal selection of shirts. He seems to have successfully proved his "worth" to Daisy; he has accumulated enough worldly goods to satisfy even her.
Although Gatsby relentlessly works at being rich and extravagant enough to please Daisy, he still seems to recognize that carnal delights are all she can appreciate. He remarks to Gatsby during one gathering that her voice is "full of money" (p. 107). He seems to say this neither as a reproach or a compliment; it is simply a matter of fact-a fact which has driven his every action for the last five years. Even after Daisy makes it plain that she is unwilling to desert her already well planned life and status, Gatsby's delusion and fascination with her refuses to let him admit defeat. He has spent every penny he has earned in an attempt to win her back-he recognized that this was the only way, and he refused to believe that it would not work. He wanted to relive the few days of pleasure they had shared in their youths, before Daisy had realized her social "duty" and refused him due to his class and financial status. As Gatsby sits in his mansion alone with Nick on the heels of the first of his extravagant parties that Daisy attends, he discusses his possibilities of lasting bliss with Daisy now that he has proved himself to her.
"I wouldn't ask too much of her," I ventured. "You can't repeat the past."
"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!" He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.
"I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before," he said, nodding determinedly. "She'll see" (p.99).
He sees the recurrence of the past as possible solely in the "shadow of his house"-through the ability of his money to satisfy her and make their happiness possible.
Nowhere in the novel is anything significant mentioned about Gatsby's religion or belief in God. To him, God is money. His god, the force that can make him happy, the master that he works for night and day, is the money that will allow him to capture his equivalent of heaven-Daisy. He cannot seem to see beyond the carnal pleasures found in his beloved to an afterlife; such an obsession with a mortal leaves little room for dedication to, or even realization of, an immortal Father. Morals are inconsequential; he would not blink an eye at the thought of committing adultery with Daisy or engaging in any sort of illegal activity in order to win her approval. However, his dedication to his goal is admirable; for years, he works with a single purpose in mind, and he will eventually become a kind of martyr for his "god." However, his goal is an unattainable one, and his efforts and religious fervor for Daisy's loyalty are all for naught. Nevertheless, in accordance with his undying love for Daisy, he believes to the very end of his life that she truly loves him, even after her rejection of him is obvious. As Nick says, he has "paid a high price for living too long with a single dream" (p. 142)-and the price will be his life.
Next we come to perhaps the most thoroughly decadent and typically "Eastern" character in the entire novel-Daisy Buchanan. If ever there were a character completely enveloped in the superficiality of life, it is Daisy. Her life was one of parties, beaus, frivolity, and all that is without substance in the world. She does not seem to even recognize the emptiness of this lifestyle, as evidenced by her wish for her daughter's future: "I hope she'll be a fool-that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool!"(p. 21) She seems to recognize that women of her generation, as those of many other generations, often are valued most for their physical beauty and animal magnetism. Daisy lives for the admiration of others-she seems to judge her own worth by the opinions of others. During her first conversation with Nick at her home, she questions him about her reputation back in Chicago.
"Do they miss me?'' she cried ecstatically.
"The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath, and there's a persistent wail all night along the north shore."
"How gorgeous! Let's go back, Tom. To-morrow!"(p. 14)
Daisy's magnetism was what had brought her local fame and popularity in her youth, and it was what had enabled her to make an extremely fortunate marriage to a wealthy Chicago business tycoon. Why then should she feel any bitterness in playing this role, when it had provided her with such an "ideal" life? On the contrary, she plays her role to the hilt; after impressively soliloquizing about her own incredible sophistication and worldliness, Nick remarks, "her lovely face, as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged"(p. 21). Perhaps the prestige of this "secret society" was what kept her from renouncing her life with Tom and marrying Gatsby.
Why, also, should Daisy be at all interested in the spiritual aspect of life? Never in the novel is any religious tendency of Daisy's mentioned, except for, ironically, an erroneous announcement by a presumptuous partygoer that she would not divorce Tom to marry Gatsby because "she's a Catholic, and they don't believe in divorce" (p.34). Religion involves rules of behavior which would have chafed her careless way of life, hampered her style. Morality involves self-constraint and careful behavior, taking responsibility for one's own actions; such constraint and responsibility was foreign to Daisy, who naturally shrank from any unpleasantness or inconvenience. And religion's goal is a home in the afterlife-an idea far too remote and uninteresting to tempt Daisy to morality.
As for the drawbacks of her careless life, she seems to blind herself to them. It appears as though she must be subconsciously aware of Tom's affair with Myrtle; during their first dinner with Nick, Tom receives a phone call from Myrtle. Daisy rushes from the table to follow Tom and returns soon after, crying, "It couldn't be helped!" with "tense gayety"(p. 19). She creates her own world of happiness and carefree laughter by ignoring the harsh reality of her meaningless life. After meeting Gatsby again, Daisy rekindles her own love for him-at least, as much as it is possible for her to love a person. Yet she allows him to court her again and to believe that he has finally won her, although she seems to believe that this reappearance of her "true" love will have no effect on her posh life as Mrs. Tom Buchanan. Only during the final confrontation between Tom and Gatsby does she finally break down in despair at the impending disaster that she has encouraged. When Gatsby asks her to tell Tom directly that she had never loved him and that she had always loved Gatsby, she "hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and me with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing-and as though she had never, all along, intended to do anything at all. But it was done now. It was too late." Soon after Gatsby and Tom begin to argue about whom she had truly loved for the last five years, Daisy bursts out at Gatsby: "Oh, you want too much! I love you now-isn't that enough? I can't help what's past. I did love him once-but I loved you too"(p. 118). These words "physically bite into Gatsby." She has led him on for their entire second courtship and now cannot give up her already illustrious and established life-especially if it would mean a loss of social status and stability.
Daisy loves excitement, but she wants none of its negative consequences. She relished the fact that Gatsby was obsessed with her-that he slaved for her for five years to regain her love. Yet after Gatsby is murdered-and indirectly due to her fault, since she allowed him to take the blame for killing Myrtle Wilson-she shows no outward remorse or regret…or even sorrow at the loss of her "true" love. Nick attempts to contact Daisy to let her know of the funeral plans. But Tom and Daisy Buchanan have already left with their luggage, giving no address or information regarding their whereabouts. One more exciting chapter in Daisy's life has come to an end, and she has no desire to watch the unpleasant consequences of her actions. She had no use for Gatsby after he forced her to make a choice between Tom and himself, and she certainly has no use for him now that he is dead and can no longer provide her with flattery and worship-like adoration. She retreats back into her glittering Eastern world of high society; nothing more is heard from her for the rest of the novel.
However, Daisy's loyalty to Tom is certainly based on nothing more than selfish motivations. Tom's attitude and lack of moral fiber reek of Eastern arrogance and selfishness. Throughout the novel, he is the epitome of a cheating, hypocritical husband-suspiciously eyeing the relationship between Gatsby and his wife while carrying on an affair of his own. His deception and lack of dedication to his family is evident by the cheap relationship he has with Myrtle Wilson, his mechanic's wife-deceiving both his mechanic and Daisy while lavishing money upon and taking advantage of Myrtle-and physically abusing her, nonetheless. His hypocrisy is especially evident in the hotel room confrontation between Gatsby and himself: "I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that's the idea you can count me out…nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they'll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white"(p. 115). …certainly a bold statement from a man who is carrying on a long-term sordid affair with the wife of his car mechanic. Disregarding the racial prejudice and hypocrisy shown in this statement, however, his selfishness is also blatantly obvious. As the man of the house, he can have his side affairs and occasional infidelities-as he says, "Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love [Daisy] all the time"(p. 117)…yet he expects Daisy to remain the faithful trophy wife. His self-concern is also seen in the way he deliberately allows the investigation of the car accident that killed Myrtle to run its course in a way that will place no blame on him but will have fatal consequences for Gatsby. Rather than mourning for the woman he had supposedly loved, the first thing he does upon arriving at the scene is to make sure that George Wilson knows that it was not his own car that killed Myrtle. After clearing himself of guilt and implicating Gatsby by confirming that it was a yellow car, he quickly leaves the garage and returns home to his wife. Like Daisy, his "true" love has just been obliterated from his life, leaving him no opportunity for further gratification. Therefore, he also retreats into his already established world and tries to rebuild his life with Daisy.
These are the main characters of this novel-their moral consciences skewed, their family lives in shambles, and their work ethic and sense of responsibility destroyed by their own wealth and frivolity. Their lives are the incarnate opposite of Midwestern values, and their self-ruin is the result. The pervading presence of a billboard advertisement for the optometrist Dr. T. J. Eckleburg serves as a symbol of their lack of spirituality and moral decadence. Throughout the novel, as the characters pass by the billboard, "the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil"-a sort of representation of God, who watches every move of every human being, whether or not he or she acknowledges His awareness. However, this "god" has nothing to say-no laws to enforce, no relief to offer. He merely watches the actions of the characters, instead of influencing them. However, his constant watch reminds the reader that there is a true God who sees what the characters do. Indeed, Eckleburg's piercing eyes "had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night"(p. 141) when George Wilson vows to reap revenge on the murderer of his unfaithful wife. As he passes the billboard on his deadly mission, he looks regretfully at T.J. Eckleburg and repeatedly murmurs, "God sees everything"(p. 141). Perhaps as a poor mechanic, he is less blinded by physical allurements and can see the role of God in everyday life. However, as his friend Michaelis says "You ought to have a church, George, for times like this"(p. 139). In the minds of these characters, the idea of God is only pertinent in their lives when under hardship; without sufficient religious knowledge, this vague need for religion can lead to dangerous results, such as George's conclusion that he must invoke revenge on Gatsby himself, instead of leaving it in the hands of God or going through the legal system.
Hence, we have seen the detrimental effects of the Eastern life on these transplanted Midwesterners. As Nick says near the end of the novel, "Even when the East excited me most…it had always for me a quality of distortion…After Gatsby's death the East was haunted for me like that, distorted beyond my eyes' power of correction"(p. 155). The Eastern lifestyle promoted Gatsby's fixation on the superficial and underground crime, Daisy's frivolity and self-delusion, and Tom's selfishness and hypocrisy. Moral fiber and a sense of family togetherness were lost on them all, and all were totally devoid of any degree of spirituality. These voids were manifested in their lack of fulfillment and purpose in life. If ever the characters did possess any elements of Midwestern values system, they lost them in the East. Only Nick's "provincial squeamishness" and strong Midwestern foundation prevented him from being sucked into the moral and spiritual vacuum that was the East. However, the other characters did not fare as well; Gatsby lost his life, and both Daisy and Tom lost their "true" loves in their careless searches for worldly pleasure. And careless they certainly were; to quote Nick, "they were careless people, Tom and Daisy-they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."(p.158) The East provided the ideal environment for this carelessness. At the beginning of the novel, Tom and Jordan discuss the merit of living in the East:
"Oh, I'll stay in the East, don't you worry," he said. "…I'd be a…fool to live anywhere else."
At this point [Jordan] said 'Absolutely!'" (p. 15)
These statements echo their belief that the East provided all the ingredients necessary for their happiness; in reality, however, the allurements of the East facilitated their destruction. Yet I believe that Tom, Daisy, and Jordan still would have held the same optimistic opinions of the East even at the end of their saga. In the East, they could take the American dream and run with it, pursuing life, liberty, happiness…and as much money and prestige as they desired in order to live the dream to its hilt. They manufactured their own brand of worldly fulfillment in the East, and, at least for a little while, the East allowed them to pursue this fulfillment.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925.
Stern, Milton. The Golden Moment: the Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970.
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