The contrast between the new rich and the old rich is a prominent theme in the novel and is reinforced by certain techniques throughout the novel. Fitzgerald uses characterization to portray the contrast between the two cultures on Long Island. The ambitious and bombastic new rich of West Egg and the careless, shallow and aristocratic old rich of East Egg. Characterization is used to reinforce this theme. Fitzgerald uses the old rich as antagonists for the narrative. Tom, an aristocrat of the American Elite (old rich), is initially portrayed as an unlikeable character. He is inherently racist, sexist and within the first chapter, it is discovered that he likely cheats on his wife.
“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?”
Fitzgerald chooses the topic and nature of Tom’s dialogue carefully and deliberately. Immediately, it is clearly pictured that Tom is racist. A man reading rise of the coloured empires doesn’t connotate the traits of a likeable character. Additionally, phrases such as “broke out Tom violently” creates the idea of an abrupt and unlikeable character, a person who interrupts to talk about his own misfortunes or bad ideas. This helps the reader to develop a dislike for the eventual antagonist of the narrative. Furthermore, the characters around Tom also display their growing contempt for him. This is a way of insinuating to the reader about a certain character’s actions.
“Tom’s getting very profound,” said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we ——”
Regardless of the reader’s knowledge of books such as Rise of the Coloured Empires, and even if the reader cannot interpret the meaning of such a title, Fitzgerald uses Daisy’s initially likeable character to insinuate that Tom’s reading isn’t a positive trait. The techniques that Fitzgerald uses to establish the protagonist are also used to reinforce the prominent themes concerning the contrast between the new and old rich in America. This theme has high importance in the narrative as it leads directly to the second theme. The conflict between the new and the old is a factor to the beginning of the end of the American Dream.
The decline of the American Dream is portrayed using symbolism, it is the key to the setting of the narrative. The American Dream, more specifically the decline, is central to the setting of the plot. This theme is portrayed in the use of symbols and motifs. The valley of ashes is described as a dark, grey and hellish place where “ashes grow like wheat in a field” The valley symbolises the dark truth behind the glamorous party lifestyle.
“This is a Valley of Ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.”
The effect of this symbolism on the reader helps them to understand the way America worked in the 20s. The Valley of Ashes is a dirty industrial complex on the way from long island to New York, with men working back and forth to achieve their wealth and to improve their nation. The Valley of Ashes is an interpretation of the slow decline of the American dream. Once being the pursuit of liberty and happiness, it decays into the exploitation of cheap labour for wealth. Furthermore, the green light is a symbol that represents the hope of the American dream.
“he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.”
The observation made by Nick describes a desperate Gatsby reaching out at an unreachable object. This symbolises how many people failed to achieve the mythical American dream. Finally, along with the decline of the American dream, society began to decline in the United States too. The main people effected by the decline were the aristocrats. With the decline of the American dream, came the loss of moral values.