Study Guide

The Great Gatsby Society and Class

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Society and Class

Chapter 1
Nick Carraway

I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth. (1.3)

Here, Nick says that money isn't the only thing that some people are born to. Some people are naturally just nicer and more honest: they have more "sense of the fundamental decencies." But does Nick believe that poor people can be born with these fundamental decencies, too, or do you have to be rich to have natural class?

When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. (1.4)

Gatsby may be low-class, but Nick still manages to see something good in him, anyway. Maybe he has the "natural decencies" that other members of high society don't. Except, we think this might be a little like the, "but I have a lot of ______ friends" excuse to make someone not sound racist or xenophobic.)

I lived at West Egg, the – well, the least fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard … My own house was an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor's lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires—all for eighty dollars a month. (1.14)

It may be a small house, but at least Nick gets to live near millionaires. He's joking, but this is the same logic that makes people buy designer sunglasses: you may not be able to afford the actual clothes, but you still get to have a little reflected glamour. Hey, no judgment here.

Chapter 2
Myrtle Wilson

"I told that boy about the ice." Myrtle raised her eyebrows in despair at the shiftlessness of the lower orders. "These people! You have to keep after them all the time." 

She looked at me and laughed pointlessly... (2.69-70)

Myrtle thinks that acting like a snob makes her sound fancy—but it just makes her sound even more like herself: a vulgar, common, cheating woman. You're not fooling anyone, honey.

Chapter 3
Nick Carraway

There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and he champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his motor-boats slid the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before. (3.1)

Okay, so the parties sound fabulous. These people are definitely partying like it's 1999, or whatever. But what we're really into is that Nick actually notices the servants—the people who end up cleaning up the mess. Remember that Nick has to clean up after Daisy and Tom. Maybe he identifies a little bit with the servants.

Chapter 4
Nick Carraway

By the next autumn she was gay again, gay as ever. She had a debut after the Armistice, and in February she was presumably engaged to a man from New Orleans. In June she married Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before. He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Seelbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding he gave her a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. (4.135)

Money might not make you happy, but there's some consolation in a $350K string of pearls. If you have to be depressed, you might as well be depressed on a yacht, right?

Chapter 7

"About Gatsby! No, I haven't. I said I'd been making a small investigation of his past."

"And you found he was an Oxford man," said Jordan helpfully.

"An Oxford man!" He was incredulous. "Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit." (7.130-132)

Apparently, Latin isn't the only thing you learned at Oxford in the 1910s: you also learned not to wear pink suits. The point here is that education isn't just about reading the classics; it's also about learning to act (and dress) like a member of your class. And you can't learn that from a book.

Chapter 8
Nick Carraway

We shook hands and I started away. Just before I reached the hedge I remembered something and turned around.

"They're a rotten crowd," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together." (8.44-45)

Check out that use of the word "worth." Daisy and Tom may have been born with money, but they're not "worth" anything. But Gatsby—despite his ill-gotten money—is.

Chapter 9
Nick Carraway

I called up Daisy half an hour after we found him, called her instinctively and without hesitation. But she and Tom had gone away early that afternoon, and taken baggage with them.

"Left no address?"


"Say when they'd be back?"


"Any idea where they are? How I could reach them?"

"I don't know. Can't say." (9.4-10)

Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you a lot—like the ability to have other people clean up your messes, whether we're talking about toilets or a string of murder/ suicides. (Personally, we'd be satisfied with someone coming to clean up our toilets.)

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