In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." (1.1-3)
It's a lot easier to be morally upright when you're not pinching and scraping to make a living… which makes the immorality of the wealthy even more unforgivable. Every advantage in the world, and they can't even be nice people? Nick may forgive them, but we're not sure we do.
Why they came East I don't know. They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. (1. 17)
Okay, hilarious. Isn't playing polo basically the definition of "being rich together"?
His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked—and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts. (1.20)
Wealth makes Tom "paternal," as though it gives him the right to tell the entire world how to behave. But remember—he didn't earn the wealth. He's literally done nothing to deserve it. So why does he get to be mean-dad to everyone?
"I like to come," Lucille said. "I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address – inside of a week I got a package from Croirier's with a new evening gown in it."
"Did you keep it?" asked Jordan.
"Sure I did. I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars." (3.23-25)
Lucille seems more impressed with the price of the gown than the gown itself. And notice how she says "I never care what I do": just one more example of the careless wealthy. Why would you care, when you know that your host will just replace whatever you break? (Unless, of course, it's your heart.)
"See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too - didn't cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?" (3.49-50)
Gatsby can buy the things that rich people have, but he can't buy the education or experience. But from what the owl-eyed man says, it doesn't sound like anyone else is reading them, either. (See "Gatsby's Books" for an explanation.)
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. (3.1)
All that wealth can't fill the hole in Gatsby's heart—but it probably makes it a little easier to bear. Also, notice the insect imagery? The men and girls like "moths"; the station wagon like a "brisk yellow bug"? What's up with that?
The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World's Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people – with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe. (4.113)
Meyer Wolfsheim fixed the World Series, an enormous crime that Nick thinks is like "a burglar blowing a safe." But the burglar gets caught; Wolfsheim uses his wealth and underworld connections to stay squeaky clean. Apparently you don't have to be high class to benefit from your wealth.
That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money – that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it… high in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl […]. (7.99)
What would a voice full of money sound like? Maybe something like this. Whatever it sounds like, the point is that money isn't something you can separate from the body. If you're born with money, you're actually born with money. That's why everyone knows Gatsby's faking it.
"Self-control!" Repeated Tom incredulously. "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." (7.229)
Um, okay, Tom. (1) Pot, meet kettle. (2) We see just how important wealth isn't. All the money in the world can't make Gatsby "worth" Daisy.
P.S. This is dated and totally racist. In case you didn't catch that.
I couldn't forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. 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 […]. (9.136-145)
There's a reason they call it white-collar crime: rich people's crimes just don't seem to count as much as poor people's crimes.