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A Marxist Critical Approach To Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

1726 words - 7 pages

Karl Marx wrote in his 1859 ‘Towards a Critique of Political Economy’ that “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence but their social existence that determines their consciousness”. By stating this, Marx sheds light into the workings of ‘The Great Gatsby’ thus showing that the social circumstances in which the characters find themselves define them, and that these circumstances consist of core Marxist principles a Capitalistic society. These principles being ‘commodity fetishism’ and ‘reification’ are useful aids in interpreting and understanding the core themes that run throughout the text.
Marx did not see the class system to be the regular upper, middle and lower generalization that it is so often seen in the Western world today. Conversely, Marxist theory states that “the way we think….largely conditioned by the way the economy is organized” and that the economy is the “base of society” . These beliefs are evident within the Great Gatsby when considering the role of the Wilson’s to that of the Buchanan’s and indeed Gatsby. The Wilsons, being the “base of society” work laboriously in order to produce the goods; “mode of production” , in order to further the needs of the bourgeoisie. This evident class struggle is highlighted by Marxist teachings upon Capitalism. Fitzgerald anticipated the collapse of capitalism and indeed of the West itself; the great depression, after reading theories by scholars such as Marx and Nietzsche. Fitzgerald compares the demise of capitalism, represented by the bourgeoisie of the novel, by stating in the ‘Early Success’, that “my millionaires were as doomed Thomas Hardy’s peasants”, thus showing a stringent parallel between class struggles in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The first sign of the lower classes rising to the forefront of the political agenda at the time is evident from Wilson’s questioning of Gatsby in relation to his car, “When are you going to sell me that car?” Parallels can be drawn between this and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the concept of “thought crime”. Here, the proletariats are punished for attempting to register an ounce of free will. This aids the reader’s understanding to a great extent within The Great Gatsby as we see that Wilson, and indeed Nick at times, have the inherent flaw of not being able to speak out, though they so ardently desire to. Their thoughts are suppressed by the affluent upper class. The audience can better understand this theory when considering that Nick is able to recollect the story of Gatsby years later, when he has returned to Minnesota and feels less oppressed away from the Marxist defined, capitalist regime.
Johannes Hans Bertens identifies a description of Marxism in his work “Literary Theory: The Basics”, by inferring the idea of choice within our world is in fact an illusion and that we are much more limited by circumstance than we care to admit. He further eludes that, as we disillusion ourselves with false...

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