In ‘The Great Gatsby’ Fitzgerald criticises the increase of consumerism in the 1920s and the abandonment of the original American Dream , highlighting that the increased focus on wealth and the social class associated with it has negative effects on relationships and the poorest sections of society. The concept of wealth being used as a measure of success and worth is also explored by Plath in ‘The Bell Jar’. Similarly, she draws attention to the superficial nature of this material American Dream which has extended into the 1960s, but highlights that gender determines people’s worth in society as well as class.
Fitzgerald uses setting to criticise society’s loss of morality and the growth of consumerism after the Great War. The rise of the stock market in the 1920s enabled business to prosper in America. However, although the owners of industry found themselves better off wages didn’t rise equally, causing the gap between the rich and poor to grow markedly. Parkinson argues that the settings “represent [these] alternative worlds of success and failure in a modern capitalist society”. The valley of ashes symbolises this failure and moral decay, acting as a foil to the affluent “world of success”, East Egg, and highlighting that the lower classes must suffer to support its existence. This setting is introduced in Chapter 2 and is described as where “ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens”. The personification of the environment creates the sense that these failures are rooted in the land, suggesting that poverty is an inescapable part of American society. This is emphasised through the use of tripling which creates a sense of endlessness. By describing the men who live there as “crumbling through the powdery air”, Fitzgerald compares them to ashes due to the lexis “crumbling” and “powdery” having connotations of insubstantiality. This makes a direct link between the characters and the setting that they live in, implying that they are defined by their poverty and are therefore failures themselves in a society where success is defined by wealth.
In contrast, in ‘The Bell Jar’ Plath explores the life of a protagonist who is on the path of achieving financial success. Esther is living in New York which is associated with achievement, and she receives dresses and other material items. Her success is presented by the metaphor “steering New York like her own private car” which emphasises her wealth, which cars are a symbol of. However, despite Esther achieving these ideals which those in the valley of ashes cannot, she too is discontent, as shown by the bell jar which symbolises her inability to feel truly happy in a superficial world. This implies that a society based upon consumerism doesn’t lead to happiness for anyone, including those who have been successful in the capitalist system.
Fitzgerald also depicts wealth and class as insuperable barriers to relationships. This is heavily criticised by Fitzgerald, perhaps as a...