The Great Gatsby Portfolio Project

Lucas Drinen

Reading and Writing - Literary Analysis: Using Marxist Theory to Explore Class and Other Values in The Great Gatsby

What do characters in The Great Gatsby value, and what happens to those who fail to live up to these standards? Marxist criticism is a literary theory where literature is examined using socioeconomic class. Out of all the literary theories we have studied over the last few months, Marxism is one of the most relevant to the Great Gatsby. In this novel, we can see that wealth and status are held above all else. Character interactions, and even the choices that determine the trajectory of their lives, are driven by money and status.

Marxist criticism believes that people will always be viewed as part of the social class they originated from. Jay Gatsby grew up in poverty, yet he managed to work his way to the top. Gatsby’s true identity, and his origins are revealed to the reader in chapter 4 as Nick unveils the truth, “His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people — his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all,” (Fitzgerald 73). His time at Oxford was all a lie. Gatsby was poor, and he would always be viewed as such. Despite his massive fortune, his humble origins were a curse he could not escape. This is proven when he cannot live up to Daisy’s standards. She’s an aristocrat, her name holds meaning, and unfortunately, Gatsby’s wealth has not given him a name worthy enough to marry her. This is why she rejected him five years prior, and again in the end. These people value money above all else, and Nick and Gatsby know this, ““Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly,” (Fitzgerald, 90). It seems that most of the characters in this book are obsessed with money, Daisy wanted to uphold her status, but others just wanted a taste.

Myrtle was a supporting character in the Great Gatsby and she is a great example of money’s influence on people’s life decisions. Myrtle believed that her husband, George Wilson, shared her dream of upward social mobility, but he didn’t, “I married [George] because I thought he was a gentleman,” she said finally. “I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe,” (Fitzgerald, 27). Not only did money determine who she would marry, it also drove her to betray such a decision. Myrtle had an affair with Tom because she was unhappy with her husband's financial situation. Tom’s reasons for the affair were ones that I’d be happy to discuss if this paper were about a different literary theory. Myrtle was so desperate to escape her social class, that she betrayed her marriage to get a taste of the upper class, but can you blame her? Being poor sucks after all, and the American dream of social mobility is already hard enough to reach for men, let alone the women of this time.

Our lives are driven by money, from where we decide to eat lunch, to the colleges we attend, and for some, the people we marry, these are all choices that are determined by our bank accounts, the characters in the Great Gatsby are no different. From Daisy who holds social status above her love for Gatsby, to Myrtle who had an obsession with social mobility to the point of cheating on her husband for a taste of wealth, it is obvious that this is a story of money and how it affects peoples lives. It seems that in the end, only Nick was able to escape this never ending cycle of money and power alive.

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Thinking and Making: What makes writing "Great" or "A Classic"?

When "classic" or "great" writing is mentioned, what comes to mind? Shakespeare? Fitzgerald? Other old books? In my opinion, a great piece of writing is not only well written but also has great cultural impact, much like the titles of the authors previously mentioned. I also believe that writing is versatile, and we should include different types of writing when deciding what the classics are (books, movies, video games etc.). Above is a timeline of five pieces of writing from the last fifteen years. Below, I will explain why I believe these fit the criteria for "great" writing.

The Hunger Games (2008)

Novel by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games Trilogy explores the topics of family, wealth inequality and the importance of appearance. One could argue that the Hunger Games trilogy kicked off the trend of dystopian novels in the late 2000s. The Hunger Games has created symbols and slogans used in real life protests to this day.

Gone Girl (2012)

Novel by Gillian Flynn

This novel is centered around Amy Dunne, a woman who fakes her death to escape her husband. Gone Girl sold more than 2 million copies in one year, and inspired many other authors to write suspense novels about the inner thoughts of women, convincing the reader of her motives.

The Last of Us (2013)

Game by Neil Druckmann

The Last of Us is an action-adventure game where players control Joel, a smuggler who transports Ellie, a teenage girl, across the United States. The game received universal acclaim following its release, and went on to win several game of the year awards. Players and reviewers have praised the game for its female and LGBT representation, and its memorable story which has been regarded as outstanding, especially for the depiction of the relationship between its two main characters; Joel and Ellie.

Life is Strange (2015)

Game by Christian Divine and Jean-Luc Cano

Life is Strange is an interactive story game where the player controls Max Caulfield, an 18 year old photography student who learns she can control time. The game has been praised for its storytelling and character development.

Parasite (2019)

Movie by Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin-won

Parasite is a South Korean film that explores class through a poor family infiltrating a rich one. It is one of the highest rated films of the decade and received universal acclaim from critics and viewers alike. The film was also very popular among Twitter and Instagram users. Parasite was also the first South Korean film to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.

Reading and Making: Creative Responses

For these creative responses, I chose to make connections from the book, to other pieces of text, the world, and my own life. I chose this response because I believe it is one of the most effective ways to interpret the text. By making connections to our own lives, and the world around us, we are better able to understand the nuances of the text.