Some similarities between Marxism and Socialism is that Marxism theory is derived directly from Socialism. For example, both Ideology believe that there should be no class classifications, but in order to achieve this, the proletariat must overthrow the dictators and replace them with the proletariat in order to have “lasting peace” and for the first time, “genuine freedom.”(1)
One difference is, Socialism wants capitalism and Marxism does not. Marxism believes that capitalism is the main cause for the current conditions.
Therefore, it is safe to say that F. Scott Fitzgerald is a Marxist with the philosophical teaching in all his books.
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald creates an artificial world where money is the object of everyone’s desire. The characters, the setting, and the plot are very deeply submerged in a Capitalism that ends up destroying many of them in the end. Fitzgerald’s criticism of Capitalism can be seen as a move to subtly promote Socialism, an ideology in which value is placed on the inherent value of an object rather than its market value. Fitzgerald makes Gatsby a novel that is not inherently Marxist or even Socialist, but one that is infused with Marxist theory. He does this by denouncing non-humanitarianism, reification, and market value. Fitzgerald implies that the Capitalist system does not work because at the end of the novel, all of the characters that represent typical American Capitalism end up either dead or completely unhappy. Fitzgerald’s criticisms work to warn 1920’s Americans of their behavior and how destructive it can be.
Marxists believe very firmly in humanitarianism; they believe that as humans, we should look out for each other and care for each other since we are all on the same level. All of the characters in Gatsby nullify this idea, because they all use each other in one-way or another. For instance, Gatsby uses Nick to set up a meeting between he and Daisy. The characters also place very little value on individual human beings or on humanity as a whole. Each character is too wrapped up in him/herself that he/she does not take the time to care for others. In The Great Gatsby class levels are prominent in this novel – the rich are drastically separated from the poor, and the rich wish to keep it that way. This in turn is definetly a Capitalist ideal; because the characters have this value and causes them to be corrupt, Fitzgerald is criticizing Capitalism as a system through its values.
This class division is painfully apparent throughout the novel. In chapter five, some of the people at Gatsby’s party are singing a popular tune of the 1920’s, which includes the lyrics: “the rich are getting richer/and the poor are getting children/ain’t we got fun?” (101). The lyrics imply a general attitude of the upper classes toward the lower class. Later in the novel, Gatsby describes a young Daisy, who appears “gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor” (157). This sentence captures the main argument of Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. In the Manifesto, he describes the constant conflict between classes, but says that the real struggle is on the part of the lower class desiring to be free from the rule of the upper class. In this book, the upper class is portrayed as being extremely artificial and corrupt. The reason that Gatsby works so hard to become a member of the upper class is obtain the “American Dream” which all Americans hope to achieve. But also to impress a girl who he places a market value on wealth and therefore forces him to become a member of that class through illegalities in order to attain the unattainable. When Gatsby buys his house to impress Daisy, he is not simply purchasing property; he “thinks he is buying a dream.”
At one point in the novel, Nick says that, “human sympathy has its limits” (143). Even the narrator of the story, who has less money and seemingly better morals than the others, is non-humanitarian – he places a boundary on human emotion. Later, Nick chides Daisy and Tom for “retreating back into their money or their vast carelessness and let other people clean up the messes they made” (188). Here, Nick is using Daisy and Tom to typify the entire upper class. The thoughtlessness they embody typified Capitalist America for Fitzgerald.
In an essay on Gatsby, Ross Posnock claims that reification “demands discussion, because it “looms so importantly in The Great Gatsby.” In being humanitarians, Socialists are opposed to any human being treated as a material thing. Because Capitalism is “founded on commodity exchange and production, it forces the worker himself to be bought and used.” Often in Gatsby, human beings are treated as objects to be obtained. For example, when Jordan talks about Tom’s affair, she says that he’s “got some woman in New York” (19). Tom often treats Myrtle as an object – something he has on the side.
Marxist theory claims that in Capitalism, “the most desired people are perceived as desirable objects.” The character most often treated as an object in Gatsby is Daisy. Almost every man that Daisy comes into contact with assumes that she can be obtained. Although Daisy gets a letter from Gatsby on her wedding night to telling her to call it off, she doesn’t because Tom gives her a pearl necklace. As soon as the “pearls were around her neck the incident was over” (81). Not only is Daisy objectified, but she allows herself to be so. Men place a high value on her, and other men’s love “increase her value in Gatsby’s eyes” (156).
The fact that Daisy allows herself to be objectified suggests that it is something that is justified by society. She projects this societal idea onto her daughter. When Daisy’s daughter is born, Daisy says she hopes she’ll be a “beautiful little fool” so that men will care for her (21). When Daisy’s daughter gets older, Daisy treats her like an object. She wants her daughter to look perfect – like a “little dream” (123). Daisy wants her daughter to appear perfect on the outside so that people will accept her. This treatment of children is a strong criticism of a world where nothing matters but appearance and material objects.
Money and wealth are subjects that saturate the entirety of The Great Gatsby. Instead of having use value – the value that is inherent in an object – Capitalists place a market value on everything – the value that items can be exchanged for. The strong use of market value in the novel show just how corrupt Fitzgerald thinks American society is; nothing has its own value. Marx says that with “the money to buy everything comes the power to change reality into mere representation.” Because of this, nothing is valued purely in and of itself. Nick’s collection of books is a good example of this. They cost a lot of money and promise to unfold “shining secrets” of wealth, yet he never opens them (8). Another of these objects is the necklace that Tom gives Daisy to obtain her. These objects mean nothing to the characters except what they can trade for them. Gatsby even wants “his share of the local heavens,” implying that one can even own a piece of nature (25).
Because Daisy is so objectified throughout the novel, she has a high exchange value; furthermore, the things she places value on also carry a high market value. Gatsby “revalues everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from Daisy’s well-loved eyes” (96). He cares more about what Daisy thinks about his material possessions than he actually cares about her; furthermore, Daisy plays into this. When she cries over his pile of shirts, she is crying because she cares about his possessions and not about him. Another example is that men love Daisy’s voice, because it is “full of money” (127). In this society, human voices have an exchange value. The shallowness of 1920’s Capitalist America is reflected in Fitzgerald’s criticism of using market value to assess emotions and people.
Fitzgerald’s criticisms of American society are seen through his characters; all of the characters in Gatsby are incredibly selfish and artificial, and they represent typical Americans at that time. Through the death and corruption of many characters, Fitzgerald implies that this type of behavior is, in the end, destructive. Although the novel may not be obtrusively Marxist / Socialist, Fitzgerald’s reproach of Capitalism supports Socialist ideals.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby New York: Scribner, Simon & Schuster, 2003, c1953.
Cushing, Richard. Question and answers on communism. Mass: Sisters of St. Paul, 1961.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Simon and Schuster,
Lewis, Roger. “Money, Love, and Aspiration in The Great Gatsby.” New
Essays on The Great Gatsby. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1985. 41-57.
Posnock, Ross. ” A New World, Without Being Real’: Fitzgerald’s
Critique of Capitalism in The Great Gatsby.” Critical Essays on
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Ed. Scott Donaldson. Boston: GK
Hall and Co., 1984. 201-213.