Included in the UGC-CARE list (Group B Sr. No 172)
Money and Immorality in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby


The study challenges the commonly accepted idea that people are willing to compromise their morality when it is about money. In our present scenario everyone wants happiness by accumulating money and live extravagant life. But can money buy happiness? Not every time, sometimes it leads to higher rates of depression. If they don’t find an appropriate way to gain money and to live a luxurious life then they deviate way and finally it leads to immorality or any other crime just as Gatsby chooses bootlegging. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel THE GREAT GATSBY, which deals with major issues American society was facing in that period. Different characters like Jay Gatsby, Tom, Daisy, Myrtle Wilson and Wolfsheim are all embodiment of this materialistic society, money creates a big illusion in their mind. They want to accomplish their dream, hope, love, happiness by money but their way is not convenient, so it leads to immorality. THE GREAT GATSBY examines, how by the effect of money human character is being changed, how they lost their moral values, and forget ethical belief. How they deceive their life partners for the sake of money, for the sake of achieve social status and temporary pleasure and don’t think about the result from their action. For them money as a tool to achieve everything.

Keywords: The Great Gatsby, money, immorality, extravagant life-style, happiness.


Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was an American fiction writer, whose works helped to illustrate the flamboyance and excess of the Jazz Age. Though he achieved popular success, fame, and fortune in his lifetime, he did not receive much critical acclaim until his death. The most notable member of the "Lost Generation” of the 1920s, Fitzgerald is now widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. He finished four novels: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night, A fifth, unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, was published posthumously. Four collections of his short stories were published, as well as 164 short stories in magazines during his lifetime.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald, the Jazz Age novelist, portrays the feeling of despair and disillusionment during 1920s quite skillfully, and that may have rooted in his private life. Fitzgerald reflects “I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works.” (Berry) The affection of “the world of high finance” in his life made him produce such works like THE GREAT GATSBY. Fitzgerald memorably remarked of his protagonist that “Jay Gatsby….sprang from his platonic conception of himself.”(Bloom) His personal experiences are sometimes common themes in his works – theme of social changes and cultural differences. F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in an era that had a major change in morality. It was a time where it became more common to fight the traditional living aspects and grow bolder with the arising of flappers and constant threat of prohibition. Fitzgerald uses his novel to display the immorality that was a commonplace of the time period. One common stereotype that opposes immoral ideals is religion, which in Fitzgerald’s novel, is not a present idea. The fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald almost completely excludes the presence of a god-like figure in his novels, The Great Gatsby, creates a new standard of immorality in the characters. Fitzgerald faced the realities behind the crumbling American Dream, and glittering life of the Roaring Twenties. He creates beautiful and rich characters that are unhappy because of materialism and the pursuit of pleasures. Fitzgerald wrote about his own time and place, while reaching beyond it.

The Great Gatsby is about disdain for 1920s luxurious and extravagant lifestyle. It is not just a description of certain people and events in their life, but a lesson in history. This affluence, carelessness and immorality in the novel lead to tragic consequences and reach as far as the death itself.

A man is usually more careful of his money than he is of his principles.(E. W. Howe) We can see the early life of Gatsby, when he was in army, Wolfsheim describes to Nick about Gatsby “A young major just out of the army and covered over with medals he got in the war”.(Fitzgerald 182; Ch.9). His great works in the war is the testimony of his morality and patriotism. Later on he wants to accumulate money because only money has power to get back his love Daisy by discarding all the set of values and moral principles.

Money and wealth develop a vast illusion into the character's mind. The role of money in THE GREAT GATSBY relates to Gatsby most. The novel is a phenomenon in which money is represented as a means to reach a particular goal or dream. The creation of Jay Gatsby’s money comes from bootlegging, and he attempts to cover it by saying that his wealth comes from a wealthy Midwestern family. Money creates an illusion of Gatsby’s mind because he follows the dream to win his love Daisy again. It plays as if Gatsby wants to live in the future and the past at the same time, and what makes it worse is that he relies on illegal money. It is an incredible hope for Gatsby. Though money is not the final goal for him, it is a tool to accomplish his dreams.

The role of money in The Great Gatsby is an important medium to reach love and satisfaction. For instance, in this quote, Money is presented as a gold hat.

Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry ‘Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!’ (Fitzgerald).
-Thomas Parke D’invilliers

The epigraph of The Great Gatsby itself makes the sense of significance of money to get love. Impressing somebody has a strong mark to show the high status to someone; it requires a colossal status of wealth to show off and to provide the other person with a touch of magic that he had extra money that made him buy the massive mansion. Additionally, it can also be a gold ticket to reach the lover. Observing, the Gold can denote having more money to get the lover.

The incredible status of wealth depicts at the beginning of the third chapter “There was music from my neighbour’s house through the summer nights” (Fitzgerald 43; Ch. 3). Gatsby invites Nick, and he goes to the party. Then, he is utterly surprised by the wealth of his neighbour. Materialism is presented in the third chapter as an important medium to attract different kind of people in New York.

The time makes Daisy to make a decision to marry Tom Buchanan, just, the extravagant life of what he can provide to Daisy. Tom was a brand of wealthy man. Money to some extent slaves Gatsby in which he forgets his past and his family for the sake to win his lover and become “Newly Rich.” It is the money that makes Gatsby inferior. He cannot proceed to plan for winning Daisy without money; it is an essential means to reach his final goal. Money that Gatsby owns, it comes from crime.

Gatsby wants to get Daisy back and it compels him to arrange the lavish parties where he can find any news regarding Daisy from the guest. As he before lost her because of the war and the poverty. It is obvious that he couldn’t meet her love because mainly for money and once again money becomes a hope for his reunion. To some extent Gatsby accomplishes one step toward his lover; like in the novel “Daisy put her arm through his abruptly, but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of the light had now vanished forever.”(Fitzgerald 100; Ch 5)

“All money tends to corrupt, and absolute money corrupts absolutely.” It indicates how money has power to make anyone treacherous or unscrupulous. For Gatsby, Daisy is everything which he wants in his life, but later on he knows about her materialistic vision of life when he goes to her home. He says to Nick about Daisy,
‘Her voice is full of money’.
“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…” (Fitzgerald 128; Ch.7)

Wealth and the presence of money in the novel are highlighted that can be the purpose of the Author. “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 unrest fully wherever people played polo and were rich together” (Fitzgerald 8; ch.1). From the reader’s perspective may think that Money has a strong mark to which they can see the Buchanan’s travel unrest fully. It is like spending money without a purpose. Polo is a game that is played by rich people. As Nick describes Tom Buchanan, Tom said that he was able to bring down a string of polo ponies from Lack Forest. To imagine that is a huge amount of money.

One Thing’s Sure And Nothing’s Surer
The Rich Get Richer And The Poor Get—
In The Meantime,
In Between Time——(Fitzgerald 102; Ch.5)

In this novel Fitzgerald describes everyone following their materialistic dream and nobody cares about poor people who live in the dumping side- valley of ashes, almost slum area. Nick Carraway describes the scene and its dwellers in the book as “This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud which screens their obscure operations from your sight.”(Fitzgerald 26; Ch.2) As the description implies, this is a place where all hope is lost for the “ash-gray men” who work and live in this depressing area.

Myrtle Wilson, one of the characters who live in Valley of Ashes, painted by Fitzgerald as an immoral who cheats her husband having an affair with Tom Buchanan. She wants to live an aristocratic and extravagant life and social status, but it couldn’t fulfill with her husband so she gets extramarital relationship with Tom Buchanan. When she goes to the party with Tom her attitude is changed, “With the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur.” (Fitzgerald 34; Ch.2) Money creates a gap in their existence in such a society that money made forget to live a stable life.

Marriage is taken for granted, partners behave loosely, moral standards exist only in theory, and to compensate this emptiness, money serves the purpose. The Upper Class is hollow and child-like in a way. Daisy, for example, is a married woman, but she has not really grown up; she is unable to deal with the consequences of her actions and is unable to make up her mind. For example when she has to decide between Tom and Gatsby she utters: “I did love him once—but I loved you too.’(Fitzgerald 142; Ch.7)

On the other side the character like Daisy does not care about the consequences of her actions. When she commits a murder, she lets Gatsby to take all the responsibility for it and now he is burdened with the crime. And although she has escaped the consequences of her actions, she cannot escape her guilty conscience. After she accidents of Myrtle at that day Daisy and Tom sit at the kitchen table with a plate of cold fried chicken and two bottles of ale. Nick rightly describes it “They weren’t happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale—and yet they weren’t unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together.”(Fitzgerald 155; Ch.7) Hence, this illustrates the outcome of letting their moral values to be affected by emotions and rotten desire.

Tom could be one of the most immoral characters in the novel, he takes advantage from the events and encourages maddened Wilson to kill Gatsby and eventually escapes as if he was never a part of the entire situation. He and Daisy fly from their house just after Gatsby’s death informing nobody about that because they know they are unable to confront the mess they left behind. Their wealth “bought” them that possibility, to just run away from the scene of the crime, corrupting their moral judgment.. Buchanan hides behind law and order to hide his decadence and his immorality in order to save his reputation and possessions. It is Tom’s immorality that casts a shadow on Gatsby’s selfishness and disregard for any principles. Money, again, and the idea of immorality is the base of degrading civilization.

Nick Carraway is a young man who observes his friends and their attempts to achieve their deepest desires, and, unlike them all, learns from their mistakes. However, the whole concept of the novel is based on lies, and why should he be any different? The difference is that that Fitzgerald never lets Nick go beyond the bounds of credibility. Nick is the only character to follow his own path and who stays away from the influence of the others. Exposed to the immoral actions all around him. At the end of the novel Nick describes immorality of Tom and Daisy, “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….” (Fitzgerald 191; Ch.9)

If we put Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan side by side, there is no wonder why Jay seems like an angel in terms of moral values, and if we add his “sensitivity to the promises of life” (Fitzgerald 2001: 3) we even feel sorry for him. Another immoral thing happen at the end of the novel, however Gatsby has many celebrity Friends and various contacts of aristocratic people who attended his lavish party, none of them attend his funeral.


In this novel Fitzgerald describes the effect of money on the characters and their highly attraction towards money and extravagant life which leads to immorality. By the influence of money and extravagant life-style they lost their moral values and by accomplishing their dream, hope and satisfaction they can harm anyone. Gatsby, Daisy, Tom and Myrtle all persuade money, they don’t think about the way which they choose and the consequences of their action. This money, selfishness and immorality in the novel lead to tragic consequences and reach as far as the death itself.


  1. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Free eBooks at Planet
  2. Don’t Pray for
  3. Fahmi, Yassine. Themes of Money and Wealth In The Great Gatsby and The Rich Boy By F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mohammed First University – Oujda Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences. Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature 2016-2017
  4. Pantović, Stefan. Cause And Consequences Of Affluence And Immorality In THE GREAT GATSBY. Seminar paper in Academic Discourse and Scientific Research. The Faculty of Philology and Arts Department of English Language and Literature University of Kragujevac 2015.

Dipali Nayee, Research Scholar, HNGU, Patan