“If love is only a will to possess, it is not love”. America in the 1920’s was a country where moral values were decaying. Every American had one objective to achieve: success.
Francis Scott Fitzgerald, the author of The Great Gatsby, presents a realistic image of American life in the 1920s. His characters, like many people of that period, only care for money; becoming rich is their main objective. As a result, their relationships, no longer based on love, fail.
All of the relationships in the novel are failures because they are not based on love, but on materialism.
One example of a failed relationship in The Great Gatsby is the adulterous affair between Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson. This affair is based on mutual exploitation. Tom uses Myrtle for sex; Myrtle receives gifts and money in return. Tom Buchanan, a resident of East Egg, is “old money”, so he looks down on everyone who is not from his class. Thus, he treats Myrtle as if she is trash. Myrtle Wilson, the wife of poor George Wilson, has become disenchanted with her 12-year-old marriage of her husband’s lack of success. Her desire for a better life is evident when she relates her first meeting with Tom:
“It was on the two little seats facing each other that are always the last ones left on the train. I was going up to New York to see my sister and spend the night. He had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, but every time he looked at me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over his head. When we came into the station he was next to me, and his white shirt-front pressed against my arm, and so I told him I’d have to call a policeman, but he knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with him I hardly knew I wasn’t getting into a subway train. All I kept thinking, over and over, was ‘You can’t live forever; you can’t live forever” (Fitzgerald 42).
Myrtle even believes that Tom will leave Daisy and marry her. In reality, Tom does not even see Myrtle as a person but as a sexual object. This is made clean by his degrading treatment of Myrtle at the party, especially when he breaks her nose for having the nerve to mention his wife’s name:
” ‘Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!’ shouted Mrs. Wilson. ‘I’ll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai – ‘ Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand” (Fitzgerald 43).
The pathetic nature of their relationship is reinforced when she dies. After a fight with George Wilson, Myrtle runs away towards a golden car that she thinks is Tom’s. The golden colour of the car symbolizes money, the wealth that Myrtle so desires. Apparently, the car is driven by Daisy, another symbol of materialism, and what happens has a symbol of significance:
A moment later [Myrtle] rushed out into the dusk, waving her hands and shouting … The ‘death car’ as the newspapers called it, didn’t stop … Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick dark blood with the dust … The mouth was wide open and ripped a little at the corners, as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long (Fitzgerald 143-44).
The nature of the relationship between Tom and Myrtle is best symbolized by the expensive dog leash Tom had bought for Myrtle’s puppy. It reflects the fact that Tom is the master, the one who controls his “pet” with money. As the master, Tom is free to do as he pleases. As the “dog”, Myrtle receives gifts for proper behaviour. The unequal status of Tom and Myrtle reflects the failure of their relationship, which, given its adulterous nature, was doomed to fail from the inception.
The Buchanan marriage is also a complete failure. It is the war that separated Daisy and Gatsby, and his absence is one of the reasons she married Tom. However, the most important factor was his money and status. Tom is from a rich family. He can give Daisy everything she wants. The wedding ceremony proved this:
In June [Daisy] married Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before. He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Muhlbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding he gave her a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars (Fitzgerald 82).
That is a marriage of convenience -not love- is apparent on several occasions in the novel. For example, while Daisy was giving birth to their only child, “Tom was God knows where” (Fitzgerald 23). Furthermore, Tom’s philandering begins only after 3 months of his marriage. A newspaper account of Tom’s accident mentions that the chambermaid he was with her broken arm. Of course, Daisy knows Tom ways too well; she even offers him her “little gold pencil” so that he gets the number of a “pretty but common” girl he is interested in at Gatsby’s party, although Tom pretends to want to switch tables for another reason. The fact is that their marriage is founded upon wealth and power; that is what keeps them together, and what reveals how barren a marriage it is.
Gatsby is the one who tries to separate Tom and Daisy. It is Gatsby’s dream to be reunited with Daisy, to go back to the past, and to marry Daisy. This is his incorruptible dream, as Gatsby tells Nick: “‘Can’t repeat the past?’ [Gatsby] cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!'” (Fitzgerald 117).
After reuniting with Daisy, Gatsby begins an affair that is made possible because he is extremely rich; Daisy is a materialist that can be lured by money. When they first reunite, Daisy shows little true emotion. It is only when he shows her his huge mansion and expensive possession that Daisy displays strong emotion. For example, as Gatsby shows her his expensive clothes from England; “Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily” (Fitzgerald 99).
When the affair between Gatsby and Daisy is discovered, Tom and Gatsby confront each other over Daisy. In this crucial event, Daisy reveals her true view of her affair with Gatsby – that it was simply a way of filling in her empty days, an entertainment. It is also revenge for Tom’s many adulterous affairs. Deep in her heart, she is not determined:” ‘Oh, you want too much!’ [Daisy] cried to Gatsby. ‘I love you now – isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.’ She began to sob helplessly. ‘I did love him once – but I loved you too'” (Fitzgerald 139).
Having betrayed Gatsby twice already, Daisy now betrays him for the final time – unwilling to face the consequence of Myrtle’s death, Daisy and Tom conspire to frame Gatsby for the accident. Gatsby is then killed by George Wilson, as Tom has led him to believe that Gatsby is both Myrtle’s lover and killer.
In the end, this relationship fails because Daisy values nothing but materialism; she does not even send a flower to Gatsby’s funeral.
Love is essential in a relationship. However, materialism is essential to the relationship presented in The Great Gatsby. Those relationships are failures because they are founded on the physical rather than the spiritual. Fitzgerald shows that any relationships based on materialism will fail in the end.