Course work

It also developed the grounds upon
which later authors like Steinbeck built their social policies through the
economic disparity that was closely intertwined in Pre-World War II America.
There was great social change between the roaring 20s when The Great Gatsby was written and the financially depressed late
1930s when Steinbeck published The Grapes
of Wrath. A person’s identity is comprised of varying attributes that are
characteristic of their personality. The notion that an identity can be
influenced and defined by their materialistic possessions and class was, at the
time, perceived as a societal norm despite the ongoing American economic
hardships that had been faced. Both authors criticise the enticement of wealth
and materialism. The damaging effects of the class system is shown through
Gatsby who believes he must reinvent himself entirely in order to assimilate
into a class he did not initially belong to. In contrast, The Joads attempt to
maintain the identity of their family despite deviations depicted by characters
like Rose of Sharon. Perhaps the most crucial message presented in both novels,
is the importance of an individual – in Gatsby’s case – or a family’s identity
when presented with the destructive nature of Wealth and Class.

Para 1: TGG

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Compare the ways in which the concepts of Wealth and Class define
Identity in both Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of
Wrath.

Sebastian Fälth

https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:667768/FULLTEXT01.pdf

The illusion
surrounding class status was a fundamental aspect of American ‘culture’ during
the 20s and 30s.  Considering Gatsby ‘falls short in most of the aspects that determines a
person’s social status’, Fitzgerald directly approaches this precarious
illusion of class status through his aspirational character. Fitzgerald also
presents Tom Buchanan as the embodiment of the higher class and through this
character, he tears into the illusion Gatsby has created. The author questions
Gatsby’s attempt to define his identity using the corporate elite through
Buchanan. The ‘incredulous’ nature Tom Buchanan possesses during an observation
of Gatsby as an ‘Oxford man!’ is solely down to the fact that he ‘wears a pink
suit.’ Buchanan’s belief that Gatsby has ultimately failed to construct an
accurate illusion due to his lack of assimilation into the upper class through
his dress. A later description of Gatsby’s suit sees it described as a ‘rag of
a suit’ by the narrator, Nick. Gatsby’s continual inability to fully impress the
Tom and Daisy who ‘smashed up things and creatures and retreated back into
their money or vast carelessness’ shows how his intended illusion of his class
status fell through. Gatsby therefore failed to correctly identify with the
upper class unlike Daisy and Tom. The ‘Jazz Age’ as defined by Fitzgerald
himself was an extended period of economic gain in which American Society
became closely associated with hedonistic tendencies. Fitzgerald reflects his
own opulent style and the illusion he too created in order to marry Zelda
Fitzgerald. However, Fitzgerald draws upon the negative and harmful nature of
these illusions by incorporating adjectives like ‘smashed’ and phrases like
‘vast carelessness’. Their class status defined their identity as people who ‘retreat[ed]
back into their money’. Ultimately, Fitzgerald suggests that Gatsby’s fixation
of reinventing his identity through the class system led to his demise,
therefore suggesting that allowing ones class to define their identity is
fundamentally wrong.

Para 2: TGOW

In contrast to Gatsby, the Joads are under no illusion as to
their identity as agricultural proletariat in the stratum of the ‘depressed’
1930s American society. Steinbeck was known for the realism in his writing, in
contrast to Fitzgerald, he often immediately dismissed the belief of social
mobility and this is seen through his novel The
Grapes of Wrath. The Joads family forms the protagonists of this novel and
Steinbeck deliberately presents them as fundamentally disillusioned with the
idea of social mobility, wealth and class status. Their migration takes them to
California because ‘There’s work there, and it never gets cold’. Steinbeck
never alludes to monetary gain, only the promise of stability through working
the land. This is of great importance as it presents Steinbeck’s negative
interpretation of wealth and class status while also portraying the value
Steinbeck perceives in an individual’s identity. This is further established by
Steinbeck’s description of the Bank which becomes akin to another protagonist of
the novel. Through the use of personification, Steinbeck presents the Bank as a
‘monster’ that ‘has to have profits all the time’. It could be suggested the
Bank, while not a literal character is symbolic of the wealthy upper class of the American capitalist society.
This is also suggested by critic Olof Jensen (2016, Abstract) who believes that
his novel can be ‘regarded as a critique of Capitalism’. This would be
understandable as Steinbeck actively supported the proletariat in their
struggles while simultaneously disregarding the upper classes that control and
manipulate them. Both the novel’s protagonists, The Joads and The Bank (In a
literal sense),  present Steinbeck’s
clear opinion on the overexertion of power from the wealthy and upper classes
as well as his belief of the importance of identity. In The Grapes of Wrath there are two separate protagonists present,
which represent different socio-economic statuses. Both of whom are vying to
maintain their larger identity within society.

Para 3: TGG

Fitzgerald
introduces the concepts of wealth, class and identity through the materialistic
aspects of his protagonists’ lives. The prosperous nature of American society
in the ‘roaring’ 1920s led to a rapid rise in conspicuous consumption and
materialism. Fitzgerald himself often got caught up and was known to indulge in
this lifestyle. Fitzgerald goes on to exaggerate the materialism present by comparing
Daisy Buchanan directly, he describes her as having a voice ‘full of money’.
Fitzgerald in not only alluding to the old money Daisy has as a result of her
familial line but is also directly linking her wealth and identity through
materialism. The significance of it being ‘her voice’ does not go unnoticed as
it is widely understood that a voice is distinctive between people and is,
therefore, a crucial aspect of a person’s identity. Furthermore, Fitzgerald
highlights how an individual’s identity is manipulated by the attraction of
materialism. Fitzgerald utilised his novel as ‘a means of social criticism of
the moral implications that accompany great wealth and material excess’ according
to Lovisa Lindberg (2014, p.5). This critic is exact in their deduction of the
novel as seen through is character of Gatsby’s father. Although not a direct protagonist
within The Great Gatsby, the most explicit example of this deviation from their
morality is seen in Gatsby’s Father. Subsequently, Gatsby’s Father is the
recipient of his wealth following his death and ‘his pride in his son and his
son’s possessions was continuously increasing’ as he saw the extent of the
value of Gatsby’s lifestyle. The unimportance of his son’s death upon the
discovery of Gatsby’s fortune contributes to Fitzgerald’s larger message of the
poisonous atmosphere that surrounds the elite due to their luxury goods. It
also exemplifies Fitzgerald’s exact meaning of enrapture of the association
with the hedonistic lifestyle and how this impact was not class specific as it
encompassed both Myrtle and Gatsby’s father. Therefore, the materialism that
stemmed from the Buchanans and Gatsby also impacted the identity those around
them who craved the same level of wealth.

 

Para 4: TGOW

Similarly, Steinbeck studies the concepts of wealth,
identity and class as an intrinsically linked theme that corresponds with materialism.
Steinbeck presents these materialistic qualities specifically through the
protagonist of Rose of Sharon. Rose of Sharon lists in descriptive detail the
items she values above her family ‘An’ we’ll have a car, little car… I’m gonna
have a ‘lectric iron, an’ the baby’ll have new stuff’. Her intention to abandon
her family in countryside in order to pursue a materialistic lifestyle is
Steinbeck’s suggestion of the disloyalty to our identity in society. She places
material wealth that can be found in urban areas above her own identity as the
eldest daughter of the Joads family. Her position as one of the key
protagonists of the novel further solidifies the argument that no one is exempt
from the lure of class status and wealth. Unlike Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, is the
importance placed upon the physical items themselves. While Gatsby does not
value each item individually due to his ulterior motives, Rose of Sharon
desires the items for their use not just their image. In this regard, it could
also be interpreted that that while she desires materialistic wealth, it is not
for the purpose of flaunting but instead the benefits of each item.
Nonetheless, the wider social message depicted in The Grapes of Wrath, is predicated on the oppression of the
proletariat by the bourgeoisies. Also further industrialisation of the
agricultural industry as it became cheaper and more efficient for the upper
classes and land owners undermined the plight of families like the Joads. This
struggle is narrated clearly as ‘One man on a tractor can take the place of
twelve or fourteen families.’ The importance of this comes as these families
are being replaced by a ‘tractor’, a materialistic object that can be bought
and sold unlike a family of migrant workers. Their identity as ‘Okies’, at term
first coined by Ben Reddick, has been stripped by a possession of higher value
to the wealthy. Steinbeck is highlighting the lack of humanity in which is used
to treat these workers.

 

 

Para 5: TGG

TS: Gatsby eventually meets his demise because the
themes of wealth and class were idealised to such an extent that he allowed the
truth of his identity to fall away. The protagonist of Gatsby is a mirror of
Fitzgerald’s own personal life. Fitzgerald was born to an unsuccessful
furniture manufacturer and experienced continual conflict throughout his
childhood.  This notion extended to
Fitzgerald’s main protagonist – Gatsby – as he was born to ‘shiftless and
unsuccessful’ proletariat although he ‘never truly accepted them as his
parents’. Gatsby’s dismissal of his own family and by extension his true
identity in favour of pursuing a consumerist lifestyle demonstrates the manner
in which people chose wealth and class status over their origins. The character
of Gatsby presents the conflict that occurred between the themes of wealth,
class and identity, as it is apparent that the three cannot coincide in equal
amounts. In Gatsby’s case he ‘invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby’ he wanted
to become and in turn left his initial identity of ‘James Gatz’ behind. As
Lawrence R. Samuel (2012, p.13) stated, ‘[America] struggled to retain a sense
of identity amid economic, social and political turmoil’ that followed in
Post-war society. This leads to the idea that the desperateness to exist within
the high class communities drove both author and character alike to their
demise as they struggled for stability in such a deteriorating climate. It is
considered that Gatsby’s death in the novel The
Great Gatsby presented an overarching metaphor for the failure and finality
of Fitzgerald’s belief in social mobility through the use of wealth and class. The
reflection provided by Gatsby as the novel’s main protagonist highlighted the
importance of Fitzgerald’s belief within its context in The Great Gatsby.  

 

Para 6: TGOW

Dissimilar to Gatsby, the Joads embrace their identity
as a family and face their hardships without the support of wealth and class.
So while Fitzgerald illustrates the dangers of the lure wealth and the class
system, Steinbeck instead champions the vital importance of the identity of the
familial unit. This is crucial to his novel as the temporal and spatial setting
revolves around the Dust Bowl Era in Oklahoma. Many migrant were forced to
leave the land they worked, leaving them with little other than their family.
Ma Joad presents the embodiment of this theme of identity in The Grapes of Wrath as she argues that
‘The money we’d make wouldn’t do no good… All we got is the family unbroken’.
As a main protagonist of Steinbeck’s social realist novel, Ma Joad directly
dismisses the value of money, as she upholds the idea of an ‘unbroken’ family
unit in higher value. In addition, the use of the pronoun ‘we’ when she speaks
further exemplifies that she is addressing the family as a singular unit rather
than as individuals. Therefore, through Ma Joad as a mouth piece, Steinbeck is
voicing his concerns about the loss of familial identity due to political and
social upheaval. However in a more subtle manner than Fitzgerald, Steinbeck
associates their identity with one particular materialistic possession – the
land. During the late 1930s, America was in the midst of The Great Depression.
This impacted migrant workers particularly as the banks reclaimed their land
and forced them to move on. Therefore Steinbeck’s ultimate dismissal of the
importance of wealth and class in society would’ve identified with and
intrigued some readers in the late 1930s and early 40s as the idea of social
realism would’ve presented an almost revolutionary manner of thought. So while
Gatsby obscures his true identity in favour of a rich lifestyle in The Great Gatsby, The Joads chose to
embrace it in their daily lives. It could be suggested that the use of the
protagonists within each novel is a direct reflection of the authors
themselves. As while Fitzgerald is expressing the challenges of hedonism, he
himself was embroiled in it. In contrast Steinbeck advocated for the rights of
the working-class and truly believed in heredity identity. It is believed that
as Louis Kronenberger (1939, p.441) stated is was this ‘sentimentalism [that
was good at] bringing him close to the lives of his people’, noting this critic’s
argument, it could undoubtedly be suggested that this ‘closeness’ is what truly
allowed Steinbeck to engage with the identities of such migrant families. This
is perhaps the largest contrast between the protagonists of the novels. Gatsby
remains caught in an illusion while the Joads adopt a realistic portrayal of the
life of an American.

Para 7: Both

Ultimately, both Steinbeck and Fitzgerald prove that
one’s individual identity is more significant than one constructed by materials
and physical wealth. Despite upholding differing personal philosophies, both
authors highlight the significance of an individual’s identity within a society
where the temptation of wealth and class status runs rampant. Fitzgerald’s Gatsby adamantly refuses to return to
leave his illusion and reconnect with his true identity. This is alluded to
following Gatsby’s death when the narrator depicts the ‘laden mattress’ on its
‘accidental course with its accidental burden’. The repetition of the adjective
‘accidental’ indeed suggests that Fitzgerald believed that Gatsby wouldn’t have
been in this situation had he maintained his identity of James Gatz. This could
be interpreted as Fitzgerald’s word of warning as he had first-hand experience
of giving up his true identity in order to attract the attention of Zelda – his
wife. The same can’t be said for the Joad family. Throughout the novel, the
hardships they face only drive them closer together. They refer to themselves
as ‘fambly – kinda whole and clear’, unlike Gatsby they understand the true
fundamental importance of their identity as a family and do not attempt to
conceal it like he does in The Great
Gatsby in order to associate with the higher social classes. In contrast to
the main protagonists of Fitzgerald’s novel, the Joads’ are content with their
life as part of the agricultural proletariat. Even Rose of Sharon that
considered abandoning her family returns and is depicted as smiling
‘mysteriously’, despite having lost her child. Her selfless act for an unknown
man suggests that she has accepted her identity and is satisfied filing a
mothering role. It would be agreeable to suggest that her ability to smile
stems from her redemption of her earlier digression from the family and her new
found understanding of how important her identity as the Joads’ eldest daughter
is. In this respect Steinbeck’s message differs from that of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as the Joads – in
particular Rose of Sharon – was capable of letting go of her illusion of wealth
and class in a manner that Gatsby was not capable of.

 

Conclusion:

 

In
conclusion, it is possible that Fitzgerald’s and Steinbeck’s criticism of
monetary wealth and class hierarchy developed as a result of their own lifestyle
experiences and perspectives. Indeed the authors’ own experiences influenced
their writings at the time. However the differing temporal and spatial settings
under which The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath were crafted must
also be taken into account. The novels set within their own contexts both
provide an equally stark warning of the surface attraction of materialistic
wealth and class status. Following from this, the protagonists of each novel
can be viewed as victims of the illusion of wealth and class in order to be
successful. Eventually the argument focuses on an individual’s requirements for
success and happiness. So while both Fitzgerald – and of course his reflection
in Gatsby – believed that in order to achieve their goal they had to build a façade
of the person they wished to be in order to attract the attention of Zelda and
Daisy respectively. When interpreted like this, The Great Gatsby can be viewed as Fitzgerald’s loose
autobiographical novel. His presentation of wealth, class and identity is
therefore similar to his own lived experience. Similarly, Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, was also influenced
his own experiences – but perhaps more so the experiences of the Working-class
which he perceived as an almost revolutionary struggle. This struggle against
wealth and bourgeoisie, as well as the struggle to maintain their identity is
captured indefinitely in his novel and presented clearly through his
protagonists.

 

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