Social Class in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:03 The Popular Crowd
  • 1:28 All in the Family
  • 2:33 Lifestyles of the Rich…
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Beaty

Kelly has taught fifth grade language arts and adult ESL. She has a master's degree in education and a graduate certificate in TESOL.

''The Great Gatsby,'' by F. Scott Fitzgerald, highlights the dramatic differences between social classes during the 1920s. In this lesson, you will discover the role of social status as it pertains to the lives of the characters in this story.

The Popular Crowd

It starts in elementary school. Some kids have the right social capital: athletic ability, good looks, stylish clothing, current games, and electronics. These kids are part of the in-group, the popular crowd. Those lacking these rather superficial traits tend to have a more difficult time gaining popularity.

Social divisions don't go away as children age. In fact, social status often becomes solidified in the adult world, where material possessions play a greater role. Adults even become physically segregated as a result of social class. Those with abundant resources often live a different lifestyle than those without, because they're able to experience the comforts of country clubs instead of public parks, Saks Fifth Avenue instead of Wal-Mart, and gated communities instead of apartment buildings. The list goes on and on.

Sadly, many people equate their social status with their value as humans, as if money holds a greater value than integrity, intelligence, or kindness. F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby provides a clear illustration of this tendency among people.

Social class is a division of society based on social and economic status. The Great Gatsby's main characters are clearly divided among three social classes: the wealthy elite social class; the nouveau riche, or newly-rich social class; and the working class.

All in the Family

As far as money is concerned, those who are born into wealthy families definitely get a jump-start in life. Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, and Jordan Baker fall into the highest social class, enjoying the benefits of affluence, opportunities, and social respect. With family money to support them, they get to live their dreams without the burden of a mundane job.

Nick Carraway, who narrates the story, also comes from a privileged background. This affords him the opportunity to begin a new career in finance. He does not, however, live a life of luxury. His family's help is only used to launch his career.

Jay Gatsby's financial success is the result of his own hard work, work that is questionable from a legal standpoint. This earns him the designation of nouveau riche, and there is no amount of wealth that can buy his entry into the highest social class.

George and Myrtle Wilson clearly have no inheritance to fall back on. George works hard as an auto mechanic and garage owner, but his earnings are never enough to launch the family into a higher standard of living.

Lifestyles of the Rich & Otherwise

Jay Gatsby doesn't get the respect of the social elites. However, he still lives an extravagant lifestyle. Money is money, after all, and it buys luxury cars, mansions, and recreational equipment no matter the source. There is no shortage of these items in Gatsby's life, and he even has servants to help him take care of it all. Additionally, his weekly over-the-top parties include live music, an open bar, and plenty of fine food for everyone.

Gatsby lives in West Egg, on Long Island. This is an area that the wealthy elite tend to avoid. They congregate, instead, in East Egg, which is known for housing those with old money, or family wealth that's handed down.

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