Friday, 28 February 2014

A Reading on Capitalism in The Great Gatsby and The Picture of Dorian Gray

When examined in a Marxist light both of these novels highlight the negative aspects of living a luxurious capitalist lifestyle which is inevitably consumed by waste and corruption. Written a mere forty years apart each novel provides an image of the destruction which is to come for those living in late nineteenth-century England and 1920s America.
            Firstly, The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1890, examines the lives of dandies who lives frivolous lives and wore outlandish clothing in order to express themselves. The key character that represents this mode of life is Dorian himself. His character development throughout the novel reflects the superficiality of those engaged in capitalist activities. Indeed, his whole character is utterly altered by a relatively simple speech by Lord Henry in which he reveals to Dorian the fragility of youth. Dorian then embarks on a path of destruction, much as leaders of capitalist corporations do. Capitalist businesses exploit human labour, animals and the environment for their personal gain of wealth and fame whilst ignoring the negative impact they are having on the earth. In a similar way, Dorian ruins everything he touches: Basil and Sybil Vane are killed as a result of his direct or indirect actions; he destroys the reputation and therefore the social lives of anyone associated with him; and he lays waste to a vast number of material goods through his hedonistic pursuits. Lord Henry could be seen as a symbol for advertising as he instigates young men to take up a capitalist ideal in their lives and pursue this reckless, wasteful way of life. Lord Henry has no job, but merely lives an idle life of aristocracy; it is in his interest to persuade the younger generation to pursue this mode of life as it ensures that he gets invited to events and can host events which are well attended and make him feel as though he is doing something productive in his life. In this way he can be likened to a capitalist business as he is ensuring that his product will continue to be used in the future and thus ensures a continuation of the profit he receives from his wasteful lifestyle.
            Moreover, the key protagonist of The Great Gatsby has a life which is centred around hedonistic activities. His dream of achieving the love of Daisy, who represents “old money” in 1920s America corrupts him into creating a lifestyle which is utterly wasteful. He throws extravagant parties every weekend to entice her into his home: the superficiality of these parties is stressed repeatedly by Fitzgerald when he mentions that, not only does the house need to be restored to its normal state on the Monday by a whole team of labourers, but the people who attend the parties do not care about this, nor do they care that they have not been invited to the party but merely turn up because it is a glamorous party. As well as living an extravagant, wasteful capitalist lifestyle in this way, Gatsby is also a product of capitalism. He is a prime example of the “new money” in America at this time which was attempting to achieve the prosperity and reputation which the old money were able to inherit. He changes his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby to do this as well as insisting that his family is dead in an attempt to rid himself of his past. This is a key example of the destruction that capitalism creates; James Gatz is killed because he is of the working class. This is not the only point at which the working class and death are connected in the novel. The Valley of Ashes is a symbol for the waste produced by a capitalist society. It is an eyesore which reveals the fact that capitalism both destroys the land of the earth and the people as Myrtle, also a member of the working class, is killed there. Thus the novel highlights the way in which capitalism destroys everything it touches in an attempt to profit from it as the Valley of Ashes exists between two places which have prospered from capitalism which have profited by destroying it. 

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