Old and New Money

John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in history said “If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success”.  In the Jazz age when The Great Gatsby takes place the social structure of the upper class was beginning split in two due the concept of old money and new money.  The Great Gatsby portrays this economic separation through geographic separation.  The old money lives in the patrician villas of the fashionable East Egg District of Long Island while the new money lives across from the old money in West Egg.  In comparing the lifestyles of those who live in East Egg and West Egg, F. Scott Fitzgerald makes it clear that there are two types of wealthy men and women, aristocrats and entrepreneurs.  The aristocrats and entrepreneurs have different morals, parties, and personalities.

The contrast between the morals of the entrepreneurs and aristocrats is analogous to the contrast between patricians and plebs.  F. Scott Fitzgerald writes the aristocrats as self centered, arrogant, pompous people who care more about social custom than about morals. Both Tom and Daisy Buchanan the prominent aristocrats in the story show their lack of morals by actively having affairs outside the bonds of their holy matrimony.  Tom also shows his indecent sense of morals by actively advertising his racism, showing his guests books such as “The Rise of Coloured Empires,” remarking that “The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.” (Fitzgerald 17).  In stark contrast is Nick Carroway, the narrator of the story, an honest business man who remarks that “I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me” and “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” (Fitzgerald 1) (Fitzgerald 64). No matter how conceited his narration, Nick lives up to his claims.  He, and other men in the entrepreneurial class such as Gatsby have a new world sense of morals. They do not have the aristocratic moral tarnish of Tom and Daisy, they seek companionship for love and comfort, and their pursuit of money is driven by motivation, a drive to make something of oneself. The old money are content to sit and let their money grow, to keep things with the status quo, and remain in their socialite societies.  The old money have old morals, reminiscent of the slow-to-change thinking of plantation owners. The new money have a revolutionary form of morals, that all are equal if they work hard and that every man if measured by the sweat on his brow and the drive in his heart.

Parties were an essential facet of the Jazz Age. Prohibition made alcohol a luxury that only the wealthy could afford in large quantities.  Alcohol was the driving force of all parties during the Jazz Age but how those parties functioned were very different for the old and new money.  Our Narrator, Nick is privy to both types of parties, the martini cocktail socialite gossiping parties thrown by Tom Buchanan in the apartment of his Mistress Myrtle are summed up in Tom’s observation “ She turned to Mr. McKee and the room rang full of artificial laughter.” (40).  He is also personally invited to the elaborate parties of Gatsby. People from all over, whether or not they are invited come, to Gatsby’s parties to eat, drink, smoke, and dance to their hearts content. Nick remarks “People were not invited – they were there.” and “ There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden, old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably and keeping in corners-and a great number or single girls dancing individualistically or relieving the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or the traps.” (51). Nick paints the picture of a wild, rambunctious, crazed party.  These two parties that Nick attends show the difference between the parties of the old and new money. The aristocrats invite people to their parties where they can gossip and carry out conversation while the entrepreneur Gatsby throws his money away, sparing no expense to make sure that everyone is up, active, well fed, well boozed, and well to do. The parties show the attitudes of the demographics, the aristocrats in their high society cocktail gatherings acting pretentious and pompous, while the entrepreneurs live life to the max making their lives fun and worthwhile. Spending their money on themselves, and living a good life after their hard work.

Personalities play an active role in the contrast between old and new money.  Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan, and Jordan Baker, all old money, have dishonest, deceitful, arrogant, personalities about them.  Daisy Buchanan deceives Gatsby and leads him to think that they can be together when in the end she would never leave her old money life for new money.  She even keeps her daughter, from Gatsby until the daughter is a symbol of just another things that she has. She views her child as a possession to be held over those who do not have it cooing over it saying things such as “Bles-sed pre-cious,” “Come to your own mother that loves you.” (123). This deceitful, shallow side of Daisy is hidden under the make up and bobbed hair, and comes out in her less elegant moments.  Tom Buchanan is an unrefined boar of a man, abusing his mistress in front of guests when his rage is triggered. During the party in Myrtle’s Apartment “making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.” and still expects that she will be his dutiful mistress, his other woman, his side piece. Even Jordan Baker, professional golfer, is not free from the old money sins. She is a gossip and a cheat.  She moved her ball out of a sand pit on the second to last hole in order to win her first tournament.. “The thing approached the proportions of a scandal – then died away.” (62). All three of the aristocrats that are introduced in the story are all less than savory people. The new money on the other hand, Gatsby and Nick, are clean cut men who try to work their way through the world. Nick regularly describes himself as morally above the old money and exempts Gatsby from the crimes of the rich whether old or new saying “Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction.” his reaction being his disdain from the low morals of the rich.  Nick ends his tale by saying that the aristocrats Daisy and Tom are just westerners trying to make it in the Big City. They are out of their league. The world was running out of places for old money. New entrepreneurs would replace Gatsby ten fold and squash the decrepit ways of the old money ushering in a new age.

The Great Gatsby exemplifies the moral ways, the partying days, and the personal displays of the old money of the earlier twentieth century in comparison with new money of that age.  A vessel for the time, the story portrays the demographic change of the social classes. It shows the lessening influence of the aristocratic way of life and how the new capitalistic way of the socioeconomic restructuring of power is redistributed among those who have the drive to take it.  The Great Gatsby is the story of a man who tries to fit in to the aristocratic world only to be destroyed by it.  But his ashes rise like the phoenix to create a great capitalistic nation of entrepreneurs and driven working men.