Compare society which influences their selfish behaviour. The

Compare the way society is presented in The Great Gatsby
and A Handful of Dust, in the light of your wider reading and considering the
context of the modernist period.

The worlds in which The Great Gatsby (GG) by F. Scott
Fitzgerald and A Handful of Dust (HOD) by E. Waugh are set present one of
skewed views where survival lies in stratification and reinforcing social
boundaries, putting faith into superficial and materialist means whilst
neglecting to cultivate the compassion and sensitivity of the people around
them. Both being set within the period of 1920-1930, the worlds are immersed in
the post-war economic boom that put the ‘Roaring Twenties’ into motion.
However, both authors reveal a harsh image of the new modern world, showing the
characters are so busy living in the moment they have lost touch with any sort
of morality and realism and despite being unaware of the upcoming stock market
crash of 1929, they both present a world heading for disaster. The infidelity
of both Tom with Myrtle from the GG and Brenda with Mr. Beaver from HOD
reflects this moral corruption and class segregation within the society which influences
their selfish behaviour.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

The fragmented social order in the GG has been split into
old money, new money and no money. The social elitists of the society, such as
the Buchannan’s and Jordan Baker portray a unified and perfect front, attending
glamorous parties whilst living in the lap of luxury inside vast mansions.
However, their superficiality blinds them from the true essence of themselves
and the people around them; rather, they live their lives with a sense of
superiority and naiveties above the rest of society, disguising how truly
unfulfilling their lives are. This shallowness is reflected in the guests of Gatsby’s
grand parties, they come and go without invitation, using Gatsby as a form of
escapism- drinking his alcohol, eating his food, dancing to his music without
even meeting or knowing the host himself. The socialites in HOD also display
the same lack of depth; “It was, transparently, a made-up party, the
guests being chosen for no mutual bond—least of all affection for Mrs. Beaver
or for each other—except that their names were in current use . . .”(51),
Waugh uses the word ‘made-up’ as it has childish connotations (such as that of
a ‘tea party’ or playing ‘dress up’, this humorously shows the level of
realism, how there are no true relationships between the guests and how they
are all using one another to climb higher on the social ladder.

Fitzgerald also uses the character Myrtle, from ‘The
Valley of Ashes’ to show someone desperate move up the social order and will do
anything to get there. By distancing herself from moral obligations she gets to
lead the life she lusts right under her husband’s nose, “She smiled slowly and,
walking through her husband as if he were a ghost, shook hands with Tom,
looking him flush in the eye” which shows the true audacity of her character.
Despite this showing her negatively,  it
makes the reader feel a degree of sadness towards her  as she feels she is not able to get the life
she desires despite working for it, but lack of 
hope and faith in herself resorts her to use people above her as a way
in. The Valley of Ashes shows the gap between the rich and poor, in Chapter Two
when Tom takes Nick to New York when passing through it  is described as ‘where ashes take the forms of
houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with transcendent effort, of
ash-grey men, who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air’


The words ‘ash-grey men’ ‘dimly’ ‘crumbling’ ‘powdery’ work
in conjunction portray a dark, industrial world deprived of light and hope, the
decaying souls are a world away from the aristocrats of East and West Egg. Previously
Myrtle’s husband was described as if he were a ‘ghost’ which also reinforces
that this is a land of lost dreams .Moreover, ashes have connotations of death
and debris; showing a world that was once booming through the industrial
revolution has now burnt out and left nothing but smouldering ashes and lost
souls, in comparison to West and East egg, which appear to be a form of
‘heaven’, it appears hellish and unescapable.

The lack of religion is significant in both novels. Waugh
purposely does not explicitly express his religious views, despite recently
converting to Roman Catholicism, whilst not alienating any readers allows him
to portray the message that a world without religion is condemned and corrupted
and without the guidance of God, is heading for demise. However, in HOD Tony is
shown to go to church every Sunday, ‘That was the simple, mildly ceremonious
order of his Sunday morning, which had evolved more or less spontaneously, from
the more severe practices of his parents; he adhered to it with great
satisfaction.’ (32) This reflects Tony’s traditional routine and sentimental
nature, holding onto the past and creating a basis of his own life off the idea
of his parents, not his own. Despite attending church being habitual and not
due to his beliefs, Tony is still shown as one of the morally adhering
characters throughout the novel, unlike the London socialites. Several times
his wife and her peers attempt to set him up in an adulterous affair, yet
Tony’s morals remain in line and he stays faithful to his wife of 7 years,
Brenda. In GG, Fitzgerald does not explicitly reference religion either,
however ‘the eyes of doctor T . J . Eckleberg’ in the Valley of Ashes symbolise
the eyes of God watching over. This symbolism shows God is always watching over
these people who have lost all sight of faith and strayed so far away from
standard religion that they will always hold accountable for their actions.
Following WW1, due to advancements in science (predominantly Darwin and
evolution), the once comforting traditional religious ideals of the past was
clashing with the exciting and modern ideas that were being born in the big
cities. Meaning ‘the modern faith’ emerged with its sole purpose being to
affirm human goodness and offer salvation after the apocalyptic war and the
struggle to accommodate modernity with traditional and reserved belief styles. The
younger generation left behind what was morally ‘correct’ and started to go to Speakeasies
to drink illegal alcohol, girls bobbed their hair and wore short dresses and
went on dates without chaperones. This rebellion following the war was a way of
forgetting and escaping their troubled pasts, lavishing in their new found
luxuries and leisure’s that were now accessible thanks to the invention of
‘credit’ which allowed them to buy new innovative technology. 

Waugh’s conscious decision to use 3rd person narrative
creates a detached point of view that entirely shifts the way that the reader
interprets and feel towards Brenda’s affair. As the relationship develops, the
reader’s sympathies are divided one of two ways. A straightforward reading of
the novel portrays Brenda in a negatively, highlighted by the death of John
Andrew, their son, where upon being told of John’s death, Brenda at first
thinks her lover has been killed and appears relieved that her son was the
victim. This reflects her moral corruption instilled in her and how she values
the superficial love of Mr. Beaver above her true love from both Tony and John.
This may correspond to Waugh’s own view of adulterous affairs; his recent
conversion to Roman Catholicism led to his novels carrying Christian and moral
messages, by disguising his strong oppositions to adultery in irony and humour
he was able to portray messages to his audience without alienating secular
readers. His bitterness towards infidelity was arguably provoked by his
short-lived marriage to Evelyn Gardener in 1929; she left him following
confessing to an affair earlier on in their marriage. This justified Waugh’s
approach to shaming Brenda, his own negative experiences with corruption of
morals within the modern world had skewed his views and the way he wished to
portray them.

On the other hand, Fitzgerald uses Nick Carraway as his
first person narrator, however he is not the main focus of the story making him
a ‘peripheral narrator’, meaning he is forever on the outside looking in,
mirroring him being an outsider amongst the aristocracy, he may attend parties
and dine alongside them, however is small house and lack of money means he will
never fit in with that rank of society. Fitzgerald uses him as he has access to
this society from an isolated and individual point of view without getting lost
in their world. As it is coming from a personal account, it makes the narration
unreliable, the reader therefore has to decipher for themselves what they feel
is true and what is not this mirrors the world in which the GG is set and the
need to draw the line between reality and illusion. At the beginning of the
novel Nick claims that “I’m inclined to reserve all judgements, a habit
that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of
not a few veteran bores” (3), this statement is his attempt to portray
himself as an honourable and honest man, setting his apart from his peers. This
character trait allows him to almost be an ‘invisible’ narrator, alike a third-person
omniscient point of view, despite this Fitzgerald still manages to adopt an
implicit criticism through his narrator’s tone.

In Chapter 1, whist Nick is visiting the Buchannans and
Jordan Baker, “I love to see you at my table, Nick. You remind me of a –of a
rose. Doesn’t he?” She turned to Miss Baker for confirmation: “An absolute
rose?” This was untrue. I am not even faintly like a rose. She was only
extemporizing, but a stirring of warmth flowed from her, as if her heart was
trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling
words. Then suddenly she threw her napkin on the table and excused herself and
went into the house. “Nick may be aware of the absurdity of certain social
circumstances, yet he’s also aware of the seductive quality of the upper class.
The tension between the two characters results in a cynical undertone, “Untrue,”
he says: “I am not even faintly like a rose.” Yet, he is making a mockery of
himself by being taken in by it; he is absorbing and responding to Daisy’s
words, marvelling in the attention and her mysterious allure, seeing it as


Nick and his narration

-half way through chapter 1,
shows Tom having an affair yet is shamelessly bold in his refusal to cover it

No American dream- power,
justice, greed, betrayal

Assured and skewed views,
survival lies in stratification and reinforcing social boundaries, mistakenly
putting faith into superficial and external means (money, materialism) whilst
neglecting to cultivate the compassion and sensitivity of people.

Jay Gatsby is the embodiment of
illusion within the novel; he isn’t even a real person, it is revealed his true
identity as ‘James Gatz’. ‘Gatz’ invented Jay Gatsby as he wanted a new
identity to reflect his new life style. ‘Gatz’, his hidden identity was brought
up in an impoverished family, however achieved his level of wealth by participating
in organized crime such as distributing illegal alcohol and trading in stolen
securities. However this name and ‘identity’ no longer fitted in with his new
found lifestyle and therefore he completely re-invented himself. Furthermore,
Fitzgerald delays the introduction to Gatsby till chapter 3. This technique of
delaying the character revelation emphasises the theatrical quality to Gatsby’s
life.  It shows that despite being
surrounded by spectacular interiors, roaring parties and beautiful women
however he appears aloof and enigmatic, 
highlighting how surrounding himself in wealth and power is not enough
to fulfil him.

Brenda, despite choosing Mr.
Beaver over her own husband, is never fully accepted into the circle- shown at
end of novel when she is out casted from society

-Beaver’s superficial and social

Love and affairs

Nick and Jordan Baker – Nick
began to realise how the fast and extravagant lifestyle of the rich was only to
cover up the disturbing moral emptiness among them.

-he learnt Jordan, who he had
feelings for, was dishonest and would do anything to ensure her success

‘Jordan Baker instinctively
avoided clever, shrewd men, and now I saw that this was because she felt safer
on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought to be impossible.
She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage’

Upon first glance Tom and
Daisy’s house looks perfect, Tom’s affair.

‘Is something happening?’ I
inquired innocently. ‘You mean to say you don’t know?’ said Miss Baker,
honestly surprised. ‘I thought everybody knew.’ (20)

Brenda, despite being married 7
years is bored by Tony’s pomposity and belief is tradition social order.

-The failure of Waugh’s marriage
and his newly found conversion to Roman Catholicism could have been a driving
point for the novel.

Immoral values

Tom choses to sleep with lower
class as their powerlessness makes him feel powerful- uses them as toys

Lost touch w/ morality- breaking
laws, cheating, killing

@end blatant immorality-

Daisy running down Myrtle

After hitting Myrtle with Jay’s
car, Daisy and Tom conspired a plan in order to avoid the responsibility and
backlash from their actions

‘Daisy and Tom were sitting
opposite each other at the kitchen table…There was an unmistakable air of
natural intimacy  about the picture and
anybody would have said they were conspiring together’ (138)

Despite Daisy’s ‘love’ for
Gatsby she allowed him to take the blame- Daisy chose the American Dream over
her moral conscience

Gatsby is killed and lack of
mourners @ his funeral.

Mrs. Beaver

house fire- she only cares for her own class and business

+Husbands heartbreak

-the selfishness of


‘They’re a rotten crowd,’ I
shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together’ (146)

-Jay Gatsby’s hunger for the
American dream proves even the good-natured become corrupted by their desire
for money and power.

‘You will not
certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat
from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and
evil’ (New International Bible, Genesis 3:4-5)

Shows that
temptation and immorality has been around since the beginning of time presently
the lust for power and authority is exceedingly evident. In both the Great
Gatsby buy F. Scott Fitzgerald and A Handful of Dust by E. Waugh, natural human
temptation and green is the foundation for moral decline in society alongside
wealth and supremacy.