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Materialism in The Great Gatsby Essay

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Materialism may be defined as attention to or emphasis on material objects, needs or considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual values.

The acquisition of material wealth is often equated with happiness in this country. This is true today, and it was true during the 1920's, the setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. That the majority of Americans believe that wealth and happiness are the same is a result of our market economy that encourages consumption and conditions us to think that we need material possessions to be happy. According to Andrew Bard Schmookler, "Wealth and human fulfillment have become equated in the predominant ideology of liberal society, even though the great spiritual teachers of
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. . Their need for meaning is just as intense

as their need for economic security."

Jay Gatsby had all the trappings of wealth: a huge mansion, fancy clothes, and expensive cars. His lavish, decadent parties were designed to impress Daisy. But why did Gatsby feel he needed to flaunt his material wealth to win Daisy's love? Why was he so materialistic, and why are we? Are material possessions what we need to be happy? Part of the answer is that people "seek in material possessions fulfillment that is lacking in other areas, especially human relationships" (Schmookler, 18). The very fact that our market society feeds on economic growth like a fetish is a clue that excess consumption does not really satisfy. It is like an addiction. We can never have enough. A famous study done in the early 1970's by Richard Easterlin, entitled "Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot?" found that "members of wealthy societies do not seem happier than members of poor societies (119)." Perhaps they are more connected in their interpersonal relationships.

Our material yearnings are an attempt to satisfy the need for human relationships. Anthropologist Ashley Montagu had an important observation about childrearing in capitalistic cultures: that "few peoples give their babies as little tactile contact as do Americans, especially as compared with "poorer" societies (p )." The characters of The Great Gatsby
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