In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby has set his sights on winning back the only girl he ever felt he loved. Because Daisy is already married to Tom when Gatsby returns from the war and because she has always been a child of privilege, Gatsby reasons that the best way to win her back is to be rich and to have flashier things than those of her husband. Toward that end, Gatsby gets involved in the illegal bootlegging business during the 1920s prohibition period, he buys a huge mansion that affords him a view of Daisy’s house from the back and he throws lavish parties in an effort to try to lure Daisy across the water into his world. He shows off his many possessions including his fancy shirts and his specialized car. His plan seems to be succeeding as he visits with her several times and she seems to be returning some of his affections, but when she’s forced to make a choice between Tom and Gatsby, Daisy chooses Tom for his old money and connections, illustrating how she’s as shallow and hollow as his attempts to win her heart have suggested.
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It’s hard to blame Gatsby for attempting to win Daisy by impressing her with his material wealth, though. That is all anyone seems to do these days. Women get dressed in expensive clothes and do everything they can to make it look as if they came from the kind of family Daisy came from and guys spend every penny they have trying to look like they make more than they really do. Everything is about appearances and there’s almost no substance anymore. In order to impress people these days, you have to drive a high-dollar vehicle like a Mercedes or a Lexus or at least drive something brand new, you have to own a house with decent square footage or a really cool apartment with all the new gadgets and you have to have the latest in technology in all areas of your life, from your car stereo to your cell phone. You also have to know how to dress well in expensive clothes, use the right product in your hair and, whether you’re male or female, have your nails properly manicured.
The end result of all this focusing on exterior details and material wealth is that no one has time to develop deeper attributes. The soul is left to atrophy because it is given no real sustenance. For example, if a man drives up to a restaurant to meet a girl in a rusty old car, she instantly decides that she doesn’t like him and shuts him out for the rest of the evening. She doesn’t even hear his remark that he’s driving the ‘rust-bucket’ as a means of remembering his grandfather who recently died and is planning to get the car fixed up as a classic. People who don’t have a lot of money but have a lot of inner worth are passed over as insignificant in favor of the empty shell of a person who has all the cash and flash but none of the inner fire. Ironically, it’s often only the people who don’t have a lot of money who manage to find their way to a greater truth and a more fulfilling sense of value. They learn the intrinsic personal benefits of helping out another person, for example, and discover the greater value of self-knowledge and self-worth. While a great many people wander around America with all the necessary accomplishments of the ‘American dream’, they remain unhappy with their lives and feeling empty. They blame this on their jobs, on their spouse, on their children, and on their parents, but never take the time to look inside to find the value they’re missing.