A Discussion on Racism in The Great Gatsby

In the novel The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, there are many social problems, and one of the most prominent of them is racism. The story occurs during the Roaring Twenties, when it is common to use offensive and degrading language to describe African American people that are no longer acceptable today. It is a period of great economic growth, during which many American people become wealthy and prosperous.

However, it is also that time when corruption, confusion, and moral decadence are excessively developing due to this rampant greed. Americans in the twenties have adopted a new life and a new culture, but there are still “old rich” families, like Tom’s family, who are still really powerful. Wealth dazzled many Americans to the extent that they did not maintain their morality and old values; it drove them into dishonest affairs. Despite the fact that racism is not the main issue of the book, there are still some sentences that make people who are more accepting of racial diversity uncomfortable and frustrated. However, through research, I found out that racism is a really overlooked topic in “The Great Gatsby” and there are many interesting aspects of it. Wealthy white people of that time look down upon colored people and do not treat them as equals. Races also make up the social classes during that time period and dictate the overall social hierarchy.

One of the more obvious examples of racism from the book is Tom Buchanan. Tom actually has a similar view on race to Hitler’s. Throughout history, Hitler has believed that only Germany is a pure and superior race. In the novel, Nick describes Tom’s body “cruel body” with “enormous power,” which shows his power and implies white supremacy. Tom also reads a lot of racist books and articles and shares the ideas without actually thinking about them. Tom even goes so far as to say, “It’s up to us (white people), who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.” He continues, “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.” These are two quotes that Tom said when Nick first visits him and Daisy. First of all, it is unacceptable today to even write and publish books about racism, but during that time period white people can write and publish racist books and articles all the time regardless of the content within them. Secondly, it seems like a lot of members from old rich families would read these books and naturally think that these racism ideas are appropriate without questioning them at all.

They say that if one is not part of the solution, one is part of the problem, and this adage certainly applies to white people’s treatment of black people of the novel. In the novel, Nick also once says “As we crossed Blackwells Island a limousine passed us, in which sat three modish Negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry. “Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all….” When Nick describes the “two Bucks” and a Negro girl passing them in a horse-drawn carriage with a white chauffeur he thinks to himself “Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge anything at all” This shows how people in Fitzgerald’s time think of and react to free black families. Nick describes the black males as “Bucks,” because that’s the name people use when they auction them off as slaves. He can not just refer to them as “men” or “gentlemen” because it is inappropriate to give black people a high status. This also implies that races also make up social classes during that time period. During that time period, inherited racial difference makes a huge impact on the social classes. The rich become richer, and the poor become poorer. Almost all of the black population during that time period belong to the lower class and are not able to rise above the social hierarchy nor have a real chance to build wealth for themselves. The Buchanan family represents the old money, which are the members of the upper class who inherited their money through a long line of wealthy ancestors. And almost all of the old money families are white. People like Gatsby represent the new money and earn their fortune in their generation. This group of people usually consists of mixed races, but still more whites than blacks. The old money people often look down on the new money people, criticizing their controversial behaviors. Gatsby is born in North Dakota, his real name is James Gatz, the son of a poor farmer. He changes his name to “Jay Gatsby” and learns the manners of the rich on the yacht of Dan Cody, a wealthy man who he has saved from a destructive storm. Because of his past, Gatsby is not a “real” white person like Tom Buchanan in term of his family background not being as prestigious or well-respected. Then he got rich by illegal deals with Wolfshiem. Gatsby has made a lot of money throuhg bootlegging, but it was not enough to get Daisy Buchanan back. Even though he is rich, he’s still “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere.” It’s almost like racism too. No matter how rich one person gets, his other race will still not change. In the novel, race makes up classes, leading Gatsby to be viewed as lower class people by the “old money” people, despite his newly acquired abundance of wealth.

As I was doing my research, I found a really interesting perspective, which viewed Gatsby as a non-white person. Despite being the same race as Buchanan, Gatsby’s desire for a different future is the desire to belong to a different class of the same race, and his desire for a different past should be understood as being similar to the desire to belong to a different race. Gatsby starts out as just a poor farmer’s son; in fact, he can be any race because it does not matter for a farmer. However, he learns all the proper and expected speech, costume, and manners in order to fit in as a high-class white male. Gatsby tries really hard to change himself, but he ultimately fails. Fitzgerald almost treats Gatsby and Daisy as two people who belong to two different races due to their differences from other white people in the novel. And during that time period, no white supreme old money lady will marry a black male. Maybe a part of the reason why Tom dislikes Gatsby so much is that Gatsby represents racial admixture.

Racism does not have a big role in the novel “The Great Gatsby”, but it is really interesting when looked at and examined closely. Racism ultimately makes up and dictates people’s social status during that time period of the Roaring Twenties.

Characters such as Tom Buchanan and Nick Carraway show acts of racism throughout the novel. More interestingly, Gatsby can also be viewed as a non-white person to add meaning to the theme of racism in the book even with differences among similar races.