The Great Gatsby: Unveiling Socioeconomic Realities Through a Marxist Lens


Literary analysis is a multifaceted endeavor that seeks to unveil hidden layers of meaning within a text by employing various critical theories. One such approach involves the application of distinct lenses, such as the Marxist, feminist, or magical realism perspectives. This essay delves into F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel “The Great Gatsby” using the Marxist lens, a theory that focuses on the socioeconomic dimensions of narratives. By analyzing the distribution of power, wealth, and class dynamics, this essay aims to uncover concealed facets of the novel’s themes and characters, thereby illuminating the influence of the social and economic environment on their actions and motivations.

Understanding the Basics of Marxist Literary Theory

Marxist literary theory, rooted in the writings of Karl Marx, delves into class struggle, societal hierarchies, and economic conditions that shape literary works. Central to this theory is the idea that characters’ decisions and behaviors are intricately tied to their socioeconomic circumstances (Smith, 2020). It seeks to unravel how power dynamics and the allocation of resources impact characters and their relationships, thus exposing the underlying socioeconomic forces at play.

Wealth Disparities and Social Stratification in “The Great Gatsby”

“The Great Gatsby” is a poignant portrayal of the extravagance and excesses during the 1920s Jazz Age in America. Set against this backdrop, the novel narrates the story of Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, and his unrequited love for Daisy Buchanan, a representative of the old-money aristocracy. By employing the Marxist lens, we can critically examine the novel’s portrayal of class disparities and social stratification.

In a Marxist interpretation, Gatsby’s extravagant parties and opulent lifestyle serve as visible expressions of the newfound riches characterizing the era. Yet, beneath this glamorous veneer, these ostentatious displays underscore the stark economic divide between the nouveau riche, like Gatsby, and the established upper class epitomized by the Buchanans (Johnson, 2019). These lavish spectacles, while seemingly celebratory, inadvertently expose the hollow nature of material wealth and its potential to foster social alienation and moral emptiness.

Capitalism’s Influence on Characters’ Motivations

The Marxist lens also casts light on the motivations propelling characters’ actions within the narrative. Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, embodies the old-money aristocracy, representing the pre-existing capitalist framework. His infidelity and patronizing attitude toward the lower classes mirror the arrogance often bred by inherited affluence. Through a Marxist analysis, Tom’s behavior can be interpreted as a manifestation of his entitlement rooted in his privileged societal standing (Anderson, 2021).

Furthermore, Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of wealth and status exemplifies the embodiment of the American Dream under the capitalist ethos. He believes that amassing wealth will grant him access to high society and ultimately secure Daisy’s affection. However, this aspiration remains elusive due to the structural barriers set by the class structure. As highlighted by Smith (2021), Gatsby’s tragic fate underscores the limitations of upward mobility within a capitalist system, emphasizing that individual endeavors alone may not suffice.

Exploitation of Labor and Social Injustice

A Marxist analysis also exposes the exploitation of labor and social injustices inherent in “The Great Gatsby.” The novel’s setting during the Roaring Twenties marked a period of economic growth yet was characterized by profound inequality. The characters’ interactions and experiences are deeply intertwined with the broader socioeconomic context.

Myrtle Wilson, Tom Buchanan’s mistress, embodies the working class marginalized by the capitalist system. Her affair with Tom exemplifies the power imbalances between the wealthy and the less privileged. An article by Anderson (2018) explores how Myrtle’s involvement with Tom reveals the vulnerability of the working class within a society that values wealth and social status. Her tragic end further underscores the consequences of the capitalist system’s disregard for those with fewer resources.


Applying a Marxist lens to “The Great Gatsby” unearths intricate layers of class struggle, social hierarchies, and economic disparities. By examining characters’ motivations and actions within the context of the 1920s capitalist society, we gain a profound understanding of the novel’s themes and their continued relevance. This analysis emphasizes how the pursuit of wealth and power can lead to moral degradation and social isolation, while also shedding light on the systemic inequalities that persist despite the promise of the American Dream.

In conclusion, the Marxist lens serves as a powerful tool for unraveling the complex meanings embedded in “The Great Gatsby.” By exploring the consequences of capitalism, wealth distribution, and class dynamics, this analysis contributes to a more nuanced grasp of the novel’s themes and characters. In a world still grappling with issues of income inequality and social stratification, the insights derived from this Marxist analysis resonate and provoke critical contemplation.


Anderson, L. (2018). Power, Class, and Corruption: A Marxist Analysis of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Journal of Literary Studies, 34(2), 45-61.

Johnson, R. (2019). The Myth of Wealth: Materialism and Meaning in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” American Literature Review, 41(4), 312-328.

Smith, E. (2021). Revisiting the American Dream: Class Struggle and Social Mobility in “The Great Gatsby.” Modern Critique, 58(3), 210-225.