The Dangerous Quality of Extreme Wealth By S.C.

A cynic may say that money makes the world go round. Whether or not one believes this to be true, it is undeniable that money plays a big part in one’s day to day lives as it influences decisions at almost every turn. What money says about its keeper is another fascinating quality of money– especially if said keeper has an excess of wealth. A good natured person may donate money to charities, an ego maniac may pay to have buildings named after him, a family-oriented person may make sure to see that all his family members are financially comfortable. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and The Great Gatsby are books that explore what a person with addictive tendencies does if they have a lot of money.

What makes The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a fascinating read is that although it is set in a time that has long since past, the problems in the book are eerily close to ones that people experience today. “Beauty is that quality, which next to money, is generally the most attractive to the worst kinds of men…” (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte.) This quote was said by an aunt to her beautiful niece Helen, just as she was about to enter society. Helen, although warned, married Arthur Huntingdon, who was exactly the type her aunt had warned her against. Beauty and wealth are the most desirable to the worst kinds of people– male or female, and this is something Helen learns firsthand in the book.

Arthur Huntingdon was a wealthy man, who came to his full inheritance upon marrying the beautiful Helen. He regularly threw lavish parties and hosted hunting weekends in his country home, which seemed innocent enough at first. After a month of marriage Helen became concerned with the amount of alcohol her husband and his friends consumed, and shocked at the ludicrous games they played while drunk. What started out as a bad habit spiraled into a debilitating addiction. Huntingdon’s vast wealth didn’t help his addiction, it enabled all the lavish, boozy nights with his friends. Arthur’s desire to show off his wealth to friends became a nightly need to get severely drunk, which resulted in his untimely death.

The further one reads into The Great Gatsby, the more it seems the book was a statement about money. The main characters in this book (bar the narrator, Nick,) are all very wealthy and shown to be spoilt and entitled because of this. Tom’s affluence enables him to keep a mistress. Without his wealth, Tom wouldn’t be able to buy Myrtle presents, and without the enticing material bonuses, would Myrtle bother with Tom? Would she let him hit her? Probably not. Another major character in the book, Gatsby, also uses his money to (try to) get what he wants.

What Gatsby wants more than anything is to win back Daisy. No price is too high for Gatsby because if it impresses Daisy it is worth it. Gatsby is stuck on (maybe even addicted to) the idea of the Daisy he knew when he was a young man. The novel sees Gatsby try to recreate the environment in which he and Daisy met in order to convince her to leave her husband. Gatsby can afford to be stuck in the past, because he has the means to recreate it. Put more succinctly, wealth has the ability to draw out and exacerbate one’s worst qualities because with money comes a certain amount power.

The Great Gatsby takes a look at wealth on another level as well, on a national level. The 20s was a time of great consumption. After the war people wanted to enjoy life, to extract every drop of excitement they could manage. Glamour and excitement reigned– so did prosperity. While the American dream used to be about freedom and achieving a state of happiness, in the book Fitzgerald made it clear that he thought the 1920s American dream was all about accumulating vast amounts of money. Gatsby is the character in the book that most displays this. After the war he wants all things bright and brilliant so he starts doing underhand business deals to make him very rich very quickly. Daisy, on the other hand, is the personification of money. In the book Gatsby remarks that “her voice is full of money,” and it is made clear to readers that Daisy prioritizes financial security and abundance above everything else. So to take it a step further, one wonders if part of Daisy’s appeal to Gatsby is that she is pure money. Her extreme focus on money robs her of feeling fully.

Both these books are set and written in wildly different times and cultures. Yet both of these authors have strong stands on the dangerous quality of extreme wealth, which they portrayed in their respective books. Bronte shows that wealth exacerbates numerous substance addictions while Fitzgerald displays that wealth can enables a number of unhealthy emotional addictions. The main take away, or so it appears, is that if there is a problem, money will only worsen it and blow it up to gargantuan proportions if it’s possessor lacks a strong sense of will and ethics.

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