Social Conflict In The Great Gatsby And All Quiet On The Western Front

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It is said that “All is fair in love and war”, which is a prominent theme in driving the plots of endless films and novels. This theme arises in notable novels such as The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald. The novel is about a group of people who live on Long Island in different towns known as West Egg, where all the self-made millionaires live, and the East Egg, where it’s where all the millionaires live who were born into money and eventually inherited it. In The Great Gatsby, there seems to be social conflict caused by the relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy who is married to Tom Buchanan. This relationship between Gatsby and Daisy is what develops the plot of the novel. The second novel chosen was All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, this novel is about a young man named Paul Baumer who enlists into the military with a group of his friends only to realize the extreme physical and traumatic stress caused during World War One fighting on the front. Paul and his friends were only told of the fun times and the adventure the soldiers would have when fighting in the war, in which Paul changed his mind quickly but had to continue fighting. By doing this, Paul and their friends begin to realize that have to stick together to be this battle together, the group quickly started to feel like family with each other and began to feel like brothers. These are all plots that involve some form of social relationships. The conflicts that drive the plots in the following novels would not exist without the impact of social relationships and networks.

Forces of nature are something uncontrollable and unpredictable by humans. For instance, a whirlpool takes in its victims slowly and begins to increasingly swallow its victims into the deep dark. Hence the idea of the symbolic archetype that is the whirlpool in which the whirlpool represents the destructive power of nature and fate. One instance of the symbolic whirlpool in All Quiet on the Western Front is a corruption of power which is when someone or a group of people are taking advantage of their authority to benefit themselves. This concept is demonstrated by the platoon leader, Himmelstoss, who is responsible for a pack of soldiers. He uses the power from his rank to inflict physical and verbal abuse onto his soldiers to build up his own feeble ego. Himmelstoss is described as having “… the reputation of being the strictest disciplinarian in the camp and was proud of it. He was a small undersized fellow with a foxy, waxed mustache” (Remarque 23). It is apparent that his physical size reflects his ego and therefore, he must abuse his power to feel a sense of self-confidence. The symbolic archetype of a whirlpool can be compared to Himmelstoss since the more power he achieves, the more malicious he becomes. Therefore, the fate of Himmelstoss includes a self-conscious man who slowly gains power increasingly destructive. In the other novel, The Great Gatsby, Tom Buchanan is a character who has fallen into the whirlpool by his power and ego as he is someone who seems to only care about himself and is seen as a selfish person. Tom doesn’t show any care for anyone else’s feelings as long as their feelings don’t interfere with his own feelings or plans. This could also be a popular trait from his town, East Egg, being born into money and not having to work for money, he feels he is better than everyone because he has money and was given it all. Tom can also be seen as a bully in the novel, as well as a jock considering he was a football star back when he was in school. Tom is at war with Jay Gatsby over Daisy and says:

“You two start on home, Daisy,” said Tom. “In Mr. Gatsby’s car.” She looked at Tom, alarmed now, but he insisted with magnanimous scorn. “Go on. He won’t annoy you. I think he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over.” (Fitzgerald 90)

Here, Tom is showing his power over Gatsby and Daisy, and shows that he isn’t scared that Daisy will leave him for Gatsby because he thinks that will never happen, he also tries to show Gatsby this. Tom believes that no matter what Gatsby says to Daisy to try and persuade her to leave Tom, that it won’t change Daisy’s mind to leave Tom. This is a show of power, that turns into a fatal choice Tom makes, however, he demonstrates that he has power over both Gatsby and Daisy showing that he is no longer scared that Daisy will leave him for Gatsby, and not as if that was good enough because Tom tries to rub it in Gatsby’s face thinking he will never get Daisy back. Through Tom’s quote that was mentioned, he isn’t even afraid to leave those two alone together. Although it is a subtle move, however, it is a crucial show of power. Which ends up being a fatal choice. Between Himmelstoss from All Quiet on the Western Front and Tom Buchanan from The Great Gatsby, they are characters who seem to enjoy the power they have in their novels. For Himmelstoss, it’s a rank and although he has the authority to have power over Baumer and his friends, Himmelstoss still decides to abuse his authority and do more than what he is supposed to do with his rank. For Buchanan, he does not have an assigned rank from the military, but being part of the East Egg, he believes that he has power maybe because his ancestors had power at one point, and after inheriting everything, he assumes that includes the power and tries to use it. This shows how social power builds someone’s ego. Ego is an attribute of a human that is created by a social relation as sais by Richard Emerson from the University of Cincinnati “… power is the property of the social relation; it is not an attribute of the actor.” (Emerson 32). So although Tom has less power in terms of social status than Himmelstoss, if he gains more power, he may fall further into the whirlpool and become as oppressive as Himmelstoss. In the end, the type of power that Buchanan and Himmelstoss have could lead to fate. The more power someone gains, the more terrorizing they could become.

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Motivation is what drives the social relationships in these novels. Social Relationships play a key role in developing the plots of these novels and that their motivation is very important. For instance, Baumer from All Quiet on the Western Front made a statement and said: “We are brothers and press on one another the choicest pieces” (Remarque 96). Baumer is showing the relationship between himself and his friends that he is battling with. These are Baumer’s school friends and have known each other for a very long time. Now that they are on the battlefield away from home, each person doesn’t have their families with them anymore, no mothers, fathers, siblings. So living in these horrific circumstances and going through so much trauma, each soldier is helping each other to ensure they are safe, therefore making them feel more like a family among each other, and they begin to feel like brothers. Although no related, they are so close by this point and are always watching out for each other, they do was normal brothers would do, which is why Baumer refers to his friends as his brothers. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby begins to fall in love with Daisy all over again saying, as Nick described “He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes” (Fitzgerald 60). Gatsby clearly can’t stop staring at Daisy and how beautiful she is. As well it is seen very easily that Gatsby has the social relationship motivation of getting Daisy back and wanting to talk to her again, in hopes it will grow their social relationship and that they will get back together again. As explained by Joseph Forgas from the University of Cambridge:

“The motivation or need to belong, for example, is certainly fundamental to human’s sociability and gregariousness. It is both intuitively obvious and empirically evidenced that humans need meaningful social contact…..”(Forgas 5)

As it was explained, humans need meaningful social contact. For The Great Gatsby, Gatsby’s meaningful contact is Daisy, whom he has feelings for and plays an important role in Gatsby’s life as Gatsby loves her and wants to be with her. Whereas in All Quiet on the Western Front, Baumer’s meaningful contacts are his brothers on the field. Having these meaningful contacts are very important towards the individual’s motivation towards their life and how they behave. When they are motivated for something, they seem to be in a good mood and be happy, however, when they are not motivated they seem to always be down, they feel like there’s no meaning to their lives and there is nothing to be motivated about which affects them socially. Therefore, the plots of these novels could rely on the social relationships of the characters being a necessity for humans towards their sociability and gregariousness. This leads to motivation which turns into the social relationships that these novels are driven by.

In the novels The Great Gatsby and All Quiet on the Western Front, there is a strong theme of self-deception which turns into realization, using the archetype of fire vs ice. Self-deception is represented by fire, deception is when the truth of something or someone is hidden and that the character would only see the good which is not always the good thing as even though something is bad, deception is there to hide it and only pull out what would attract the character into the dirty deed even if it involves making up a false statement just to make it seem enticing towards the character. However, with fire comes ice. Ice represents realization, which would be basically the opposite of self-deception, and realization is waking up and finally realizing what is actually occurring within your surroundings whether it’s for the better or the worse. It’s when realizing that what was enticing is not what it seems to be in real life. For instance, an example of fire would be in All Quiet on the Western Front where Baumer says “…whereas those who are better off and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy.” (Remarque 11). Here Baumer is happy to be enlisting himself with his friends into the military. He hears about all the fun stuff that everyone gets to do, their teacher back at home would try to convince them into signing up by telling them where they get to go, where they will be visiting, as well as all the fun things they get to go. Here, Baumer’s thoughts are all on that going to the battlefield will be positive for him and that he will have a good time, not knowing the truth about the war. As time went on, and Baumer starts to get a better understanding of the war, Baumer gets a sense of realization and realizes the mistake they had made when he said: “no one had the vaguest idea of what we were in for. The wisest were just poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune.”(11). Baumer figured out shortly after participating in a few battles and experiencing what living in the trenches was like, he knows right away that enlisting in the military was a big mistake. He is seeing people die every day, even his own friends, dying in Baumer’s own arms wishing that he had never gotten himself into this mess. Most importantly, he doesn’t want to lose his friends. Another example of fire vs ice would be in The Great Gatsby when Nick describes the love between Gatsby and Daisy and says “I think the voice held him most, with its fluctuating, feverish warmth, because it couldn’t be over-dreamed – that voice was a deathless song” (Fitzgerald 64). The fact that the author uses the actual word warmth really goes well considering this would be the fire in the novel representing the love between Gatsby and Daisy. It seems that Daisy’s voice somewhat captivates Gatsby and be when they begin to fall back in love. However, with fire always comes ice, when Daisy leaves Gatsby as the realization hit her and found out the truth about Gatsby and leaves him shown when Nick says that “She vanished inter her rich house, into her rich, full life, leaving Gatsby – nothing.” (Fitzgerald 99). At this point, Daisy realized that she would rather be with Tom Buchanan and that she left Gatsby with nothing after she realized that Gatsby was not the man she thought he was. Daisy only saw the good in Gatsby and didn’t quite know him fully, therefore wanting to be with him. As Christopher Ross of Southwest Texas State University said, “According to Freud, knowledge begins with preception and ends with responses. As information flows, it can be diverted, transformed, or erased.” (Frost). When there is self-deception, it will always eventually lead to realization. As people will only see the good in certain things and may not quite see the whole picture of the situation for what is happening, and may only see what they want to see as opposed to what they should see.

As shown, the various conflicts and plots that occur in the notable novels The Great Gatsby and All Quiet on the Western front would not exist if it weren’t for the social relationships between the characters in the novels. As well as how corruption and power can lead to one’s ego and through the symbolic archetype of the whirlpool, that if one’s ego grows negatively, it can cause the character to get sucked into the whirlpool and give them power. As well as when deception is involved in the play, to make the protagonist have a different view of something where the truth is hidden, there will always be a realization viewed as the symbolic archetype of fire and ice which is where the character finds out the truth and is usually the blame of another character for hiding it. Lastly, where the social relationships always come from the motivation of the characters, without motivation, there won’t be very many or any social relationships and motivation is what drives it all. Social conflict not only drives the plots in films and novels but also drives everyday human lives. 

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Social Conflict In The Great Gatsby And All Quiet On The Western Front [Internet]. WritingBros. 2021 Jul 15 [cited 2021 Nov 28]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/social-conflict-in-the-great-gatsby-and-all-quiet-on-the-western-front/
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