The inexhaustible variety of life : satire of the nouveau riche in Petronius' Satyricon, Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

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Byrd, Sheila
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Middle Tennessee State University
Satire of the nouveau riche crosses boundaries of time, culture, and genre to reveal similar characters and themes. This study delineates the similarities of characterization and themes in satire of the nouveau riche in Petronius' Satyricon, Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
Petronius' Imperial Rome as depicted in his fragmentary, antique novel; Moliere's seventeenth-century France as depicted in his comic drama; and F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz-Age America as depicted in his modern novel produce similar satiric views of the nouveau riche figure in a decadent, manipulative world. Each satirist presents a narrator or commentator as the satiric voice of reason. This character both participates in action and judges the actors.
The nouveau riche characters are a product of a money-hungry society where practically every person is self-interested. The nouveau riche individuals struggle, manipulate, or even cheat to climb the social ladder and claim a place of aristocracy or power. However, their money does not guarantee them happiness, and they never achieve their goals. Their lack of education and breeding, as well as their gaudiness, contributes to their failure. These parvenus are surrounded by parasitic characters, looking for a host.
One constant theme of this type of social satire is the decadence of society. This decay stems from the importance each character places on money and is reflected in characters' actions. Violence, death, and usury are three ways in which social satire depicts the decadence of society. Often, the structure of satire emphasizes the static lives of the characters in their struggle to gain money and power. The satirist discloses through symbolism that wealth may appear to make people happy, yet the wealthy characters are sad and hollow. Whether the satirist describes people, places, situations, or abstract concepts, he reveals a sterile, wicked, static wasteland which lacks love, peace, or joy.
Major Professor: Larry Gentry.