Is money really the root of all evil? Many writers and poets have tried to answer this question. Unsurprisingly, the theme of money is very prevalent in literature. It’s also connected to other concepts, such as greed, power, love, and corruption.
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In this article, our custom writing team will:
- explore the theme of money and its features;
- show how it’s reflected in different literary works;
- present quotations from famous novels related to this theme.
💰 Money Theme in Literature: What Is It?
Can money bring happiness, or does it only bring destruction? Everyone would answer this question differently. In our everyday life, we use money as a universal medium of exchange. The pros and cons of money stem from its purpose as well as people’s attitude towards it.
Writers often use the theme of money to explore human nature, as people tend to show their true colors when it comes to acquiring it or sharing their wealth.
In literature, the negative aspects of money are discussed more often than the positive ones. The concept “money can’t buy happiness,” for instance, is prevalent in many literary works. Most stories serve as cautionary tales that warn people of the consequences of greed and corruption.
Money vs Wealth: What’s the Difference?
Money and wealth are two concepts that often get confused. Nevertheless, they are different.
- Money is something intangible. It can only be measured in numbers.
- Wealth is an abundance of money or valuable possessions. It includes assets such as real estate, investments, and cash.
In other words, someone can be wealthy without owning any money. Both money and wealth are connected with one’s social class, as they grant a certain type of power.
How Money Affects Morality
Throughout time and history, money has been a symbol of social power. Though its form has constantly been changing, the function stayed the same. The duality of money and its effect on people is the topic of many debates.
On the one hand, money is seen as something that helps people to progress and develop. On the other hand, it’s also true that the pursuit of money affects people’s thoughts and judgments in the following negative ways:
- It clouds one’s moral judgment. The sense of power that comes with money can often make people less perceptive of others’ needs.
- It reduces empathy. Studies (such as the one presented in the article How Money Changes the Way You Think and Feel) have shown that individuals with higher income are less perceptive of other people’s emotions. Lack of social vulnerability and experience doesn’t allow them to relate to others fully.
- It leads to dissatisfaction. Sometimes even if a person has money, they might never feel like it’s enough. When someone always strives for more, it leads them to continuous dissatisfaction and affects their mental health.
- It may become an addiction. The pursuit of wealth can turn into an obsession. That addiction comes from the pleasant feeling a person gets after they receive or spend money.
There is a saying that goes, “money is the root of all evil.” Though the statement might be true to a certain extent, usually it is not the money but our attitude towards it that causes serious problems. Money shouldn’t be used as a symbol of power but instead should be used wisely so that everyone can lead a fulfilling life.
Money Theme: Related Concepts with Examples
A lot of works that explore the theme of money serve as social criticism. They criticize phenomena such as greed, materialism, power, love, and the American dream.
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The discussion about money brings up many interesting questions, and it lets authors ponder different ideas.
Money and Greed Theme
Greed is an overly strong desire to possess something. If a person is greedy for money, they care too much about their possessions and want to own more even if they already have enough. Greed is considered a negative quality, and it can be expressed in different ways.
When someone’s greed turns into addiction, it hurts the person and the ones around them. For instance, someone’s greed can deprive others of their essential needs. John Steinbeck’s The Pearl is an excellent example of a novella that reflects on the idea of greed. It is a story of a man who becomes corrupt due to his sudden experience of wealth, and he turns on his loved ones.
Materialism is an attitude that gives particular importance to material goods. It’s usually associated with being manipulative, competitive, and lacking empathy. Such behavior isn’t appreciated by most people but is encouraged by the capitalistic systems.
Often, people tend to develop materialistic values when such pursuit is presented as important and having benefits. Happy and successful people portrayed in the media are usually wealthy. It encourages others to view such a lifestyle as desirable.
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The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant touches upon the theme of materialism. The story shows how putting too much importance on material things can ruin people’s lives.
Money and Power Theme
Throughout history, money has served as a symbol of power and success. If a person has money, they don’t have to struggle to achieve their goals. However, this kind of attitude towards wealth and money is what causes the most problems. When people strive for money to get power, they get overtaken by greed and become corrupt.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is an example of a novel that explores the themes of money and power. The book shows how these two notions affect people’s actions and cloud their judgment.
Money and Corruption Theme
Corruption is illegal or dishonest behavior and abuse of entrusted power. This notion is tightly linked with money, as it often involves bribing and misuse of public funds. Corruption derives from greed and the desire for more power. It erodes trust, hurts the economy, and weakens democracy.
In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, corruption is discussed throughout the play. It causes Macbeth to perform heinous acts and leads to his downfall.
Money and the American Dream
The concept of the American dream gives money particular importance. Initially, the American dream symbolized freedom and social equality in the New World. With time, however, it evolved into something else.
By the 1920s, the American dream was promoting wealth and a materialistic lifestyle. For that reason, many US citizens started chasing money to fulfill their American dream. This chase is reflected in the play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. The story shows how materialistic the American dream has become. The author draws our attention back to the original values.
Love vs Money Theme
Love vs. money is a topic of constant debate. The two are connected closer than you may think. It’s often discussed in literary works how the notion of love is confused with desire for material possessions. People often rely on their money to make themselves appealing to others.
The Merchant of Venice is a play by William Shakespeare that portrays the world in which even love has a price. The author notes how affluence conceals greed and superficiality. It also depicts how love is turned into something materialistic. If you want to read it, the full text of The Merchant of Venice is available on Project Gutenberg website.
💸 Money and Wealth Theme in Literature: Examples
In this section, we will discuss some literary works that touch upon the topics of money and wealth, namely The Great Gatsby, The Necklace, and A Raisin in the Sun.
Theme of Money in The Great Gatsby
One of the central topics in Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is money. The book talks about many aspects related to it:
- How money is used to win someone’s favor. The author shows how Jay Gatsby tries his best to become rich, prove his worth to people, and win their hearts.
- How money is seen as an equivalent of happiness. In the novel, the idea that people often confuse having money and happiness is reflected very well through the characters of Gatsby and Daisy. Both of them believe that having money will make their lives better.
- Materialism and corruption. Fitzgerald’s book reflects how Americans strive for nothing but money and success, forgetting about their humanity.
- The American Dream. The Great Gatsby talks about the hollowness and corruption of the American Dream, which now focuses solely on wealth.
- The power that comes with money. The story clearly shows how money makes people more powerful and important in the eyes of others.
- Old money vs. new money. In his novel, Fitzgerald notes that the most important thing is not how much money one has but how one gets it. Characters in the book consider Tom and Daisy superior to Gatsby, as they are highly educated, respectable, and their families were rich for centuries. Gatsby, on the contrary, has to constantly worry about his shallow business because he came from nothing.
If you wish to learn more about the novel, feel free to read our article on themes in The Great Gatsby.
The Great Gatsby Quotes about Wealth
Here are some interesting quotations that illustrate how the idea of wealth is represented in Fitzgerald’s novel:
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”(The Great Gatsby, chapter 1)
I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy— they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made.(The Great Gatsby, chapter 9)
When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.(The Great Gatsby, chapter 1)
The Necklace Story: Money Theme
The Necklace is a story that highlights how appearance and reality are two different things. It shows that materialistic values bring no happiness to people and only destroy their lives.
Greed is the reason for the downfall of the main character, Mathilde. Her desire to belong to a higher class society and wear expensive clothes is so strong that it makes her unable to distinguish between reality and appearance. Maupassant criticizes a materialistic society that gives importance to material possessions.
When Mathilde finally gets what she desires the most, her joy is fleeting. The woman finds happiness in objects she doesn’t even possess. In the end, her obsession with wealth and the chase after it makes her life miserable.
Greed for money is one of the main themes in Maupassant’s short story; you can learn more from our article on the themes in The Necklace.
The Necklace: Quotes about Money
Here are some interesting quotations that illustrate how the theme of money is portrayed in Maupassant’s short story:
Her hair badly dressed, her skirts awry, her hands red, she spoke in a loud tone, and washed the floors in large pails of water. But sometimes, when her husband was at the office, she would seat herself before the window and think of that evening party of former times, of that ball where she was so beautiful and so flattered.(The Necklace)
She thought of the exquisite food served on marvelous dishes, of the whispered gallantries, listened to with the smile of the sphinx while eating the rose-colored flesh of the trout or a chicken’s wing.(The Necklace)
There is nothing more humiliating than to have a shabby air in the midst of rich women.(The Necklace)
A Raisin in the Sun: Money Theme
A Raisin in The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry focuses on money as a source of conflict. It also touches upon the topics of materialism and the American dream.
All members of the Younger family view money differently:
- Mama sees it as a way to fulfill her dream of owning a house. Her desire can symbolize the yearning for freedom from racial prejudice.
- Beneatha dreams of entering medical school, which also shows her desire to overcome racism and sexism.
- Walter is driven by the desire to have a higher social class. The man is frustrated by his inability to provide for his family. In the end, Walter changes his heart and reclaims his pride by rejecting a bribe.
A Raisin in the Sun reflects the destructive nature of the American dream and its materialistic values. The main characters all try to pursue their dreams. The strong desire for success at all costs almost ruins their family. The play attempts to show that family values and human nature stand above materialism and greed for money.
A Raisin in the Sun: Quotes about Money
Here are quotations that reflect the pursuit of money in Hansberry’s play:
Walter: I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy… Mama—look at me.(A Raisin in the Sun, Act 1)
Mama: Oh—So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. I guess the world really do change…
Walter: No—it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.
Mama: No… something has changed. You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched…You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing we done. I mean that you had a home; that we kept you out of trouble till you was grown; that you don’t have to ride to work on the back of nobody’s streetcar—You my children—but how different we done become.(A Raisin in the Sun, Act 1)
Walter: [W]e have decided to move into our house because my father—my father—he earned it for us brick by brick. We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbors. And that’s all we got to say about that. We don’t want your money.(A Raisin in the Sun, Act 3)
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❓ Money Theme in Literature FAQs
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby shows how love and the desire for possessing someone or something can be confused. Many relationships in the novel are affected by wealth. For example, in Daisy and Tom’s relationship, money is the only connection.
Numerous poems are dedicated to the topic of money. Some notable examples are:
1. Velocity by Allan Ginsberg,
2. Fool’s Money Bags by Amy Lowell,
3. Money by Philip Larkin,
4. Money by Robert Frost.
The theme of love and money is discussed in Act 1 Scene 1 and Act 2 Scene 7. These scenes show how sometimes people need to choose between their feelings towards someone and their worldly desires.
Araby by James Joyce shows how a desire for success pushes every Dubliner to become more materialistic. Their ambition is frustrated by a lack of opportunity, the strength of their own vices, or a combination thereof.
Here’s how Fitzgerald introduces the topic of wealth in The Great Gatsby:
1. He uses the contrast between people of different social classes;
2. He creates a mystery about certain characters to give them importance;
3. He uses geographical locations and symbolism to represent various aspects of American society.