The Deterioration of Morals Directly Coincides with the Deterioration of an Economy
“…Capital and labor must be taught to work together for the general good of the country. Both must be made to drop the materialistic struggle for higher wages on the one hand and bigger profits on the other. Both must be made to realize that the only struggle worthy of Americans is the idealistic one of their country against its enemies, England, Japan, Russia, Rome and Jerusalem. Always remember, my boy, that class war is civil war, and will destroy us”(West, 166-167).
As seen by the struggles of Lemuel Pitkin in Nathaniel West’s A Cool Million
, everyone is at war with everyone else. West tells us that in order to make a life for yourself during the Great Depression in America, and arguably in the present time as well, you need to look out solely for yourself. You need to lie, cheat, steal, hurt, and even murder to get what you need to survive, and you cannot trust anyone in the process.
Lemuel Pitkin receives false hope from the ex-president Mr. Whipple who tells him that it is the honest in America who succeed. Pitkin tries to be a young Ford or Rockefeller throughout the book based on this advice, trying to make fair deals and help others to get by. This ultimately gets him greatly taken advantage of by everyone he encounters, which results in the continuous loss of all his money, losing an eye, going to jail and losing all his teeth, getting his leg removed, and ultimately being murdered at the end. We hoped throughout the book that his honesty and moral superiority would pay off at the end somehow, but in fact it is what caused his death.
We hope throughout the book that all Pitkin’s selfless actions to help and save Betty Prail will bring them both happiness at the end. His actions do, although indirectly, save Betty from the foreign prostitution ring, but they don’t do anything to save himself. This is not to say that West is telling us that helping other people is bad, he is just noting that in these financial times of crisis, those actions will do nothing to help the person who does them and will most likely end up harming them individually as that action was taken place instead of a selfish one to help themselves succeed.
We are living in a time where greed, selfishness, and cheating pay off, according to the Huffington Post article Greed in the Economy
. Surviving is about putting your own individual interests far above those of society, according to The Daily Beast article The Human History of Greed
. People want to change this nature of society, as seen by the Occupy Wall Street protests, but they don’t know exactly how or what to do to change it. I wonder though, that if everyone hypothetically had the opportunity to be a top Wall Street executive, would they take actions to help society or themselves? I do not know the answer to this question. To be honest, I don’t even know what I would do.