Foreigners are despised for many reasons. First, they imperil the composition of the old-timer families and social order by intermarriages and hence the Anti-miscegenation laws such as the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 were enacted. Second, they are accused of boosting materialism providing cheap labor and increasing the price of the land menacing the livelihood and daily bread of native-born Americans. These reasons generate racial and xenophobic attitudes noticeable between old-timers and new-timers or old-money and new-money.
In point of fact, values and legacy are replaced by a yardstick
The first example is from The Great Gatsby where the difference between the old families and the nouveaux riches is underscored by emphasizing the contrast between the opulent life-style of Gatsby and that of Nick Carraway whose house in the Midwest and located “in a city where dwellings are still called through e” (188). Even more, East Egg and West Egg represent Midwestern and Eastern American states. This division underlines the material as well as cultural disparity between the two: the East is more connected to European values because of the immigrants who first came there whereas the Midwest stands for more traditional Americans who are likely to preserve American values. They abide by more conservative and stricter approaches to life and are unlikely to accept changes.
In Babbitt the narrator repeatedly underlines the change that befalls the American family in “the barbarous twentieth century,” as social status is determined by the “family’s motor” just as “the grades of the peerage determined the rank of an English family” (67). There are two types of families in Zenith: the old county families and the “newly created brewery barons and woolen-mill viscounts” or the nouveaux riches (180). These types indicate those who came before 1840 and those who arrived after (168). Unlike the McKelveys who belong to the silies: “He was the great-grandson of one of the five men who founded Zenith, in 1792, and he was of the third generation of bankers.” In like manner, in An American Tragedy, family origin is highly important: being head of one of the finest, most reputable, oldest, and most conservative few families of the region (105), Clyde’s uncle, Mr. Samuel Griffiths regards with distaste the rapid rise to prosperity of the Finchleys. The Griffiths family of Lycurgus has its own prejudices against what they call the “fast set” or the “new set” of families-in other words, the newer immigrants. Mrs. Griffiths of Lycurgus therefore disapproves of her daughter’s (Bella) becoming friendly with this set:
Bec[a]me thick and fast friends, not only with the scions of the older and more conservative families who constituted the ultra-respectable element of the city, but also, and this was more to her mother’s distaste, with the sons and daughters of some of those later and hence socially less important families of the region-the sons and daughters of manufacturers of bacon, canning jars, vacuum cleaners, wooden and wicker ware, and typewriters, who constituted a solid enough financial element in the city, but who made up what might be considered the “fast set” in the local life (106).
The principal cause for Mrs. Griffiths’ prejudice is that she sees that this “fast set” allows “too much dancing, cabareting, automobiling […] without due social supervision” (Dreiser, 2004 , p. 101). Despite their affluence, the former belong to the new fast set. Mrs. Griffiths therefore warns her daughter not to go out much with these people because they are too daring and because she favors the “manner and tactics of the older, if not less affluent families.” Therefore, to her, blood and race are more pivotal than capital. Perhaps a good explanation of what Mrs. Griffiths deems as a “fast set” or the nouveaux riches is found in Willa Cather’s My Antonia. The newer immigrants prosper because the older American families are more conservative than the immigrants, and any marriage between the two sets is thus out of the question. Therefore, they marry only from their own set: