The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is not just a novel; rather it is the representation of an era. The story is about the moral decay that arouses in the American society in 1920s. It also shows the picture of the American dream getting corrupted by lust, greed and empty pursuit of pleasure. In other words it was the collision of subcultures. The wealthy and elite class found pleasure by throwing decadent parties and playing wild jazz music. On the other hand, the member of middle class was seduced by the dabbler lifestyle of the rich.
Jay Gatsby was somewhat a mysterious one as people knew very little about his personal life. We finally find that Gatsby was involved in criminal activities to win his beloved Daisy’s attention. On the surface, The Great Gatsby is a story of unrequited love. The novel is based on the themes of love, revenge, desire for money and the suicide. But a careful analysis of the novel reveals that its major theme encompasses a much larger, less romantic scope.
Through this novel, Fitzgerald has tried to portray a real picture of American society of 1920s. The story is set in the neighborhood of Long Island, New York. In this novel, we also find a reflection of disintegration of American dream which was about moral values and pursuit of success. The idea of American dream emerged in the Colonial period and it was based on the perception that success can be achieved by any individual, no matter what social position he possesses. What matters is his personal skills, hard work and efforts.
A prototypical 1920s’ man has been described by the author Roland Marchand in his book in the following words: “Not only did he flourish in the fast-paced, modern urban milieu of skyscrapers, taxicabs, and pleasure-seeking crowds, but he proclaimed himself an expert on the latest crazes in fashion, contemporary lingo, and popular pastimes. ” We find that Marchand’s definition is quite similar to the characters of Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald has presented the era of 1920s as the one in which social and moral values were weak and a moral decay ensued in American society.
It was, in fact, an era which was marked by reckless pursuit of pleasure, amoral quest for money and certain lustful desires. The protagonist of this novel, Jay Gatsby is a wealthy, mysterious man residing in a Gothic mansion in West Egg. He is fond of throwing lavish parties every Saturday night. The sole purpose behind these ostentatious parties was the gaudy display of wealth. Most of the people who joined those parties, even didn’t know anything about Gatsby.
They just wanted to be the part of such lavish parties so they could enjoy expensive wines and loud jazz music along with delicious foods. It is important to mention here that the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, which banned the sale of alcohol, created a booming underworld designed to satisfy the huge demand for bootleg liquor among rich and poor alike. In that period, people started to make fortunes through the illegal business of liquor. Such a business made people rich overnight and turned them into millionaires.
Besides, the World War I ended in 1918, and the young Americans, who had fought in the war, became highly disillusioned as the butcheries and the brutalities which they had witnessed in the war made their ideas about Victorian morality quite vague and blurred. Another aspect of that particular era was the sudden rise of stock market that resulted in the increase in national wealth and thus the phenomenon of materialism emerged. People started spending their newfound money in getting luxuries of life and they felt satiated by the gaudy display of their wealth.
The narrator of the novel, Nick Carraway is a young man who has studied in Yale and then moves to New York. He becomes the neighbor of Jay Gatsby, who is famous for his opulent parties and lives in a grand Gothic mansion as described by Nick, “It was the factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool and more than fifty acres of lawn and garden”. (pg 4) Gradually they became friends and later on, Nick finds out that Gatsby has gathered his wealth through criminal activities.
Gatsby tries to become the part of established aristocracy by attaining material wealth including a grand mansion, several servants and many automobiles. But he still wants the reassurance that whether all his efforts of money making have the desired impression or not. As on one occasion, he says to Nick, “My house looks well, doesn’t it? He demanded. “See how the whole front of it catches the light. ” (pg68). As Scott Donaldson mentions in his article, “The culture of consumption on exhibit in The Great Gatsby was made possible by the growth of a leisure class in early-twentieth-century America.
As the ovel demonstrates, this development subverted the foundations of the Protestant ethic, replacing the values of hard work and thrifty abstinence with a show of luxury and idleness. ” It means that the phenomenon of becoming rich overnight and acquiring sudden wealth made the Americans idle and thus the once appreciated values of hard work and self reliance were replaced by the newly emerged trends of leisure and the pursuit of pleasure. This is why, much emphasis has been laid on the corruption of American dream as it was about hard work and personal efforts but it vanished gradually with the newly found wealth.
Jay Gatsby madly loves a pretty damsel, Daisy Buchanan who is an East Egger. She is Nick’s cousin too. Here, it is important to keep in mind that the West Egg, where Gatsby and Nick live is a home to newly rich people. On the other hand, East Egg represents the established aristocracy. Gatsby wanted to win Daisy’s love also because she belonged to the established aristocracy and having her at his side would make him acceptable to that particular part of society. As Ray E. Canterbery states in his article, “Jay Gatsby wants to live with Daisy Buchanan because she is a member of the established American aristocracy of wealth.
Gatsby lacks the maturity to realize that Daisy cannot be obtained by money alone and in a vulgar display of conspicuous consumption, he flaunts his nouveau wealth. ” While reading the novel, one clearly finds out that the particular era mentioned in the book was marked by boundless greed, self satisfaction, infidelity and selfishness. Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan has an affair with a woman named Myrtle, whose husband is very poor and owns a worn out garage. Tom claims that he is in love with Myrtle but it was in fact, anything but love.
On one occasion, we see that he treats his mistress very inhumanely as is mentioned in the novel: Some time toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face discussing, in impassioned voices, whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy’s name. “Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! ” shouted Mrs. Wilson. “I’ll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Daisy” “Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand”. (pg27) As it is mentioned earlier that East and West Egg were different from each other in terms of their habitants, their ways of living.
Their architecture and their tastes were also quite different from each other as the East Eggers were more refined and cultured whereas West Egg was the home of somewhat pretentious, gaudy people. Gatsby, himself was fond of throwing lavish parties as described in the book: “On weekends his (Gatsby’s) Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight. Every Friday crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruitier in New York every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his backdoor in a pyramid of pulp less halves.
On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold”. (pg29) In order to become acceptable for the East Eggers or the established ones, Gatsby wears flamboyant dresses and has a collection of several big, huge cars. On one occasion, Tom makes fun of Gatsby’s car by calling it a “Circus Wagon”. But one thing was common among both (West and East Eggers) of them. They were lustful and pretentious. Jay Gatsby was, however, different in a sense that he truly loved Daisy.
He waited for her five long years and didn’t forget her for even a single moment. He bought a mansion in West Egg so that Daisy could know about him as his opulent parties bore quite fame. When he met Daisy, he became very happy and contended but he also wanted her to leave Tom Buchanan for good. He waited whole night outside Daisy’s window, just to make sure that Tom wouldn’t hurt her. He loved her so deeply and profoundly that when Daisy mistakenly murdered Myrtle by crushing her under the car, Gatsby was ready to take this as his own mistake.
As we see that when Nick inquires Gatsby about this incident he said, “Well, I tried to swing the wheel—” He broke off, and suddenly I (Nick) guessed the truth. “Was Daisy driving? ” “Yes,” He said after a moment, “but of course I’ll say I was. ” (pg110) On the other hand, we find that Daisy, despite Gatsby’s love and care, is still confused and double minded. She doesn’t want to leave Tom Buchanan, nor could she live without her new found -once -lost -love. She, before her husband, admits that she doesn’t love him but after sometime, changes her mind.
Oh, you want too much! ” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past. ” She began to sob helplessly. “I did love him once but I loved you too. ” (pg101) On the same occasion, she said, “Even alone I can’t say that I never loved Tom,” she admitted in a pitiful voice. “It wouldn’t be true. ” (pg102) Thus it is clear that Daisy is absolutely indecisive as she couldn’t decide that whom she wants to live with. Besides, she cared very little about Gatsby’s feeling and didn’t give him the love he deserved.
Daisy’s selfishness is also shown on another occasion when on Gatsby’s arrival, she treats her own daughter Pammy in such a manner that clearly lacks the love and warmth of a mother. As mentioned in the novel, “The child, relinquished by the nurse, rushed across the room and rooted shyly into her mother’s dress. ” This shows that the little girl was reluctant to go to her mother as she was not aware of a mother’s affection. Gatsby had never really known of the existence of Daisy’s child, as Daisy was probably afraid to tell him about her. “Afterward he kept looking at the child in surprise.
Daisy uses the child as a show item: “I got dressed before luncheon” said the child, turning eagerly towards Daisy. “That’s because your mother wanted to show you off” replies Daisy. When the child speaks to Daisy, Daisy never answers or replies to her. She always changes the subject as if she doesn’t even notice the child’s presence. For example, when the girl comments Jordan’s dress, Daisy ignores her and asks her what she thinks about her friends: “Aunt Jordan’s got on a white dress too”, said the child.
“How do you like mother’s friends? ” Daisy turned her around so that she faced Gatsby. Do you think they are pretty? ” After this brief introduction, Daisy asks the nurse to take the child back. (pg89). This very careless nature of hers became the cause of her lover’s pitiful demise. Both Tom and Daisy were selfish, mean and careless as both of them became the cause of their lovers’ deaths. As mentioned in the novel, “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. (pg139).
Interestingly, automobiles also have a significant part in the demise of many of the characters. The 1920s’ American culture was the one in which the phenomena of automobiles emerged. With the arrival of sudden wealth, people started to buy cars as they also became one of the status symbols. An American President said in 1925, “We will root out poverty and put two cars in every garage. ” Jay Gatsby also had five cars, one of which hits Myrtle and results in her unfortunate death. Myrtle’s death then leads to the death of poor Gatsby and her own husband, George.
It is what O’Meara calls as a “death car. ” She writes, “The automobile is a symbol that Fitzgerald uses to accomplish several different ends. ” After the death of Gatsby, Nick Carraway goes to Meyer Wolfsheim, the infamous gambler and swindler and tries to find out the actual origin of Gatsby’s wealth. He asks him, “Did you start him in business? ” Wolfsheim replies “Start him! I made him,” and continues: “I raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter. I saw right away he was a fine appearing gentlemanly young man and when he told me he was at Oggsford, I knew I could use him good.
We were so thick like that in everything, he held up two bulbous fingers – “always together. ”(pg132) This conversation reveals that Gatsby was once a poor, unprivileged fellow and despite all his attempts, he couldn’t fit in with the old, established aristocracy. After the sad demise of Jay Gatsby, Nick tried to inform Gatsby’s friends about his death but it was ironic that no close friend or relative came to attend the funeral. The man, who was always surrounded by different people and whose parties’ people desperately wanted to attend, was now all alone.
Since he was of no use now, everybody left him and never looked back at the time they had spent with that poor, unlucky chap. At the same occasion, Nick Carraway received a call from one of Gatsby’s friends. It was Mr. Klipspringer. When he told Nick, about himself, Nick felt a bit satisfied and thought that at least there is someone who cares about Gatsby. “The funeral’s tomorrow,” I (Nick) said. “Three o’clock, here at the house. I wish you’d tell anybody who’d be interested. ” “Oh, I will,” he broke out hastily”.
“Of course I’m not likely to see anybody, but if I do. His tone made me suspicious. “Of course you’ll be there yourself. ” “Well, I’ll certainly try. What I called up about was a pair of shoes I left there. I wonder if it’d be too much trouble to have the butler send them on. You see, they are tennis shoes, and I’m sort of helpless without them. My address is care of B. F”. “I didn’t hear rest of the name, because I hung up the receiver”. (pg130, 131) This reveals that how selfish and mean those people were. They used to gather around Gatsby like the moths around a candle, but when that candle stopped spreading its light, all of them turned away.
At funeral procession, Nick Carraway tries to remember the deceased man and thought about his life for a while. This scene is very skillfully portrayed by Fitzgerald in the following words: I tried to think about Gatsby then for a moment, but he was already too far away, and I could only remember, without resentment, that Daisy hadn’t sent a message or a flower. Dimly I heard someone murmur, “Blessed are the dead that the rain falls on,” and then the owl eyed man said “Amen to that,” in a brave voice. We straggled down quickly through the rain to the cars.
Owl eyes spoke to me by the gate. “I couldn’t get to the house,” he remarked. “Neither could anybody else. ” “Go on! ” He started. “Why, my God! They used to go there by the hundreds. ” He took off the glasses and wiped them again, outside and in. “The poor son- of -a -bitch,” he said. (pg135) The story of The Great Gatsby spirals into tragedy as the book progresses with a succession of events love, revenge, murder and then suicide. There is a moral judgment involved in the process of reading such a story.
Besides, Fitzgerald’s work can be compared to that of the British author Thomas Hardy as he too dared to examine themes that Victorian society brushed under the carpet namely sexual desire and obsession. Eventually, the materialism, empty pursuit of pleasure, big cars and grand mansions along with the Prohibition movement resulted in the emergence of class struggle among the rich and poor. Both of them started finding means of making money and didn’t pay attention towards the fact that whether those means are justified or not. A new perception emerged, according to which money brings happiness.
But this didn’t happen in the case of Gatsby. All of his money, earned through illegal means was fruitless as it couldn’t bring Daisy closer to him. We see that The Great Gatsby is the story of shattered dreams i. e. both American and Gatsby’s dream. In Fitzgerald’s point of view, the American dream was about individualism, discovery and the pursuit of happiness. Whereas, Gatsby’s dream was to get his long lost love back but unfortunately, both the dreams got shattered in the end. We can say that this novel is an account of possibilities that can be generated through wealth and the irresponsibility that can ultimately ruin them.
The story gives us a strong lesson that accumulation of wealth doesn’t always mean the attainment of real happiness. Money and riches are necessary to live a good life, but they, of course, don’t guarantee joy and success in life. The picture of American society drawn in The Great Gatsby can be compared to the present day American society. We can see that today’s American society face the similar issues and suffers from the similar ailments e. g. materialism, desire of money and the hollow pursuit of pleasure.
Courtney from Study Moose
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