Influences on F. Scott Fitzgeralds’ writing in The Great Gatsby
Influences on F. Scott Fitzgeralds’ writing in The Great Gatsby
The Roaring Twenties was a period of frivolous days and exciting nights. Times were prosperous and life was good for most. In The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes about the fictitious life of Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire (Gross 1). The setting of the novel is New York in the twenties, a time, and place, where people were jovial and carefree. In New York, more than anywhere, people did not worry about life’s downs, but focused on the highlife and partying. Prohibition made partying difficult, but it prevailed nonetheless. In the novel, Fitzgerald’s description of humans was of an appalling nature. He shows them as careless, greedy, and inconsiderate; much like they truly were in this decade. Inevitably he would become involved in some type of lackadaisical ways. Fitzgerald’s writing’s were significantly influenced by these surroundings. In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing was profoundly influenced by events in his life, the exciting times he lived in, and the people he knew.
Born on September 24, 1986 to a wealthy merchant family, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald showed signs of an exemplary writing ability (Dyson, 1380). As a small boy, Fitzgerald began writing down his thoughts and ideas. He frequently wrote about his life.
While in school, Fitzgerald was very self-criticizing and did not have many friends. He was not very popular at school, although he greatly wanted to be. Just like Fitzgerald, Gatsby did not like who he was, so he decided to change himself. In the novel, Gatsby has a list of things he wants to change about himself. He called them his ‘General Resolves’ and they were: No wasting time at Shafters, no more smoking or chewing, bath every other day, read one improving book or magazine per week, save $3.00 per week, and be better to his parents (Fitzgerald 182). As Fitzgerald grew, so did his attitude towards life. He kept writing. Fitzgerald attended Princeton, but quit shortly after he began (Young Adult Authors 58). Fitzgerald, like Gatsby, wanted to live and adventure. Soon after the war started, Fitzgerald signed up hoping to have the adventure of his life. He only got as far as the coastline. Fitzgerald, unlike Gatsby was not sent to the war, so he married Zelda Sayre (Hickey 345).
In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby lost his love because he had to fight in the war. Fitzgerald was writing in comparison to his own life, or what might have been if he had been sent off to fight in the war. Since Fitzgerald was not sent to war, and he had to make a living somehow, he began writing for small papers. He and Zelda settled down and had children. His life was now beginning to feel right. In 1922, Fitzgerald came upon the idea for The Great Gatsby. Shortly after his arrival in France, Fitzgerald completed the most brilliant novel he would ever write. Richard Lehan said, “Fitzgerald was in position to write a master work like The Great Gatsby – everything in his life had been building toward this moment” (Lehan 2). Fitzgerald’s life, like Gatsby’s, had become a series of exciting parties and rich lifestyles. Barry Gross described Fitzgerald’s life like this:
Fitzgerald was conscious about his social position because his parents had a hard time coming up with money for support. He was always trying to impress people by his estate. His parents were not that wealthy either, so he took his own route to achieve happiness. (Gross 18)
In the 1920’s, the paparazzi were aware of his eccentric lifestyle. Gatsby’s life was just as daring and glamorous as his. Fitzgerald did some illegal activities such as drinking, and forging bonds. Gatsby was also involved in bond forgery and prohibition rebellions. For Fitzgerald, life was better than it had ever been, but to his great dismay it would not last. The key reality in his life was that between his twenty-eighth and thirty-fourth year, he wasn’t able to write a new novel. Fitzgerald began drinking and stopped writing. His wife Zelda began having serious mental problems, which dramatically affected Fitzgerald. He very much loved his wife, just as Gatsby loved Daisy. Fitzgerald was a dreamer. He though everything would turn out fine, just as Gatsby had, but he was wrong and had to recompense for it in the end.
The roaring twenties was a time of parties, and socializing. Times were prosperous and people just wanted to enjoy themselves. Since the war was over, soldiers were back at home, working and taking care of their families. There was a sense of rebellion in America at this time. The rich were lazy and slapdash, which, in The Great Gatsby, was portrayed by their very shoddy driving abilities. Times were excellent, for most, and people were beginning to just have a good time. Many people were so rich they had no need to work, so they had to occupy themselves with other things. Prohibition began in 1919 (Moss, Wilson 148). People did not like the idea though, so they started revolting the law. Gangsters would get liquor and other kinds of alcohol to people who wanted it, but for a price. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby is involved in these illegal activities. Gatsby always had alcohol at his parties. His wealth gave him things that normal people couldn’t have.
He invited hundreds of guests to his parties, and most of them got extremely intoxicated before the night was over. The female crowds at Gatsby’s parties show how women really dressed and acted in the twenties. Bobbed hair, short dresses, bright red lipstick, and long strands of pearls with a knot tied in them were female fads of the elite citizens. Jordan Baker personified women of the 1920’s with her independent and proud attitude towards life (Moss, Wilson 147). Independence was a major influence in the twenties, not just for women, but for men also. The American dream had three key parts. The first was that America was a new ‘Eden’ with endless opportunity. The second idea was that everyone born in America should expect life to get better and better. The last, and most important, was to be an independent, self-reliant individual and you would triumph over all.
In the conclusion of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald connects Gatsby’s dream, his “platonic conception” of himself with the American Dream (Mizener 2). Gatsby believed that everything would work out fine, and that he would get Daisy soon enough. Gatsby’s dreams were never realized though. He never ran off with Daisy, and he was killed by mistaken identity. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald shows how the American dream faded out during the later part of the decade. The valley of ashes,= where Myrtle lived played an important role in explaining this to the readers. Dr. J. T. Eckleburg’s eyes faded away as the novel went on, symbolizing the debasement of the American Dream.
In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald makes several allusions to how he came up with the characters. Fitzgerald shows, in many ways, how he modeled Gatsby after his own life and the things that happened to him. Gatsby and Fitzgerald both wanted to be something different. Fitzgerald had a hard time making friends while he was a child. When he began writing and getting recognition, his life changed. He was a partier, and had a wild lifestyle. Gatsby, like Fitzgerald, wanted to be someone different. He changed his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby. As Gatsby was a bootlegger and bond forger, so was Fitzgerald, though he was not as into it as Gatsby might have been. Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda and Gatsby’s love Daisy share many qualities also. Fitzgerald portrays Daisy as ‘white’ in the novel, suggesting that is a façade for who she truly is. The white she wears gives her a naïve and innocent appearance, but her impolite actions seem to prove otherwise. Fitzgerald described Daisy as the girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark corners and blinding signs (Moss, Wilson 150).
The cover artwork of the novel shows an illustration of this idea. The ‘floating’ relates that Gatsby always had Daisy floating in his mind, as well as Fitzgerald had Zelda floating in his. Both Zelda and Daisy were beautiful and demanded great things from their suitors. Another person that relates to one of Fitzgerald’s characters was a man named Arnold Rothstein. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby told Nick that Meyer Wolfshiem, a man Gatsby introduced to him, was the one who set up the World Series in 1919. Rothstein was said to have fixed the 1919 World Series. Arnold Rothstein placed bets to lose the series, and since they were playing against Cincinnati, they were going to win (Moss, Wilson 149).
Jordan Baker, a tennis player that Nick fell in love with, relates to the whole of women in the twenties. She was loud, pushy, flashy, and had very short hair. In the 1920’s, women discarded their old ways of life. They were no longer proper and silent. Women in the twenties were showy and loud. They wore short skirts and short hair. They smoked cigarettes in public and spit on the ground. Jordan Baker was the independent women of the 1920’s personified.
The Great Gatsby is tragedy of wealth, love, and frivolous pleasures. F. Scott Fitzgerald expressed most of what actually happened in the 1920’s in this one novel. The illegal bootlegging, changing women, and happy times of the twenties are all described. Because Fitzgerald was alive in the twenties, he was able to live what he wrote about. He had personal experience with bootlegging and ostentatious women. Fitzgerald’s life events also helped him write The Great Gatsby. His wanting to be different helped him come up with the character Gatsby. Zelda, his wife, helped him come up with Daisy Buchanan, and people around him helped him shape other characters. In The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing was profoundly influenced by dealings in his life, the exciting decade, and people he was around.