The Influence Of The Roaring Twenties

Categories: Roaring Twenties

The 1920’s was a decade full of lavish spending, bootlegging, and the want to fulfill the American Dream. On top of this, the people of America were high off of the renewed patriotism in the recent win of what was thought to be the war to end all wars. These attributes of the decade would go on to influence Francis Scott Fitzgerald in 1925 when he wrote The Great Gatsby. To understand the idea behind the literature, it is important to look at what influenced Fitzgerald, venturing into his background and the culture that surrounded him in the twenties.

These things would go onto be driving forces behind many of the characters and the events that occurred throughout the novel, and the background of one of the major themes in the book.

Throughout The Great Gatsby, there are many parallels to Fitzgerald’s life.

To begin to notice those parallels it is important to look into the life and Fitzgerald first. Fitzgerald was born in St.

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Paul Minnestoa, on the 24th of September in 1896.His mother was a grocery store heiress, and his father an unsuccessful salesman. He moved around frequently as a child, traveling through upstate New York with his family before eventually settling back in St. Paul. As a student, Fitzgerald was described as unmotivated and he often received poor grades. After graduating high school, Fitzgerald went onto attend Princeton University, before dropping out and entering the army in 1917 . While in the army, Fitzgerald was appointed to 2nd Lieutenant, but he recounted himself as the “army’s worst aide-de-camp”.

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Regardless, Fitzgerald never saw combat. Despite Fitzgerald never seeing combat, this is one of many parallels between Fitzgerald’s life and Jay Gatsby’s, the wealthy and mysterious main character of the book. Similarly to Fitzgerald, Gatsby was commissioned to First Lieutenant in World War I, where unlike Fitzgerald he did see combat, claiming that he tried to die during the war but was never granted that wish . While in reverse order from Fitzgerald, Gatsby too went on to attend a prestigious university. Much like Fitzgerald, Gatsby did not finish college: “It was in nineteen-nineteen. I only stayed five months. That's why I can't really call myself an Oxford man”. As a result of this attendance, Gatsby was often referred to as an “Oxford man” by himself and many others throughout the novel. Fitzgerald had a strong need for acceptance in life, which led him to chase after wealthy women. One woman in particular was Genevra King, the daughter of a wealthy banker, who led him to harsh criticism from one of her relatives who was heard saying: “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls” (qtd. In F. Scott Fitzgerald Society). Another woman who went on to be his wife, Zelda Sayre, initially declined Fitzgerald’s marriage proposal because he was too poor. This is another similarity to Gatsby, who reasoned that his long lost lover Daisy Buchanan only married another because of his previous financial status. “‘She never loved you, do you hear?’ he cried. ‘She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me’”.

Carrying a variety of names ranging from “The Era of Wonderful Nonsense,” and “The Decade of The Dollar” to the “Dry Decade”, the twenties was a decade full of change. Women and people of color were more commonly seen in the workplace, and fewer women were staying home, choosing to go to college instead. On top of this, the economy was on the up and up, and between the years of 1922 and 1929, the United States had garnered“two fifths of the world’s wealth” . This increase in wealth led to an increase of materialism and greed, leaving many people superficial. This was reflected well in the novel, as this wealth was something that Jay Gatsby was very familiar with, and he expressed this from his extravagant parties: “There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars”. This is a description of what Gatsby’s lavish parties looked like from the outside, as seen from his neighbor and relative of Daisy, Nick Carraway. Gatsby Of course, with this extravagant lifestyle that many obtained in this decade came greed, and as a result, people were constantly wanting bigger and better things, becoming extremely materialistic.

One example of this is when Gatsby was showing Carraway and Daisy items in his closet, all of which were made from luxurious fabrics and beautiful colors: “While we admired he brought more...Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily. ‘They’re such beautiful shirts,’ she sobbed”. This would be more expected from someone of a lower income, however, Daisy was a character who was already wealthy, coming from a wealthy family and a marriage with a wealthy man. Despite all of this, it was still not enough for her at that moment. Another example of this materialistic and greedy lifestyle that many led was shown by Myrtle Wilson, a married woman that Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, was having an affair with. Myrtle showed her taste for the finer things in life while trying to hail a cab: “In the solemn echoing drive she let four taxicabs drive away before she selected a new one, lavender-colored with gray upholstery”. Myrtle was willing to forgo a taxi ride all because the interior was not up to her standards, further exemplifying the materialistic standards that she and many others in the twenties upheld.

Most importantly, the themes that Fitzgerald laced throughout The Great Gatsby are one of the many ways he conveys his style of writing, on top of his symbolism and figurative language. The largest theme throughout the novel is that of the American Dream. The American Dream was first coined by historian James Truslow Adams. Adams first described the American Dream as “That American Dream of a better, richer, and happier life for all our citizens of every rank”. This idea of a better life led to many people working to better their lives and get richer, each in their own way, which ultimately ties back to the greed that was associated with many in the twenties. Many people did whatever it took to get ahead or at least feel as if they were accomplishing something with their life. One example of this in the novel is of George and Myrtle Wilson, a seemingly middle-class couple. George innocently tries to get ahead by working, while Myrtle tries to get ahead by being with Tom Buchanan, or at least to live out the fantasy of being upper class. Myrtle is able to do this by obtaining a small apartment in New York, which is filled with showy decor . Gatsby himself also became an example of the American Dream, as he used to be “a penniless man without a past” . However, Gatsby did not do this in an innocent way. During a heated argument, Tom reveals that Gatsby is a part of a bootlegging operation: “I found out what your ‘drug-stores’ were...He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over that counter. That’s one of his little stunts’” . However, this was not an uncommon get rich operation at the time, as the twenties was the age of Prohibition, a time when there was a ban on alcoholic beverages. Coming from virtually nothing, regardless of how he did it, Gatsby surely made a name for himself later on, which made him the epitome of the American Dream.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a novel that gives insight into the stereotypical glamorous lifestyle that came with the nineteen twenties. Fitzgerald was able to do this by taking from his own life experiences and reflecting on the materialistic view that many held during the decade. He was also able to pull all of this together in order to incorporate the theme of the American Dream, which is prevalent throughout the novel. Fitzgerald was able to illustrate the many peaks of America that came with this time, making it a classic for years to come.

Updated: Feb 20, 2024
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The Influence Of The Roaring Twenties. (2024, Feb 20). Retrieved from

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