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Thesis: The Great Gatsby explores the issues revolving around America's society in the 1920's. These included the pursuit for worldly pleasures, the division of social classes, fashion trends and corruption. All these attributes led to the death of the American Dream.
Pursuit for worldly pleasures
Desire for material possessions
Division of social classes
The West Egg and East Egg
The rich versus the poor
emergence of social evils
Rise of crime
Trafficking of drugs
The death of the American dream
Moral decay of the Jazz age.
Decay of ethical codes and moral values
b) Non-Whites Vs the Whites
Scott f. Fitzgerald's Reflection on Gatsby's Status in the 1920's Society
In the 1920's, America was a country of great ambition, displeasure and hopelessness. The Great Gatsby is a reflection of these happenings particularly in America. It shows the great anticipation one has for his American Dream and the diverse aspects of the dream. This novel is , therefore, a reflection of America during Fitzgerald's lifetime. It expresses one man's ambition as he craves the American dream, the displeasure of losing it and the hopelessness of this loss. The Great Gatsby has provided very clearly a sense of place and time of American society in the 1920's. The context of the novel clarifies the issues he explores which include the death of the American dream, power imbalance between genders and the corrupted pursuit for spiritual growth by greed.
A deeper look at F. Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" calls to mind the picture of an onion. On the outer surface, there is a hard cover and one has to dig to the deepest canyons to understand it. The surface shows a romantic love between a man and a woman, but deep within the meaning is more concrete. Fitzgerald portrays the 1920's as a time when the fabric that holds the moral and social values of the society loosened. This was evident in the pursuit for pleasure and greed. Gatsby's parties characterized the distortion of the American Dream as the pursuit for wealth and worldly pleasures overshadowed the real values of the American dream. It dawned on the Veterans after the end of the First World War that life was not a bed of roses (Patrick and Kereth 58).
The war served to boost the economy as many people continued to buy materialistic things that they would have never purchased. With improvement in the economy, it became so obvious that any person regardless of his social status could become rich. This resulted in a social rift between the old rich industrialists and families that had just acquired wealth. In the year 1919, the women's suffrage movement was fast to establish restriction in the United States with their great influence. As a result, there was a surge in crime rates and trafficking of drugs. The fashion portrayed in the Great Gatsby is a good example of life in the 1920's. The parties organized are used by both men and women to showcase the latest fashion and the most expensive clothes. In one of the parties, Lucille converses with Nick and Jordan about an expensive new gown she was given. At this point, Lucille emphasizes the significance of the brand, the detail, and the cost of the gown. All this is what draws the line between the fashionable and the unfashionable. Another aspect that marked the 1920's fashion was fads. Fads were a common thing amongst Americans and the era of the1920's could possibly be called the age of fad. The nation was keen on following fashion and some styles became favorable. Fashion is therefore an important aspect of this novel and was a vital asset of the society (Stanley 22).Fitzgerald so powerfully places the characters in these social trends. Most of them are in constant search for wealth, success, glamour and crave pleasure to feel complete about themselves. The characters amass wealthy by capitalizing on an identity which lacks moral values. Mr. Gatsby becomes rich in a very short span of time because he chooses to ignore moral responsibilities and engages himself in the trafficking of alcohol. Jay's desire to climb up the social ladder portrays that wealth was a necessity for people living in this era. Surrounded by a climate of greed, relationships are no longer founded on the grounds of trust, but of self-interest. There was a political change for women during the First World War which forced them to break gender barriers. They made entry into the workforce taking positions that were occupied by men who had gone to war. Their consistent absence from home changed a common perception of their position in the society. After women gained the right to vote, there was an official declaration of the changed feminine roles.
Again, the passage in which Fitzgerald epitomes Gatsby's abode as an "amusement park", talks of the way visitors turn up without meeting hosts. This clearly portrays that people used new money to socialize and to climb up the social ladder. The rift existent in new and old money is much evident in the geographical positioning of each character. The West Egg where people with newly acquired wealth live represents the self made individuals. On the other hand, East Egg is a place where people who have been rich for generations reside (Grawe 34). There was a political change for women during the First World War which forced them to break gender barriers. They made entry into the workforce taking positions that were occupied by men who had gone to war. Their consistent absence from home changed a common perception of their position in the society. After women gained the right to vote, there was an official declaration of the changed feminine roles.
The very idea of the American dream encompasses the pursuit for happiness and moral values. America has entrenched in its constitution that every person has a right to "freedom, life and the pursuit of happiness". It seems though that this right took a drastic turn in the early 1920's. The pursuit for happiness turned out to be a desire for wealth and finally greed. This resulted in diverse classes having social rifts which led to distortion of the American Dream. Social rifts dominate the love between Daisy and Gatsby. This resulted in the ultimate corruption of Gatsby himself, the desire for wealth causing greed and unlawful acts. The greatest symbol in the novel, which is represented by Eckleburg, is more than just a mere advertisement. He represents all the things that are corrupt. Gatsby, after renouncing his parents, is believed to be the son of God and the only thing he trusts is money. In chapter eight, Wilson mistakenly thinks that it was an advertisement for God. This clearly means that the advertisement signifies money (Bumm 57).
Nick in the last page of the novel makes comparison between the green light at the end of Daisy's dock and the green breast of the world. The "green breast of the world signifies immigrant's dreams that came to the new world pursuing opportunity, religious freedom, democracy and love. As they journeyed, they instilled complete family values. As they established with this goal in mind, they worked hard and made what is America presently. Corruption is described by Fitzgerald as being the transformation of the beauties of what the settlers had witnessed previously. In the accident that involves Myrtle and Daisy, Myrtle's breast is torn off and perceived as the greatest achievement. Indeed, this achievement was the apprehension of American society: it replaced the torn off green breast with a corrupted version of what the settlers brought along with them. Fitzgerald brings along with this the Valley of Ashes which is the exact opposite of the green breast. The difference is that the green breast of the new world symbolizes a hill and the exact opposite of this is a valley. As a matter of fact, the green breast signifies the real American dream; while on the other hand, the Valley of Ashes signifies corruption (Wood 45).
Fitzgerald uses different symbols to satisfy the corruption of the American dream which is the most rewarding of all symbols. Settlers came to America in the very beginning with one aim, a better life. The better life later became the America Dream which meant a life in pursuit of love, freedom, wealth, family, equality, and opportunity. These dreams were overshadowed by the strong urge for material possessions. The America dream pushed people who were mad about wealth into crime and immoral behavior. This novel is generally a social critique. Immoral traits are seen in the character of Jordan. She deceives during one of her golf tournaments. His immorality can also be seen when he persuades Daisy to have an affair with Gatsby. Fitzgerald's expression of the American dream is the key theme of the novel. He has also showed the moral decay of the Jazz age. In the 1920's people had found freedom and new riches and started living lives that lacked a good sense of ethical codes and moral values. They did not have any regard for anyone who was not a part of the new social class. Fitzgerald gives us the idea of the discrimination that took place against women and non-whites. The fact is that he was not criticizing the dream itself, but its demise. Gatsby required his good house, fame and money before he could feel convinced about winning back Daisy. As the story ends, it is quite evident that the writer is attempting to show the sexism and racism that reflected the life of Americans in the 1920's. A good example of this is seen when Gatsby acquired his fortune through crime. This is clearly an unfilled form of success. People in the novel symbolized those of an age who were always engaging themselves in parties, having affairs and ruining old values by the great desire for power and wealth.