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The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a book about the downfall and corruption of even the most aristocratic people. Of the several main characters, Fitzgerald uses a character, named Nick Carraway, who is the first person narrator throughout the entirety of the novel. Essentially, The Great Gatsby is a sort of recollection and remembrance of Carraway’s experiences on the East Coast. His experiences lead him to the realization that the attitudes and actions of the wealthy lead to their own demise. Through the several twists and turns of the characters and their experiences, several themes regarding the crookedness of society and lack of morals during the 1920s give way to the truth we discover within others.
The setting is crucial to the characters and events in the story. The novel takes place during the era of the Roaring Twenties in New York and Long Island, in two areas called East Egg and West Egg. The 1920s was a decade where the indulgence in wealth, alcohol, and immoral activities became a common practice; and the characters in the novel did just that. The social setting is in the midst of the more wealthy, upper class; those whose lives are constantly filled with luxury and careless attitudes throughout the novel. Fitzgerald makes it clear that these upper class people did not concern themselves with the law. For instance, the characters drink expensive champagne and other alcoholic drinks such as beer, ignoring the fact that the manufacture, sale, or consumption of alcohol is illegal by Prohibition.
The locations of East Egg and West Egg are equally important in the significance of the setting. From the beginning, Nick Carraway distinguishes the two areas; East Egg is for the wealthier, more elite of the two areas. The wealth of the people there is described as “old wealth” that has been in the family for generations. In contrast, West Egg is the area where the wealth of the residents is newly acquired, in other words, “new money”. The location of the characters that live on either side, plays a big part in the novel. It forms a barrier that distinguishes the wealthy, and instills a sense of arrogance between the upper class of East Egg and West Egg.
Fitzgerald makes the relationships between each character and their role in the story very clear to the reader. He portrays the characters as people whose lives intertwine with those of others, leading to internal and external conflict. An example is the love triangle between Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, and Tom Buchanan, which is one of the main causes of Gatsby’s downfall. Jay Gatsby’s love for Daisy is an example of internal conflict, while the hostility between Tom and Gatsby is an external conflict that occurs within the novel.
Each character can be seen as a representative of something in society. Daisy Buchanan is a beautiful woman married to Tom Buchanan, representative of the women of the elite social class. She is admired and respected for her place in society, also because she lives in East Egg. Daisy tells Nick that she hopes her daughter will be a fool -“â€¦that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool”. This is an example of Daisy’s conformity to the standard and expectations of women in the 1920s. The similarly shallow middle class is represented by Jordan Baker, who is dishonest. For example, Jordan continuously lies to Nick Carraway about her professional golfing career. Somehow, Carraway is still attracted to her. Because of Jordan Baker, I interpret the middle class as a class composed of people who attract others who use their dishonesty and cheating attitudes to make their way to the top of the social ladder. Finally, there is George and Myrtle Wilson, representatives of the lower and working class. These people attempt to enter the world of the elite, simply by interacting with them. An example is the affair between Myrtle of the lower class, and Tom of the upper class. Altogether, the characters in the novel live by the expectations of society and the class in which they belong to. Fitzgerald shows that these corruptions in society lead to conflict upon conflict, each of which all are related. His style of showing these things are somewhat of a parallelism of characters: Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship is parallel to the affair of Tom and Myrtle.
Fitzgerald incorporates three main symbols that tie Nick Carraway’s experiences together: the green light, the “valley of ashes”, and the billboard of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. The green light is located at the end of Daisy’s dock in East Egg, visible from Gatsby’s mansion in West Egg. It symbolizes Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for his future with Daisy, and his future in general. In the first chapter, Carraway watches Gatsby reach out towards the light in the darkness. Fitzgerald uses this scene to foreshadow Gatsby’s countless efforts in being close to Daisy.
Second is the symbol of the “valley of ashes”. It is a stretch of land between New York City and West Egg, that the characters pass through many times throughout the novel to reach their destinations. The region is desolate and is used as a place to dump industrial ashes. The valley is a symbol of lowering oneself. For example, the Wilsons are a lower class couple that live in the valley; they are not of high social standards compared to the other characters. As they pass through the “valley of ashes”, it’s as if the other characters feel that they have an obligation to stoop to a lower status while in the valley. The final symbol is the billboard of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg whose eyes are the focus. His eyes symbolize God’s own eyes, staring down and judging the immoral society the new era has brought.
Fitzgerald makes it a point to integrate several themes of wealth, dishonesty, social status, and “the American dream”. There are three core themes that hold true throughout the story. The first is that excess wealth and money corrupts the morals of regular people, especially during the 1920s. The upper class characters are revealed as the most corrupt, which eventually leads to the destruction of lives and even death. Excessive wealth gives people the mentality that their money can resolve any situation without circumstances. The second theme is that societal values will always change, no matter the era. In terms of the book, social values in the 1920s deviated from the more conservative values and standards before the Roaring Twenties. This holds true even to this day. The third theme is that people are not yet treated equally and that social discrimination still exists. Fitzgerald delivers this theme to the readers during a scene where Tom Buchanan plays mental games with George Wilson, as he tries to resell his car. Essentially, Tom sees himself as superior to Wilson based upon wealth and class.
All in all, F. Scott Fitzgerald filled The Great Gatsby with complexity within all aspects: the characters and their development throughout the novel, the theme, and setting altogether. Fitzgerald takes the reader back to the Roaring Twenties, showing how the expectations of society and social hierarchy. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who is optimistic in all ways because The Great Gatsby can be interpreted in several ways that are all relevant. The novel inspired me, especially with the concluding thought: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter-tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning-
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”. Jay Gatsby believed that through human struggles, people were capable of achieving their goals and re-creating the past; and to me, that truly makes him The Great Gatsby.
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