What Social Problems Are Exposed In The Great Gatsby?
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is set in the 1920's, a period of American History known as the "Roaring Twenties". The Great Gatsby is the story of the extravagant lifestyle of the rich and famous of New York in this time of peace and prosperity. The story is told by Nick Carraway, a young bonds salesman who has just moved to the wealthy but unfashionable area known as the "West Egg". However, behind the lavish displays of wealth and spectacular gatherings, the author exposes many social and human problems facing the inhabitants of Long Island. His use of: realistic writing, first person narrative, symbolism all help to convey his message to the reader.
The main topic or problem raised by the author in the novel is the hollowness of the upper class. The Great Gatsby focuses around the lifestyle of the self-made millionaires living in the West Egg as compared to the old aristocracy of the countries richest families living in the East Egg.
"Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water"
The residents of the West Egg are portrayed as tasteless, wasteful, extravagant and socially ill mannered. The residents of the East Egg are seen to be elegant, graceful and the opposite to their West Egg neighbours. For example, the Buchanan's own an elegant mansion on the East Egg while Gatsby resides in his giant gothic mansion.
"The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard - it was a 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 40 acres of lawn and garden"
This extract clearly emphasizes the enormity of Gatsby's mansion, and the fact that it would never be socially accepted if it were built on the East Egg. Gatsby built the house for one reason, to attract the attention of his old flame, Daisy Buchanan. Daisy is the cousin of Nick, the novel's narrator. Gatsby has been in love with Daisy ever since their short-lived love affair during the war. Daisy on the other hand, married an extremely wealthy man by the name of Tom Buchanan because of his money. Daisy and Tom are so used to being wealthy that they never worry about hurting others.
"Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand"
This quote refers to the scene where Tom Buchanan breaks his mistress' nose just because she is yelling at him. This shows he has no regard for anybody but himself. The hollowness of both Tom and Daisy is exemplified...
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The Great Gatsby and the American Dream The Great Gatsby is an interesting and thought-provoking novel by the American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald that sets to explore important and complex social themes such as the hollowness of the upper class and the characteristics and decline of the American Dream during the prosperous years preceding the Great Depression. The Great Gatsby is presented at the surface as a thwarted love story between a man, Jay Gatsby, and a woman, Daisy Buchanan. However, the main theme of the novel goes beyond this and comprises a larger, and indeed less romantic, social context.
Furthermore, despite the novel’s setting in New York during the summer of 1922 it is still a representation of America throughout the whole decade of the 1920s. The Great Gatsby serves in this context to particularly highlight the disintegration of the American Dream during a period of unprecedented wealth and material prosperity. Yet, this access to wealth comes in the novel at the expense of social and moral values as is clear through the dominance of greed and the empty pursuit of pleasure among the characters.
The decline and corruption of the American Dream is epitomized through Gatsby’s lifestyle that involves wild parties and loud jazz music every night. This lifestyle is symbolic of the unrestrained, and hence corrupted, pursuit of money at the expense of any other goals and values in life. Fitzgerald’s focus on this theme in the novel is in its turn the outcome of his poor background that led him to become fascinated with the concept of wealth and its surrounding ramifications. In short, The Great Gatsby by F.
Scott Fitzgerald is a novel that explores the social sphere that led to the decadence and corruption of the American Dream. The story develops when Nick meets Jay Gatsby while attending one of his famous parties. Gatsby comes strongly over as a young man who tries too hard to appear classier than he is. For instance, he fakes an English accent to sound more sophisticated. Gatsby decides then to tell Jordan about his feelings for Daisy and Nick learns through Jordan that Gatsby met Daisy five years before and had been madly in love with her ever since.
The surprising aspect of the matter is that his whole life style is based on impressing her. The parties are just a way to attract her attention from across the street and the lavish expenditure is another way through which Gatsby attempts to win her thoughts and attention. He has been waiting for a chance to meet Daisy, but out of fear of rejection does not attempt anything except for his parties. This is where Nick steps in to help through inviting Daisy to his house for tea. The events soon follow and Daisy and Gatsby engage in an affair that brings about the tragic ending of the novel.
Tom Buchanan’s suspicion regarding his wife and Gatsby grows leading to a violent confrontation with Gatsby, regardless of his personal engagement in an affair. Daisy eventually chooses Tom after he announces that Gatsby made his fortune through the illegal activities of bootlegging alcohol. While on their way back home Daisy kills Myrtle, Tom’s mistress, unknowingly with her car and Gatsby takes the blame once again, which shows his foolish addiction and loyalty to a woman that had already let him down. Myrtle’s husband suspects Gatsby to be the secret lover and shoots him dead in his swimming pool along with himself.
It is then that Nick decides to leave the area as he feels sick with the emptiness surrounding the lives of everybody around him. The moral decay in the lives of the rich and the obsession with money and absence of honesty in relationships makes Nick eager to find a new place to start over. The East Egg is thus an analogy to the American Dream in general where the obsession with personal gain transformed the society of the 1920s into a materialistic, selfish and immoral era; an era where personal values and deep human sentiments like love seemed to lose meaning to the constant and never ending pursuit of more and more money.
The presentation of the 1920s by Fitzgerald as an era of decayed moral values ties closely in with the theme of the corrupted American Dream. The sphere of this decade is dominated by cynicism, greed, and the empty pursuit of pleasure. Fitzgerald seems to suggest that the reckless jubilance that created the opportunities for while decadent parities and loud jazz music, similarly to Gatsby’s parties every night, was the direct result of this atmosphere. However, the pursuit of pleasure in such a manner did not bring happiness or fulfillment but only brought about the corruption of the American Dream.
This corruption of the American Dream is due to the unrestrained desire for power and money, which surpassed any sense of nobility in people’s goals and motivations. To understand this presentation of the American Dream one has to first comprehend the characteristics of this Dream. The American Dream encompasses the myth of America’s birth, a myth that is defined by a familiar phrase: The New World. The establishment of the United States, the growth of the country and its power in such a short time, and the sense of success felt across the nation as a result created the concept of the American Dream.
America was conceived originally as a new beginning, a new world, a second chance. It was a world that contrasted with the Old World’s structure and all its corruption, social divisions, tyranny, and superficiality. On this basis is the American Dream founded. The key concepts that lie at the heart of the American Dream are, and as stated in the Constitution, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. In short, America as a nation and identity was born out of a dream. However, the American Dream came to signify material wealth with the growth of consumerism in society in the early years of the 20th century.
The American Dream became conceived in terms of success, particularly material success. Getting rich within the shortest amount of time was all that mattered. F. Scott Fitzgerald dwells thus on the decline of the moral value of the American Dream in the context of the growth of consumerism and obsessive pursuit of material wealth in an increasingly capitalist minded society (Kochan 1-2). The Great Gatsby is not simply a depiction of the Jazz Age, but is also a dramatization of the betrayal of the original and naive American Dream in a corrupt society.
This is well highlighted through the stories of the characters. From the beginning, Fitzgerald’s dreams of romance contain the “seeds of their own destruction” (Kochan 2). Jay Gatsby pursued wealth and social standing as a result of his feelings for Daisy Buchanan. However, he achieved this goal through participating in criminal activities that include the distribution of illegal alcohol and the trade in stolen securities. From his early years as an adolescent and adult, Gatsby desired to be rich and disliked living in poverty.
However, his main motivation behind acquiring wealth is his love for Daisy Buchanan with who he has been in love ever since he met her as a young military officer in Louisville in 1917. Gatsby lied to Daisy about his own background as he did not want to appear insignificant. In other words, he attached his conception of his worth as a person to the amount of money that he possessed, which led him to feel inadequate and therefore in need of concealing his true social standing. From that moment on, and despite Daisy’s marriage to Tom Buchanan, Gatsby dedicated himself to winning her through acquiring millions of dollars.
His lavish parties and purchase of a mansion on West Egg are all ways through which he seeks to accomplish this goal. Because he is able to reinvent himself, Gatsby is capable of realizing his ‘American Dream’ as exemplified by the changing of his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby. It is this particular talent for reinventing himself that makes Gatsby ‘great’. However, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that this presentation of his own identity is inconsistent with his true nature.
Gatsby is gradually developed as a young and hopeful man with great trust in his visions, and without the slightest realization of the unworthiness of these dreams. His investment in Daisy and elevation of her personality to that of idealistic perfection is symbolic of society’s conception of the American Dream as a whole. It is also a destructive act because it overlooks the limitations of the dream. His dream of Daisy disintegrates in the novel and reveals consequentially the unworthiness of his goals and the corruption that wealth brings along. This is once again symbolic of the American Dream’s decline in the 1920s (Tyson 40-43).
Fitzgerald highlights through Jay Gatsby how the optimism and powerful concepts that made up the America Dream, such as vitality and wealth, became insignificant in comparison with the acquisition of material power, a fact that corrupted the American Dream as superficial and unfulfilling. It is a dream that is as a result incapable of bringing happiness and true liberty to the individual. Thus, Fitzgerald explores in this novel the “limitations of self-making, the delusions of materialism, and in intangibility of aspiration in a supposedly classless society” (Shaffer and O’Donnell 572).
Gatsby’s ambition and pursuit of materialism is at the end of the novel elegized as the expression of the American Dream: Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us, It eludes us then, but that’s no matter – to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning-So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past (Fitzgerald 180). Fitzgerald explains here how the divisions of modernity made the past ideals of character obsolete.
He highlights how the Romantic destiny that many people, including him, wanted to believe in had simply given way to “fashionable decadence and self-destruction” in the name of the pursuit of social status (Shaffer and O’Donnell 572). The moral core of the Romantic destiny that initially characterized the American Dream ceased to exist in the modern world of consumerism, materialism, and obsession with appearances. It has become clear so far that Fitzgerald is in The Great Gatsby very critical of the inauthentic behavior that the fake world of the American Dream brings about.
The author is very critical of the possibility of achieving a high degree of authenticity in history given the pressures and demands that comes from living in a social context. These pressures demand that people remain in line with the customs and standards of thinking and behaving. The American Dream is pursued in this context by most individuals (Bumm 11). Materialism is advertised as the ultimate goal and the failure of the individual in realizing this goal is a failure of his entire purpose of being.
The hollowness of the American Dream in relation to its ability to bring real happiness and emotional fulfillment to the individual is clarified at the end through Nick Carraway’s reflection on the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy: And as I [Nick Carraway] sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He has come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that could hardly fail to grasp it.
He did not know that it was already behind him; somewhere back into that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night” (Fitzgerald 180). In this passage Nick indicates that wealth was the only means through which Gatsby could win Daisy. Gatsby whom everyone believed to be an ambitious man who is only interested in becoming richer turns out to be no more than a simple dreamer whose only real desire is love. The fact that love has a price and is only obtainable through material pursuit underscores the corrupted nature of society.
This attitude is underscored in the protagonist’s sense of disillusion after learning that Daisy had left him and joined Tom because he was not rich enough. He tells Nick what he thinks of her decadent behavior when he states that “Her voice is full of money” (Bumm 13-14). Thus, Jay Gatsby, formerly known as Jimmy Gatz, is like his romanticized ideals of the American Dream a creation that corresponds with the social structure of the 1920s. He rose to wealth through participating in organized crime, which included the distribution of illegal alcohol and the trade in stolen securities.
Furthermore, his theatricality, as is emphasized through his lifestyle, serves to underscore the hollowness of his character and the American Dream. Gatsby’s character does indeed fit the social changes and construct of the early 20th century. After the end of the First World War in 1918 the generation of young Americans, like Gatsby, who had fought in the war became increasingly disillusioned as a result of their experiences in the war that made the social standards of behavior of American feel like empty hypocrisy.
The rise of the stock market after the war created opportunities for the pursuit of wealth and materialism and people began spending at unprecedented levels. Any individual could make a fortune. Furthermore, the Eighteenth Amendment that banned alcohol in 1919 created opportunities for the rise of a black market where individuals as Gatsby flourished. Gatsby is an emblem of the social trends and changes that occurred in America (Bloom and Hobby 67-70). In the following words Nick describes, through comparing Gatsby to Jesus Christ, how Gatsby created his own identity in pursuit of a happiness that he was however never able to achieve.
This is because his focus was on emotional fulfillment, which he found unrealizable through material gain as love is simply not for sale: The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end (Fitzgerald 98).
The characters of The Great Gatsby are emblems of the economic and social changes of the 1920s. First, the narrator of the novel is Nick Carraway, a young man from Minnesota who graduated from Yale, fought in the world war and moved after that to New York to “learn the bond business” in 1922. Nick embodies the cosmopolitan section in society that is cynical from the experience in the war. He settles down in Long Island where he is able to rent a house in the West Egg district. The place is a fashionable and suburban area that is mainl populated by the rich class who are very keen on displaying their luxurious lifestyle. Nick soon learns about his neighbor Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man who throws parties every Saturday night in his grand house. Among his other neighbors are his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom who live across the bay. Tom and Daisy belong to the rich class but their lives are from the start pictured as empty. Tom’s glorious days as a football player are over while Daisy’s beauty cannot hide her superficiality or her lack of attention to her three-year old daughter.
Nick meets during this visit Daisy’s friend Jordan Baker who tells him that Tom has a mistress named Myrtle. This is the beginning of a long and troubling story full of deceit, extra-marital relationships, lies and pretensions. Through these interactions Nick comes to realize that wealth has a corrupting influence. Gatsby represents the new wealth, the class that rose to prosperity after the rise of the rock market in the aftermath of the war. Gatsby embodies the newly rich who are vulgar, ostentatious, and lack on social taste and grace.
Gatsby lives, for instance, in a monstrously ornate mansion and wears pink suits. He does not understand the social conventions of the upper class, such as the insincerity of the Sloanes’ invitation to lunch. On the other hand, Tom and Daisy represent the old aristocracy which has grace, subtlety, and elegance as is clear from the Buchanan’s’ tasteful home and the white dresses of Daisy. However, the old wealth lacks nobleness, morality, and sincerity. It is a selfish and inconsiderate class who are used to money’s ability to ease their conscious and, therefore, do not worry about hurting others.
The division of social classes in America is clear from the partition of the novel between East and West Egg. Throughout the novel these places become symbolic of the divided nature of American society in the 1920s. East Egg represents aristocracy while West Egg is for the newly rich. The valley of ashes represents on the other hand the moral and social decay of America. New York City comes to stand for the amoral quest for pleasure and wealth at any cost (Bloom 24). For instance, Myrtle Wilson lives in the valley of ashes which is somewhere between New York City and West Egg. Her affair with Tom occurs, however, in New York City.
Soon after Nick learns about Tom’s affair he travels with him and Myrtle to New York City where they have a party in a vulgar apartment that is Tom’s and Myrtle’s secret “nest”. Myrtle herself is married and does not wish for her affair to be revealed. Tom on the other hand shows a certain amount of ambiguity regarding his feelings for his wife when he responds violently to Myrtle’s mockery about Daisy by breaking Myrtle’s nose. This all convinces Nick more and more that the lives of his friends and family is one big lie without any obvious meaning attached to the thoughts or actions conducted.
These observations underscore the degree of social corruption across different segments of society. Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s life is also reflected in this particular novel. Fitzgerald himself was raised in Minnesota in a relatively poor family. He was however able to attend Princeton as a young man and grew fascinated with the characteristics of a wealthy lifestyle. Contrary to Nick, Fitzgerald did not obtain an official graduate degree as his studies were surprisingly enough characterized by poor achievement. However, the writer himself served briefly in the army (Boyer). During this time, he met Zelda Sayre, his future wife.
Fitzgerald’s love story and struggle in his relationship with Zelda is depicted in Jay Gatsby’s infatuation and almost blind addiction with Daisy. The Great Gatsby portrays the materialistic aspects that characterize Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy, and the consequent emotional void that resulted from it, in a very vivid manner. This depiction is based on the true events and emotions of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose continuous struggle to make more and more money to satisfy the needs of his demanding young beautiful wife, resembles Gatsby’s attempt to allure Daisy through a glamorous lifestyle.
Fitzgerald achieved richness and high status as a writer in an attempt to convince Zelda of marrying him. The marriage happened in fact only after the successful publication of his first book This Side of Paradise in 1920. Zelda is symbolic of the materialistic Daisy who pushed Gatsby to make more and more money to conquer her heart. The realization of the American Dream in this way came to feel as a hypocritical and empty lie to both Gatsby and Fitzgerald, which made both their lives lapse in a state of glitter, glamour, and moral emptiness (Gross and Gross 33-37).
As has been noted, the main events of the novel are based on the real life of the writer. After Fitzgerald’s rise to fame, he became immersed in the same emotionally devoid existence as Gatsby. The focus was on a wild lifestyle that is filled with parties and a constant effort to write more and make more financially. This all appeared grim and bleak when the Great Depression hit in 1929. The Fitzgerald family started to consequentially collapse similarly to Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship after she learned about the source of his wealth.
The Great Gatsby deals thus with the social dilemmas that characterized the 1920s through the personal perspective of the writer. The illegal sale of alcohol after the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment made many bootleggers millionaires in a very short time. The American economy was thriving and people were doing well but the Great Depression brought a shock to the nation that changed everything. The Jazz Age as described in the novel is an era where the standards, values and morals of the previous generation became less significant in comparison with the pursuit of more and more financial gain.
Fitzgerald was also attracted by this lifestyle. He attempted to keep his American Dream alive at the cost of his own values and happiness. When he was not able to do so he became a depressed alcoholic. Thus, the main similarity between Gatsby and Fitzgerald is their deep love and unreasonable obsession with a woman that drove them further and further into a state of despair, which blinded them from the true nature of happiness as something that was simply not obtained through materialism and greed.
As Fitzgerald explains through Nick in chapter nine, the American Dream was originally about individualism, the pursuit of happiness and discovery. However, the era of the 1920s approaches the American Dream, and one’s relevant worth in relation to it, from a different angle that emphasizes the importance of easy money and weakened social values. These conditions corrupted the Dream given the decline of the significance of nobleness and morals in favor of money and appearances. This in its turn impacted the relationships between people.
Gatsby’s love of Daisy is ruined because of their social differences. His resort to crime and the consequent materialism that comes to characterize his lifestyle to impress her is an ironical and without doubt corrupted way through which to gain someone’s love. Gatsby allocated a certain importance and meaning to Daisy that she neither deserves nor possesses which leads him to destroy his own identity and live in blindness to the reality surrounding him. The same is true with regard to the American Dream.
Just like Gatsby, Americans have given the American Dream a deep meaning that is, when analyzed, rather superficial and impertinent to fulfilling the ultimate goal behind the pursuit of it: happiness. Furthermore, just like Gatsby seeks to fruitlessly recreate a past that no longer exists with Daisy, Americans in general sought to pursue the American Dream in the 1920s in connection with an era that had ceased to be there after the war and the rise of materialism and consumerism nationally. This is how the decadence and decline of Gatsby’s dream is connected to the American Dream in general in The Great Gatsby.
In conclusion, The Great Gatsby novel is thus concerned with exploring Fitzgerald’s disappointment in the American Dream which he defines in chapter ten as a journey of discovery and happiness. The dream was however corrupted by the easy gain and obsession with fortune and money that characterized the 1920s, making Fitzgerald feel as a result that the main moral teaching of the dream was lost during the Jazz Age. Fitzgerald’s disappointment with the upper class is well illustrated in Nick’s disillusionment with the lives of the people in the East Egg district.
He leaves at the end of the novel feeling morally empty and emotionally corrupt as he realizes that the lives of his friends and family is not based on any significant ethical or moral grounds. This same disappointment was part of the writer’s real life, especially in his relationship with his wife who lapsed in a state of despair after the financial breakdown. In The Great Gatsby the focus is on the new millionaires since easy gain was a main characteristic of the era’s economic structure thanks to certain laws that made the black market thrive.
Both the new and old wealth’s lives are however characterized by illusionary appearances. The Great Gatsby explores thus a variety of subjects in a very ironical and cynical manner that reflects Fitzgerald’s own disappointment in the Jazz Age and its corruption of the American Dream. Works Cited Bloom, Harold. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006. Print. Bloom, Harold, and Blake Hobby. The American Dream. New York, NY: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2009. Print. Boyer, Paul S. “Fitzgerald, F. Scott. ” The Oxford Companion to United States History.
Encyclopedia. Com. Oxford University Press, 2001. Web. 3 April 2011. Bumm, Tobias. The Failure of the ‘American Dream’ in the Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Unknown: GRIN Verlag, 2007. Print. Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925. Print. Gross, Dalton, and MaryJean Gross. Understanding The Great Gatsby: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1998. Print. Kochan, Sandra. The Great Gatsby and the American Dream. Unknown: GRIN Verlag, 2007. Print. Shaffer, Brian W. and Patrick O’Donnell. The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-century Fiction. Chichester, West Sussex, U. K. : Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Print. Tyson, Lois. Psychological Politics of the American Dream: The Commodification of Subjectivity in Twentieth-century American Literature. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1994. Print. After reading the comments of my classmates and re-reading my paper numerous times, I decided my classmates were right and reworded the first sentence of paragraph 2 on page 4 so that it makes a little more sense to the reader.
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In addition, I removed the indentation of the first line following the indented quotations on pages 5, 6, and 8 in order to follow the appropriate MLA guidelines. I also noticed that the spacing between paragraphs was too wide, so I have corrected that as well. Lastly, I double-checked all of my citations for accuracy and discovered that I spelled one of the author’s names wrong and had the wrong page numbers referenced for another, so I have made the necessary corrections throughout the paper as well.
Author: Wallace Hartsell
The Great Gatsby & the American Dream
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