During the 1920s, new materialism emerged out of society’s desperate search for meaning after World War I. When the young soldiers returned from the war, they found that their previous way of living had little importance. Rather than finding a reason for what they thought of as their mere existence, they immersed themselves in money and wanton spending and consuming. The Stock Market and organized crime became popular ways to feed the hunger for wealth. In his novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays this materialism and regard for money as the downfall of American society during the 1920s. He uses the characters and places in his novel to represent the different facets of this new mentality. Nick and Gatsby are examples of the World War I veterans who searched for money and status. The guests at Gatsby’s parties symbolize the clamber to gain wealth. Fitzgerald uses the disparities between the East and West Egg to portray the differences between the aristocracy and the newly rich.
The character of Jay Gatsby is the main example of Fitzgerald’s point. He is a World War I veteran who seeks wealth in order to impress his love. However, this goal is completely hopeless. The woman of his fancies is Daisy Buchanan, who is married to Tom Buchanan. Gatsby has convinced himself that it is possible to win back his old love from the past. Gatsby has a way of turning his hopes into his own reality, no matter how impossible they may be, as demonstrated by the following quotation.
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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. (The Great Gatsby, page 104)
This is exactly the kind of lifestyle that Fitzgerald is warning against the living. Trying to make a living the way it was in the past is futile. Gatsby turns to crime in order to impress Daisy, which just makes his situation even worse. While Gatsby is convinced that he is working to get back Daisy, he is really just living in a fantasy world. His life is not about living it, but about pursuing an impossible dream.
In the process of trying to impress Daisy, Gatsby throws enormous, extravagant parties intended to catch Daisy’s attention. Since Gatsby’s goal in life is to get Daisy back, he never bothered to make real friends. Instead, he invites the rich and aristocratic members of West Egg and East Egg. These guests are meant to symbolize the two parts of the wealthy society in New York. One group is from West Egg. They are part of the wealthy that has gotten rich off the stock market and through organized crime. The others are from the aristocracy in East Egg.
Fitzgerald includes them both to make the point that while they may set themselves apart, there is no distinction between the groups as regards the problems with their lifestyles. Both live towards materialistic ends and have no real purpose in life. They are both involved in a hurried scramble to acquire as much wealth as possible, but to what end? The guests try to look important in order to gain status in society, but other than that they have no real purpose for what they do. Fitzgerald believes that that is part of the reason New York society is flawed.
Another flaw that Fitzgerald uses the West Egg and East Egg to demonstrate is the clash between the new and old amounts of money. The West Egg, with its group of newly rich, strives to become a part of the established aristocracy, the East Egg, who refuse to accept them in their stubbornness. The West Egg is stuck in the idea that they need to be accepted into the aristocracy in order to be important, which is an extension of their desire to become rich and important. The East Egg believes that they are already important and that the new upstarts are not as important as them. Both suffer unknowingly from the fact that they both hunger for wealth and importance.
Nick Carraway is a young man, who, after getting an education at Yale, goes off to fight World War I. When he returns, he moves to West Egg to learn the bond business. Fitzgerald uses him to comment on and reflect Fitzgerald’s own views. Nick represents the conflict between the two facets of like on the East Coast. On one hand, he likes the fun and pleasure-seeking lifestyle. But he also realizes that living this way is destructive and negative. New York has a property about it that Nick describes in the following passage.
Even when the East excited me most, even when I was most keenly aware of its superiority to the bored, sprawling, swollen towns beyond Ohio, with their interminable inquisitions which spared only the children and the very old—even then it had always for me a quality of distortion. (The Great Gatsby, page 184-185)
The quality of distortion that he describes is the residue of the populous’s lifestyle. The people’s greed and self-created importance give a grotesque undertone to the life of New York that seems glamorous from the outside. He realizes that the people in New York pursue their lifestyle in an effort to escape an inner confrontation with their moral values in which they fear that they will realize the pointlessness of their existence. At the end of the book, when he finally grasps this, he moves back to Minnesota to live a more traditional life. This is meant by Fitzgerald to demonstrate his belief that America should return to an older moral code.
Through these characters and locations, Fitzgerald makes a point about society on the East Coast during the 1920s. The search for money and importance had come out of a search for meaning after World War I. Fitzgerald wrote the Great Gatsby in order to point out that this greed had corrupted American society, morals, and ideals. He believed that society should be based on the American dream, which Fitzgerald describes in Chapter IX as being about discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness. He also thought that the search for money had corrupted these ideas. While on the outside The Great Gatsby is about a thwarted love affair, it is on the inside a grave commentary on the ills of society in the 1920s.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is about a man named Gatsby, in love with a woman, Daisy, who is married to Tom Buchannan. He dreams that one day he and Daisy will get together. Gatsby has worked hard to become the man that he believes will impress Daisy. Even though he has an extravagant house, lots of money, and wild parties, he is without the one person he wants, Daisy. Even befriending Nick deals with Gatsby getting Daisy because Daisy is Nick’s cousin. In a meeting arranged by Nick and Gatsby, Daisy is invited over for tea and she sees Gatsby. It seems as if time is suspended for a moment, as they look at each other both thinking something. Then Gatsby tips over Nick’s clock, symbolizing that he is running out of time to try to capture what he and Daisy once lost. Through the lonely and careless characters of Jordan Baker Jay Gatsby, Myrtle, and G. Wilson, Fitzgerald is able to illustrate the lack of spirituality in this novel.
The main place in The Great Gatsby that shows the lack of spirituality is the Valley of Ashes, where Myrtle and her husband, George Wilson live. It is a bleak, desolate valley including only one building, a car garage. One day while driving around Tom and Nick stop off at the valley to see Myrtle, Tom’s mistress. Nick describes this valley as being: “about halfway between West Egg and New York… a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens” (27). The concern here is with the corruption of values and the decline of spiritual life. The traditional views of God and Religion are dead here and the readers can tell this because the only God-like image in this novel is a billboard with the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s advertising glasses.
The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg represent the fact that God and religion have taken a less substantial role in comparison with the gods that have the powers of wealth, status, and greed. Dr. Eckleburg represents God, but by the way, Nick describes the billboard tells the readers that even though God may watch over His people, he is being ignored in this novel, which is symbolized by the decaying billboard: “his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under the sun and rain” (28). George Wilson is the owner of the car garage in the Valley of Ashes. When Nick first meets Wilson he describes him as a “blonde, spiritless, man” the description fits him well because Wilson works on machines, especially cars (29). Machines are the lifeless, inanimate objects from which Wilson makes his living. Machines have no spirit; according to Nick Wilson has no spirit either.
Carelessness shows a lack of spirituality because if a person is careless then he or she is reckless and usually has no concern for rules or consequences. The disregard for other people is shown in this novel mostly through driving. Nick tells Jordan one day while he is riding with her that she is: “a rotten driver…either you ought to be more careful or you oughtn’t to drive at all” (63). Jordan protests that she is a careful driver but messes up her statement by saying: “they’ll keep out of my way” (63). That shows that she has a lack of concern for other drivers and only concern for herself if she believes that other people will keep out of her way. Say she meets someone else that has that same motto. Jordan was right when she pointed out to Nick that: “it takes two to make an accident” (63).
By his own choice, Gatsby tries to remain secluded and Nick observes that he does this even at his own parties: “my eyes fell on Gatsby, standing alone on marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes… I wondered if the fact that he was not drinking helped to set him off from his guests” (54). He is rarely seen among his guests, most of the time he is just watching them. Gatsby is a lonely man, although there was a small bit of romantic speculation between him and Daisy, that idea is crushed in the hotel room when Daisy admits to Gatsby that he wants too much. Tom ends the dispute by saying to Daisy: “Go on [home in Gatsby’s car]… I think he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over” (142). This scene marked the end for Gatsby and Daisy.
This is a hard concept for Gatsby to grasp because he has spent most of his life longing for Daisy. One day Nick sees him outside with his arms: “stretched out… toward the dark water in a curious way, and as far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling…I glanced seaward and distinguished nothing except a single green light” (26). That light was on the end of Daisy’s dock, which is why he built his house where he did, so he could see Daisy’s. Even Nick knows that for Gatsby to imagine that what he thought he had with Daisy is over is too hard to believe and says: “he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream.
He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered” (169). Gatsby had no faith to fall back on. Gatsby’s world does not extend beyond Daisy, just as Wilson’s world revolved around Myrtle. When she is murdered, all Wilson can think about is revenge. Once Wilson murders Gatsby, he has no other reason for living, so he kills himself because without Myrtle he can no longer function. On the other hand, Gatsby believes until the day he dies that Daisy never loved Tom and that there was still hope for him and his only love.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, the subject, Jay Gatsby, eludes extensive description of the character. During the extent of the narrative, the reader creates his own opinion of the individual. Fitzgerald intended this to create suspicion towards Gatsby. Despite the questionable characteristics, Fitzgerald did have a reason for describing Gatsby as “great”. Such a reason is not clearly found on the surface, but more so on his driving spirit and determination. From the introduction of Gatsby’s character, he is constantly being driven by his dreams of Daisy.
No obstacle was impenetrable. This trait of Gatsby is what makes him “great”. In a lifestyle and society of careless and irresponsible people, he seems pure. Unlike others who merely exist to entertain themselves, he did not acquire wealth for his own comfort, but for Daisy. An example of the pursuit of his dream and not for shallow amusement is his parties. Gatsby often holds exciting parties with interesting people, in which no expense is spared, but he himself barely makes an appearance at them. This shows that he does not wish to have a good time he is only after his dream.
Myrtle Wilson is not a character that influences the story herself, but more by her actions. Being Tom’s mistress the reader initially assumes she is a “bad” person. After further examination, she seems to draw feelings of sympathy and pity. The feelings originate from the fact that she contains some of the same traits as Gatsby. She is not a “bad” person she is just following her dream, as was Gatsby. Not only were they both following a dream, but also, in essence, it was the same dream, to fit in with high-society. Myrtle was not Tom’s mistress because she was unfaithful to her husband; it was a way for her to live her dream of a wealthy life. The reader also has feelings of sympathy for Myrtle because she almost seems pathetic. In her small apartment, she has decorated it with lavish objects to imitate the appearance of wealth. Also when Tom and Nick visited Wilson’s house she made a point to explain that she did not care what she looked like when it was obvious that she did.
In The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald has many themes worked into his story? One theme, which is a major character in many of his stories, is it is written almost autobiographical. Gatsby and Fitzgerald have many things in common. Gatsby is considered dirty money, and does not fit in with the old money types, but is constantly trying to fit in to impress a girl. Fitzgerald had little money but he would only impress the girl he was after if he were wealthy. Both are strikingly similar. Both men would stick with their dreams and be very determined. When Fitzgerald was told poor boys don’t marry rich girls, he would not be discouraged and kept struggling. Gatsby continuously tried to win Daisy over even when discovering she was now married.
Fitzgerald was not considered one of the greatest writers of his time for nothing. He had an uncanny connection with the written word that most cannot fathom. He was very talented, and no area of his work could be considered weak by any standards, but he was best at description by far. It is hard to describe the way Fitzgerald writes. It has an almost abstract quality to it. He will describe something, or someone’s feelings, by describing those things “around” it leaving the reader to fill in what is meant to be said. Many excerpts of his writings could be analyzed as simplistic, but when put in context with further study it could have many different layers and meanings. Different people can take his writing in different ways and still get the same experience out of the book. An example of what has been rambled on about in this paragraph is:
“When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour before we melted indistinguishably into it again.”
In The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald talks, and sometimes hints at carelessness. Mostly the group he has described as careless would be wealthy. They do not think about the consequences of their actions. They do what pleases them, for however short it may be, not caring who or what they hurt in their way. To them there is a price tag on everything, they can buy happiness and friendship and not feel empty at all. Because they believe that their wealth makes them more important than anyone else, they do what they want. That is what careless means.
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