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Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age Perception in “The Great Gatsby”

Introduction

Great works of literature remain in history for a variety of reasons. Some of them represent a particular era masterfully, leaving the reader with strong, vivid impressions. This objective is attained through accurate use of specific symbols, strengthening the work’s relation to a particular epoch, and contributing to its overall authenticity. Francis Scott Fitzgerald wrote several novels, but it is The Great Gatsby that secured for its author a place in the literary hall of fame. This work demonstrates an excellent representation of the Jazz Age, namely the major flaws of the elite. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the features used by Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby in terms of its contribution to the reader’s impression and the work’s status.

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Author Background and Biography

Francis Scott Fitzgerald was an eminent author of the beginning of the 20th century. He was born in Minnesota in 1896 in a regular family, which often moved between towns (F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography). Interestingly, the future author’s second cousin from his father’s side was Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics of Star-Spangled Banner. Fitzgerald was a bright and talented child, demonstrating a strong interest in literature from a young age. He attended a prestigious preparatory school in New Jersey, where his academic advisors helped him develop his literary talent (F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography). In a way, Fitzgerald’s work success was largely determined by the supportive environment in which his talent was nurtured. He showed a great level of dedication to the craft, writing articles and stories. However, it is said that this development came at the expense of Fitzgerald’s academic performance, which is why he had to quit Princeton University and join the Army. Despite such hardships, he remained loyal to the writing profession and dedicated the rest of his life to it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is known as a prominent novelist and short-story writer, and the majority of his works were published in the 1920s. His first important book was titled The Slide of Paradise and was an autobiographical story exploring the concepts of love and greed (F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography). Fitzgerald filled this work with his insight, allowing his writer’s voice to be heard. As a result, the public shortly recognized the talent of the then 24-year-old author and deemed him one of the most promising young writers. His second novel, titled The Beautiful and Damned, also was quite successful, contributing to Fitzgerald’s positive reputation among the readers. The audience saw him as a master chronicler of the Jazz Age, who had managed to grasp the spirit of the time. Fitzgerald himself saw this period as an “age of miracles” when art and satire were flourishing (Ismael and Samardali 42). This strong sense of time and epoch contributed to the quality of the author’s works and secured his position in the eyes of the audience.

However, while Fitzgerald’s talent was quickly recognized following the creation of his first serious works, he owes his global fame to the third piece he created. The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, eventually becoming the work of Fitzgerald’s entire life (F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography). From a thematic point of view, this novel is directly connected to The Beautiful and Damned. Fitzgerald willingly focused on his accurate perception of the era, which was considered to be one of the author’s greatest advantages. This way, The Great Gatsby managed to grasp the spirit of the Jazz Age similarly. At the same time, this 1925 novel demonstrated incredible lyricism and pointed critique of materialistic views. Naturally, The Great Gatsby was warmly welcomed by the audience of that time, but the novel attained its resounding success only several decades later, following Fitzgerald’s death.

The Great Gatsby was not the author’s final work, but it secured his prominent position in the history of literature. In 1934, almost a decade later, Fitzgerald published his work Tender is the Night. It told the story of a psychiatrist caught in a troubled relationship with his patient. The plot was inspired by Fitzgerald’s own experience with his wife’s mental illness, which had a lasting impact on the author’s work and life. At first, his fourth novel had a mixed reception due to its complicated chronological structure, but, eventually, Tender is the Night joined its predecessor in the list of America’s literary heritage (F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography). Nevertheless, it was never able to reach the same level of fame and recognition as The Great Gatsby, which remains the primary work strongly associated with the image of Fitzgerald. Furthermore, the author began to work on his fifth major novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, but the process was forever interrupted by his death in 1940 (F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography). Despite his short life, F. Scott Fitzgerald greatly contributed to classical literature on a global level.

The Jazz Age

The colossal success of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was determined by several major factors, but it is his accurate perception and presentation of the era that played a crucial part. The novel is set in the Roaring 20s, to which the media often refers as the Jazz Age. Ismael and Samardali place this period between 1919 and 1929 from a chronological point of view (42). This decade in the United States was characterized by a clash of old and new moral values, which contributed to its controversial image. Wealth and corruption became prevalent in society, whereas moral aspects were neglected (Ismael and Samardali 42). The Roaring Twenties are associated with the increasing popularity of materialistic views, to which Fitzgerald objected in many of his works. The Jazz Age received its name partly because of numerous parties, which were held by wealthy people and where the music was played loudly. This entourage forms the stylistic core of Fitzgerald’s most famous work, creating its unparalleled atmosphere.

The Jazz Age may serve as a suitable background for different plots, but Fitzgerald expands its importance to more than just the setting. According to Ismael and Samardali, The Great Gatsby is not merely a story about wealth and love (42). It comments on the very concept of the American Dream. It is a national idea, which has existed in the United States for a long time. The American Dream concerns not only an individual’s aspirations but the whole country. The Dream is strongly related to the concepts of liberty and prosperity, which dominated the social landscape throughout the Roaring Twenties. People openly demonstrated their wealth and freedom to spend their time as they will, and Fitzgerald managed to incorporate the key elements of this philosophy in his novel.

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However, another side of the American Dream suggests that success and prosperity are to be attained through hard work and dedication. In the case of the Jazz, in general, and The Great Gatsby, in particular, it is often shown that wealth may undeservingly come from pure luck or even illegal criminal activity. Overall, such aspects of the Roaring Twenties presented excellent opportunities for poignant satire, which Fitzgerald willingly utilized in this work.

The Great Gatsby Plot Overview

Fitzgerald’s most prominent novel tells the story of wealth and love amid the shifting values of the Jazz Age. It is written from the perspective of Nick Carraway, who arrives in the city of West Egg in 1922 (Fitzgerald 3). He moves into a house next to the mansion of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who hosts regular parties. Throughout the novel, the narrator develops a bizarre relationship with Gatsby, while the latter also becomes acquainted with Nick’s cousin Daisy. Even though the woman is married, the titular character openly pursues her as his love interest. The majority of the novel’s dramatic value is centered around this relationship, as Daisy remains torn between Gatsby and her husband, Tom. As the story progresses, Nick Carraway becomes even more involved in the lush, free lifestyle of the Jazz Age. The narrator joins this society and makes new, unusual acquaintances.

Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald allows the reader to explore the world of Jay Gatsby gradually. The titular character’s affection for Daisy Buchanan eventually transforms into an affair, and the passion between them grows toward the end of the book. Her husband, Tom, inevitably finds out about their relationship, which causes a major conflict between the two characters. Gatsby wants Daisy to leave Tom and admit that she never actually loved her husband. Simultaneously, the reader discovers the origin of Jay’s mysterious wealth, which, in reality, was the product of illegal activities, including bootlegging. In the novel’s climax, a chain of unfortunate events culminates in one of the side characters killing the famous Jay Gatsby. When a memorial is organized at the mansion, none of his former associates come, despite having attended numerous parties at the same place. In the end, Nick Carraway remains the only person who shows sympathy for the titular character.

The portrayal of the Jazz Age in The Great Gatsby

All of the events described above unfold during the Jazz Age, which serves as a perfect background for Fitzgerald’s story. Destructive love is one of the main topics, which the author explores in his work (Ismael and Samardali 43). It is depicted in contrast with the American Dream of the wealthy, who were accustomed to having anything they desired. Jay Gatsby was a reach person who could afford many pleasures in life. However, the author shows the insatiable nature of the elite of the Roaring Twenties, who could not remain satisfied with their position for a long time. Having obtained high status and wealth, Gatsby desired to be together with Daisy Buchanan, and he was not ready to fail in the face of potential difficulties. Normally, society’s moral values would be a significant barrier in this regard, but Fitzgerald shows their decreasing role in the Jazz Age. His reader is invited to explore the world of wealth, along with Nick Carraway. Ismael and Samardali write those particular elements of the novel, such as the Valley of Ash, that serve to show the price at which such fortunes are made.

At the same time, Fitzgerald saw the Jazz Age as an era of satire, which he actively used in his work. While he artfully described the lifestyle of the wealthy, the main idea of his novel expressed disapproval of moral degradation. As mentioned earlier, Jay Gatsby managed to earn his considerable fortune through illegal activities. At first, he earns respect and admiration from various people, including Nick and, potentially, the reader. Nevertheless, as the novel reaches its climax, Fitzgerald’s narration serves to demonstrate the detrimental impact of such activities in the long term. In the end, Gatsby is unable to stop at the right moment, and he ends up losing everything, including Daisy Buchanan and his own life. Moreover, the author accurately depicts the nature of interpersonal relationships within the elite of the Jazz Age by showing that none of Gatsby’s friends care to attend his house after his death. Only Nick Carraway, representing regular people with strong moral values, remains loyal to his friend, symbolizing the purity and sincerity of his intentions. Nick remains the only character whose relationship with Gatsby was honest.

Summary and Conclusion

In conclusion, Francis Scott Fitzgerald used his literary talent to depict the 1920s, also known as the Jazz Age, from all perspectives. The author’s talent reached its peak in The Great Gatsby, which became his most popular work. This novel highlights the flaws of the Roaring Twenties, as Jay Gatsby represents the insatiable elite who is eager to control everything. The titular character’s obsession with a married woman, who symbolizes a forbidden fruit, triggers a chain of dramatic events, which culminate in Gatsby’s demise. In the end, once his fortune and posh parties become irrelevant, his friends show their true selves by turning away from Gatsby. The narrator Nick Carraway, being a simple person of the time, becomes the only true friend of the late Jay Gatsby. Overall, Fitzgerald can depict the essence of the time that ensured the lasting success of The Great Gatsby throughout decades.

References

Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. The Great Gatsby. Atlântico Press, 2013.

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Ismael, Atika M. H., and Samardali, Muntaha F. S. “Symbolism in the Great Gatsby.” Journal of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, vol. 45, 2018, pp. 42-45.

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