Although “The Great Gatsby”, a novel of the American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, was written almost a century ago, in 1925, it still remains an unparallel classic of both the American and global literature, and is often considered to be one of the greatest literary documents capturing the fickle spirit of the “Roaring Twenties”, or “the Jazz age” as it was also called. The novel captured the frantic, chaotic nature of the period, when wealth, materialism, and riveting, never-ending, careless partying became the defining characteristics of the nation, creating the vivid and seemingly alluring American Dream. But, underneath this veneer is a world filled with hypocrisy, materialism, infidelity, and numerous false values. Fitzgerald took great effort to portray this world and the people living in full detail, and using the story’s narrator and audience surrogate Nick Carraway, in order to witness every aspect of it.
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However, Nick and, through him, the readers as well, get to experience a different world with the stories central character, Jay Gatsby. At first, Gatsby seems like a part of the Jazz Age. He is part of the “new money”, seems to be lavishly rich, has connections everywhere, and throws massive parties that draw in similarly newly rich socialites from all over the neighbourhood. However, just like the New York society is not what it seems, so is Gatsby. As Nick finds out, behind the outrageous parties and massive expenses is a man driven by a dream. And everything that this society holds in such a high regard, to him is just a means to an end. And his goal is the affection of a woman he loves, Daisy. The two were in love once, as Nick discovers, but Gatsby left to try and become the man who would be worthy of her. Since she was part of the upper class, for him it meant becoming rich.
However, as we discover during the novel, no amount of wealth can help Gatsby overcome the gap between two different social classes. When she gets the opportunity to hold court over the two men who desire her, and make a choice between Gatsby’s love and her husband Tom’s promise of a comfy upper class life, despite all the lies and two-facedness, she chooses the latter, and now amount of Gatsby’s money can sway her towards him (Goodrich 109). In the end, his unrelenting search for a beautiful, but detached from reality, dream, leads to his disillusionment and death.
As was previously mentioned, Fitzgerald drew a lot of imagery for this book from his own life, and it can be easier to understand many of it by briefly analyzing his biography.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald’s life is, in many ways, in line with that of his literary characters, Nick and Gatsby. While intelligent, he wasn’t a very good as a child, a trait which followed him into adolescence and college, leading him to eventually leave education, and enrol with the army in the final years of the World War One. As a soldier he fell in love with a seventeen year old Zelda Sayre, who seemed to return his advances, but dreamed of wealth and leisure, and would not consummate their relationship with marriage, until she was sure he could provide.
This led to the author publishing his first literary work, “This Side of Paradise”, which made gave him the fame and money he needed to win his dream woman’s love. The following years solidify the similarities with the novel, as Fitzgerald moved to New York, and got drawn into its wild, decadent lifestyle, with his money at the heart of it.
Like Gatsby, he attempted to win her over with money, and it is very likely that his eventual disillusionment poured into the pages of “The Great Gatsby”, shaping a lot of its imagery and themes.
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Imagery in The Great Gatsby
The principle imagery of the novel lies in its locations. There are three key locations, which signify different social classes of the American society at the time. The obvious ones are the West Egg and the East Egg. The two neighbourhoods are located on different banks of the river. The West Egg is where the nouveau riche, the “new money” live. They have all acquired money recently, and spend it ecstatically on parties and leisure. Gatsby is on this coast, and nightly he looks longingly towards the East Egg and the green light on the other coast, where the “old money” live and where Daisy’s house is. The river between the two symbolizes the social gap, as even though Gatsby has achieved wealth, Daisy is still beyond his reach, just as the green light on the other side, which represents his hopes and dreams for the future with her.
As a backdrop to Gatsby and Daisy’s drama lays the Valley of Ashes, where the poor working class lives, whom the upper class, like Daisy’s husband, Tom, either ignore, or use.
Themes in The Great Gatsby
Materialism is a major theme in The Great Gatsby. Almost all of the characters have been fooled by the Roaring Twenties into believing, that money automatically denotes value, and that wealth can replace other human principles. Daisy saw the comfort of wealth as a safer option then Gatsby’s wild love, and Gatsby himself believed that he could win her over through wealth, even though his feelings were genuine. To Gatsby, wealth had an almost mystical, ritualistic meaning, which he hoped would recapture Daisy’s love and bring her to him from Tom (Rosenblatt 484)
The Great Gatsby is a story of hopes and disillusionment, and how the society can corrupt even the purest, most romantic feelings, by making money and wealth the focus, instead of the more high feelings. Gatsby’s naiveté and unwillingness to recognize Daisy’s mercantile nature and move on eventually leads to his disillusionment and then death,
Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. Genoa: Black Cat, 2013. Print.
Goodrich, Peter. “Erotic Melancholia: Law, Literature, and Love.” Law and Literature 14.1(2002): 10330.Print.
Rosenblatt, Paul. “Communication in the Practice of Love Magic.” Social Forces 49.3 (1971): 48287.Print.