The Great Gatsby is considered to be one of the most renowned books of the beginning of the XX century. Written by a famous American writer Scott Fitzerald (1925), it represents extensive chronicles of the era named “Jazz Age”. The story is set on the background of the aftermath of World War I when the United States economy indexes were soaring, and the Eighteenth Amendment that prohibited consumption and sale of alcohol produced a large number of illegal alcohol production and trade through which many people earned enormous amounts of wealth changing the face of the American aristocracy and society in general.
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The events of the story take place in New York City and Long Island (East Egg and West Egg) during the summer of 1922. One of the main characters Nick Carraway rents a house in West Egg. His neighbor is a very young, extravagant, and immensely rich Jay Gatsby. Jay is in love with Nick’s cousin Daisy who is married to Tom. Upon finding out that Nick is Daisy’s relative, Jay asks him to set up a meeting for them so he had a chance to renew their love affair. The arrangement works out, and Daisy and Jay become lovers. When Daisy’s husband Tom learns about it, he is outraged although he is involved with another girl, and he makes Daisy leave Jay. Daisy and Jay drive together in a car on their way to East Egg, and Daisy accidentally hits and kills Tom’s lover Myrtle. Myrtle’s husband is under impression that Jay was the one behind the wheel, and so he shoots Jay. The story ends when Nick breaks all of his ties with the friends from Long Island and moves away to the north to start a new life.
Although on the surface The Great Gatsby may seem like an unfortunate love story, it explores and discusses a much broader variety of issues related to the reality of the United States in the 1920s, such as the “new” and “old” aristocracy, the regression of values, and the new American dream that differed greatly from the previous ideals of individualization, discovery, and opportunity (Broer. 1990).
To begin with, The Great Gatsby is highly autobiographical writing that reflects events and experiences that Scott Fitzgeral lived through. As a young man, Fitzgerald fell in love with a young girl Zelda Sayre who was very much wealth-oriented. They got married once Fitzgerald acquired a sufficient amount of money and became famous for his book The Side of Paradise. Thus, many events described in the book are true evidence of the “Jazz Age” that both he and Zelda witnessed and fell victims of, her – suffering from depression, him – from alcohol abuse (Gross, 1998).
One of the major themes explored in The Great Gatsby is the topic of changes in American society in the 1920s and the change of the concept of the American Dream. The amounts of wealth that seemed to amass without any particular effort resulted in a significant change in values putting on the first place “empty pursuit for pleasure”, greediness, self-indulgence, and leisure. This overriding desire for unlimited wealth and pleasure that inhabited the post-war American generation is portrayed by the wild parties thrown by Jay Gatsby every Saturday.
In this respect, Fitzgerald also contrasts the two types of aristocracy that evolved in American society after World War I. The first type – old aristocracy – is represented by Daisy. These families accumulated their wealth throughout centuries and passed it to the next generations, thus these people have a particular upbringing and education that affects their entire lives.
The second type – represented by Jay Gatsby – portrays people who accumulated large amounts of money in a short period of time, and came from a variety of backgrounds to adopt relaxed social principles and values brought by easy money made on illegal activities and bootlegging. The “new” aristocrats strived to prove they were worthwhile and gain access to the world of the “old” aristocracy where you are allowed to enter only by the right of birth. Although Jay truly loved Daisy, their relationship exemplifies the efforts and continuous longing of the “new” aristocrats to obtain the desired status in society (Broer, 1990).
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It is also suggested in the book that although the “new” aristocracy is far less educated or gracious, and has more relaxed values, it is the “old” aristocracy that undermines the ideals of truth, companionship, and devotion. This is exemplified at the end of the story when rather than attending Jay Gatsby’s funeral, Tom and Daisy move out to a new house. At the same time earlier in the book, it was Jay Gatsby who stayed outside Daisy’s house almost the entire night to make sure that her husband does not hurt her. It was also him who expressed his loyalty and affection to Daisy till the last moment of his life shifting the blame for Myrtle’s death onto himself claiming that he was the one driving the car.
Just like the new version of the American dream, the object of Jay Gatsby’s love turned out to be hollow and emotionless, and just like the end of the “Jazz Age”, the end of Jay Gatsby was tragic.
The Great Gatsby is a vivid and detailed portrait of the newly found American life of the 1920s. It is often referred to as The Great American Story as it reflects the changes that evolved at the time in great detail. In a way, it can serve as a history study guide as the lives of the main characters take the reader through the enchanting events brought to the country by the “Jazz Age” and the aftermath of World War I in the United States.
Broer, Lawrence R., and John D. Walther, eds. Dancing Fools and Weary Blues: The Great Escape of the Twenties /. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1990.
Gross, Dalton, and MaryJean Gross. Understanding the Great Gatsby A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.