Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby depicts life in America in the 1920s focusing on the relationship between different classes and their representatives. The main character, Jay Gatsby, starts his life as a poor farm boy and earns his position in society and wealth through perseverance, commitment to his dreams, and hard work. This concept of the personal development of an individual is presented through a variety of themes that help to characterize the period of the 1920s in the United States. The themes of class privileges, the depravity of the era, morality and materialism, the role of the past, the American dream, and love are the central themes of the novel.
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The theme of class privileges occupies a central place in the novel. The society is divided into several groups: Tom and Daisy represent the aristocrats, Gatsby belongs to the new wealthy group, and the family of Wilson embodies the lower-class society. The highborn class has the most privileges in the novel because they are wealthy, enjoy the recognition of their superiority, and allow themselves to play with the destinies of others. Mainly, Tom dares to use Myrtle Wilson for intimate relationships, and Daisy exploits Gatsby to realize her romantic dreams. The author mentions that Daisy’s look seems like there exists a “secret society to which she and Tom” belong (Fitzgerald, 2007, p. 77). This comment demonstrates how the aristocrats behave in the novel and how they use their position in society to satisfy their desires, knowing that other people allow them to conduct themselves as they wish.
The theme of carelessness and depravity of the era between the two World Wars is the second essential topic in the novel. The author depicts the impressive parties where people do not care about the host, entertainment in the city hotel, drinking of alcohol, and the acts of adultery creating the picture of the wealthy Americans’ behavior. Mainly, in the 1920s, the wealthy Americans accepted life as a continuous party, playing with the lives of others and searching for new ways to entertain themselves and satisfy their vanity. Wakefield (2018) emphasizes that Gatsby’s lifestyle is based on the components of injustice, inequality, and oppression that characterize the history of the prosperity of the United States. The scholar focuses on Gatsby’s desire to plunge into a frivolous style of life, considering it the way to forget about the source of his success. This idea demonstrates how the theme of recklessness develops throughout the story.
The theme of morality and materialism is presented through the life of the upper-class society. The author describes the details of the privileged class’ life, distinguishing the immorality of the behavior of people belonging to it. Mainly, Tom, as one of the representatives of this society, has a mistress. He introduces his mistress, Myrtle, to Nick by referring to her “my girl” (Fitzgerald, 2007, p. 65). In addition, he overuses alcohol and lies to his wife, making her suffer from this attitude. Moreover, Tom’s interest in Gatsby’s income and the general style of life of the upper society that is associated with luxurious things display the level of materialism that governs the era. This description of the obsessions with entertainment and materialistic welfare reveals the moral decadence of high society.
Also, Fitzgerald presents the theme of the past demonstrating how it can influence the life of a person. Gatsby’s past is one of the most significant elements of the story because it defines how the life of the main character develops. Gatsby still remembers his past because it is associated with the transformation of the man from the poor son of the farmers into one of the wealthiest people in the region. The main character fears that his past may interfere with his plans regarding the future with Daisy. Mainly, he invents a story about his rich ancestors describing himself to Nick as “the son of some wealthy people” (Fitzgerald, 2007, p. 94). In this situation, Gatsby uses this image as the method to convince Nick to introduce him to Daisy. This attempt to embellish his origin demonstrates that he fears that the past may impede his future.
Besides, the theme of the American dream, which is embodied in the character of Gatsby, is a significant part of the story. The American dream is a concept that explains the desire and ability of lower-class people to gain status and financial prosperity through hard work, determination, and ambition. In the novel, the writer presents this belief through the life experience of Gatsby who manages to convert “invented sort of Jay Gatsby” into a real wealthy individual (Fitzgerald, 2007, p. 118). However, although the main character makes his dreams a reality, he has to realize that the society he aspires to become a part of is corrupt and frivolous. According to Mohammadi and Mohammadi (2020), the problem of the main character is that “nothing is ever enough” for him (p. 1198). In particular, he is not able to enjoy the life he has. Although he becomes rich, it appears that it is still not sufficient and he continues to pursue the goals that might prove his worthiness of the upper class. The fate of the man becomes the personification of the concept of the American dream, which makes people always aspire toward something beyond their reach.
Finally, the theme of love impacts the story considerably, allowing the author to demonstrate how this feeling is also influenced by the relationship between the classes. The theme of love is presented by the feelings of Daisy and Gatsby and the love affair between Tom and Myrtle. Both of these love stories are tragic because the characters suffer from their feelings and Gatsby and Myrtle die. In Sun’s (2020) analysis, Gatsby’s love for Daisy is characterized as “insane” and as the reason of the tragic events that lead the main character to death (p. 32). This observation reveals how the feeling of love leads the main character to death because he ignores the immorality of the upper class, focusing only on the positive qualities of his beloved woman. Besides, Gatsby suffers from Daisy’s indifference because her origin makes her consider herself as privileged and deserving of the sacrifice of the man originating from the lower-class society. Myrtle also dies because she believes in the truthfulness of Tom’s love. These tragic events reveal that even love is subject to the corruption and recklessness of upper society.
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Thus, the themes of liberties of the high class, the recklessness of the era of the 1920s, immoral behavior, the significance of the past, the American dream, and love are the core themes in the novel. Fitzgerald uses the story about the relationship between people of different classes to reveal how the aristocrats abuse their power and immerse themselves in entertainment and frivolous lifestyles, ignoring the norms of morality. Besides, he uses Gatsby’s story of life to demonstrate how the man’s poor childhood influences his desire and determination to become a part of the privileged society, which eventually leads him to tragedy. Therefore, these themes play an essential role in the description of the role of social relationships in the 1920s. Mainly, they help to explain that it was the period when aristocrats used the desire of the lower classes to reach the privileges of the rich to satisfy their desires and vanity.
Fitzgerald, F. (2007). The Great Gatsby. (M. Nowlin, Ed.). Broadview Press.
Mohammadi, A., & Mohammadi, A. (2020). The Great Gatsby: an ostensibly fulfilled dream in an unfulfilled society. International Journal of Science and Research, 9(5), 1196-1202.
Sun, Q. (2020). Study on stylistic effects of three-word clusters in The Great Gatsby from the perspective of corpus stylistics. International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, 9(4), 29.
Wakefield, P. W. (2018). Catastrophe and decadence in The Great Gatsby. In D. J. Rosner (Ed.), Catastrophe and Philosophy (pp. 239-252). Lexington Books.