Cultural Impact of The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, written in 1925, depicts a portion of Nick Carraway’s life characterized by the time he is influenced by the mysterious Jay Gatsby and his extensive pursuit of his former flame and Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan. Set in the year 1922, the novel occurs during the thriving period of prosperity in America where materialism set the tone of society as reflected by the main characters’ economic successes.
However, Fitzgerald illustrates the price of prosperity as he portrays its negative effects such as the greed, lies, and deceit the characters possess in order to satirize the selfish way many were choosing to live. The characters Fitzgerald portrays represent distinct social groups who ultimately face their own struggles, demonstrating how uncertain the culture of the 1920s really was.
Cultural Impact of The Great Gatsby Essay Example
Because he creates characters that personify the American Dream, juxtaposes western and eastern American cultures, incorporates examples of law breaking under Prohibition, and depicts the corruption of the wealthy, Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby as a reflection of America’s culture in the early twentieth century by highlighting the culture’s successes and failures. Fitzgerald’s illustration of the American Dream within his characters directly echoed the society’s high-esteemed qualities of success and delight.
In the time period immediately following the Civil War until the Great Depression, America experienced a period of rapid growth and fortune, especially located in this novel’s setting, New York (“The Great Gatsby” Novels 74). A mentionable character representing the American Dream was Jordan Baker and her representation of women’s independence. The 1920s marked a key time of change in the social status of women as so called “flappers” defied the traditional norms for conduct and dress, and women finally received the right to vote (“The Great Gatsby” Novels 74).
Jordan is direct and critical all while being collected and intelligent; she defies the typical standard of the effervescent, submissive women of her time and instead represents a new breed of women, all standardized by the future of American prosperity and affluence. In addition, Gatsby himself also perfectly personifies one who represents all things pertaining to the American Dream: wealth, happiness, and prosperity; he is able to attain his success while chasing after his perfect girl, Daisy.
The son of deprived farmers, Gatsby had built himself up from practically nothing, and he “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself” into a man who truly represented the American Dream (Fitzgerald 98). Modeled after his closest friend and mentor, Dan Cody, who also was a self-made man, Gatsby acquired a vast amount of wealth and fortune with perseverance and a fixed purpose in mind. This desire of Americans to reach such a high social status and level of attainment was no better displayed through the ability that Gatsby possessed as he faithfully stuck to the conception of himself he desired to be and eventually obtained it.
In addition to the perception of the American Dream, the opposing cultures of the Midwest and Eastern regions of the United States are depicted by Fitzgerald and embody the characters’ morals. Nick began his life in the Midwest and always regards it as his home and the place where he belongs, which is directly reflected in his unhappiness and ability to see the corruption of those who reside in the East; conversely, Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby all have roots in the Midwest, were drawn to the East, and remain there, blind to the horrors occurring in their daily lives.
To Nick, the way that Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby line up morally “correlates with their geographical choice of lifestyle” (“The Great Gatsby” Novels 73); in other words, Nick’s unsophistication and simplicity reflect his admiration for the Midwest just as Tom’s, Daisy’s and Gatsby’s materialistic and immoral behaviors mirror their affinity for the fast-paced life of New York. As further proof of Nick’s morals, he declines Gatsby’s reward for reuniting him with Daisy, a risky business deal that would provide Nick with a surplus of money, as he realizes its faults, and he retains his dignity.
As Nick continues to realize, although the East appears to glitter with fascinating opportunities and excitement, it lacks the strong moral values encompassed in those like himself from the Midwest. Ironically enough, Nick resides in West Egg while Tom and Daisy reside in East Egg, this being analogous to where they find their moral values and happiness. Overall, the cultures in the East and Midwest are represented clearly through the characters’ actions, decisions, and values throughout the novel as examples of Fitzgerald’s way of highlighting social flaws.
Alongside the juxtaposition of the Midwest and the East, Fitzgerald also reflects the culture of the 1920’s with descriptions of Prohibition and the law breaking that came as a result. Historically speaking, with influential leaders of temperance movements that believed in the dangers of alcohol and its ability to disrupt families, the Volstead Act was put into effect outlawing the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” (“The Great Gatsby” Literature 147).
However, the act was greatly ignored by Americans who continued to drink on a regular basis as shown in Gatsby’s extravagant parties where alcohol is in abundance. Gatsby is accurately accused of being a “bootlegger” by those who attend his parties as he displays no signs of difficulty acquiring liquor and breaking the law (Fitzgerald 17). Most suppliers of alcohol during Prohibition were highly esteemed since one who could live on the edge and “without restraint” was admired (“The Great Gatsby” Literature 151). In spite of this, Gatsby is actually more ignored and used as opposed to honored.
His efforts to reacquaint himself with Daisy through massive parties instead prove to be areas where those yearning for liquor could obtain their desired alcohol with little to no regard toward their host; this is exemplified in the fact that Owl Eyes is the only character other than Nick to attend both Gatsby’s lavish parties and his funeral. Fitzgerald illustrates the era of Prohibition by displaying Gatsby’s flagrant misuse of the law, which only results in his own demise and failure as he perishes the same way he entered the city of New York with himself being his only true friend.
Together with the examples of deceit under Prohibition, Fitzgerald’s novel was inspired by the corruption of certain Americans during the 1920s as reflected in the actions and deceit used by the major characters he created. A prime example of such an immoral character is Meyer Wolfsheim who, as Gatsby nonchalantly stated, “fixed the World Series back in 1919” (Fitzgerald 73); the character of Wolfsheim acts as a representation of the man who was actually responsible for the crime, Arnold Rothstein.
This so called “Black Sox Fix” proved to be an enormous scandal in the early twentieth century as Rothstein, Wolfsheim in the novel, was able to get away with committing the crime with clever and crooked smarts while obtaining a large sum of money. Similar to Wolfsheim’s unethical lifestyle, the character of Tom Buchanan also proves to reflect the judgmental attitudes of several biased and racist people in the novel’s era with his claims that “civilization is going to pieces” and “if we don’t look out, the white race will be . . .
utterly submerged” (Fitzgerald 13). Ironically, with Wolfsheim being a powerful Jewish man who is more successful than Tom, his perceived fears become a reality (“The Great Gatsby” Literary 271); despite his unethical conclusions of other races, Tom struggles with the fact that he cannot combat the future success of others as proof of his immoral values. Tom’s unethical conduct is further reflected in several other characters in The Great Gatsby who resort to lying in order to reach success, which ultimately leads to their demise.
Myrtle’s affair with Tom is her approach of taking advantage of him to reach an extravagant lifestyle, Daisy allows Gatsby to take the blame for Myrtle’s death without regret, and Gatsby changes his whole name and way of life in order to feel personally accomplished; all eventually realize that the happiness they expected to receive in the end resulted in misery, especially with the deaths of Myrtle and Gatsby. The journey to reaching a fulfilling life and the American Dream came with struggles, and many people resorted to crime and dishonest behavior as a way to circumvent their actual problems.
Fitzgerald’s characters that each selfishly overcome different hardships with corrupt solutions represent the immoral mindset of success-hungry people in the 1920s proving that the culture of Fitzgerald’s time was accurately mirrored in his novel. Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in the “Roaring Twenties,” an era largely influenced by gaudiness, independence, and corruptness, which is immediately reflected in the central characters and events that occur in the novel’s plot. The book will always be considered a great classic in American literature for its exceptional plot and the themes it conveys.
Fitzgerald incorporates the topics surrounding his era into this classic of the American Dream, the contrasting cultures of the Midwest and East, the struggles under Prohibition, and the immoral behaviors exemplified throughout the nation. Fitzgerald captured this period of rapid post-war growth and the frenzy surrounding the era with insightful examples of the deleterious effects of superficial behavior. He accurately describes and critiques this materialistic society in order to leave a lasting impact on the public to recognize the inevitable failure of their economy and success waiting. ? Works Cited