Essay, Research Paper
In the post-World War I era, the American society faced a level of general disillusionment that led to a decline in morality and values. Though the Great War had changed the view of the United States in the international military arena, it had also defined the economic changes related to the war and favorable wartime conditions that were lost in the post-War era. Some historians have even attributed the stock market crash of 1929 to the culmination of economic changes following the end of the Great War, and this same set of circumstances also led to the emerging decadence that occurred in the 1920s and 1930s.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a novel that considers the nature of the economic and social changes during the first half of the 20th century and reflects upon the conditions that inherently led to the decline in national morality. Fitzgerald’s title character, Gatsby, is an individual who is driven in his daily activities, his business dealings, and even in the pursuit of love, by his own lusts, rather than by a rational view of the world. Though the reader may sympathize with what happens to Gatsby, it is almost impossible to separate the man from his choices, and this reflects the societal perspective on the degradation of man during this era.
Though the most substantive example of Gatsby’s excessiveness and lack of values can be defined by his idealistic love of Daisy, there are other elements fundamental to the themes of the novel that should be considered first. Initially, the life of Jay Gatsby in general appears to be one of a rejection of standard morality, even in the midst of a society that has normative expectations in terms of personal standards, emotional conditions and habits, including the prohibition trend of this era. Nick, then, stands as a point of comparison against Jay Gatsby’s seeming excesses, and reflects that larger societal perspective on the moral decline of the upper class.
The decline of morality in Fitzgerald’s novel, then, appears deeply maintained by class separation, and even though Nick has participated in the same kind of social circles that appear prevalent in the community, Gatsby’s inability to recognize the difference between his personal image and his societal image, especially as each is reflected as a component of individual character, is at the heart of the notion of lust. Gatsby not only lusts for human companionship, but his lusts also turn to money and liquor. Gatsby appears to be an individual with dangerous connections and conflicted social views as a result of his pursuit of monetary gains and his struggle with his public persona.
Nick appears as the stoic, the easy representation of a social standard and the general appearance of a comparative moral view. But Gatsby himself is the most difficult character to predict, based on the view that his sense of self is also defined by a conflicted morality that moves him to pursue a woman who is currently married, regardless of the social impropriety. But Nick’s interactions with both Daisy and Tom serve as another point of comparison, and it is possible to assert that the comparison demonstrates the way in which Daisy and Tom’s marriage is actually a union between two people devoid of substantive morals.
Daisy’s own morality is sometimes elusive. When invited to Nick’s house for tea, Daisy’s easy discourse results in an almost conscious attempt at separating herself from Nick, not based on inherent personal values, but because of the differences in their conditions and social standing. Daisy states: “Is this absolutely where you live, my dearest one?” (103). Nick’s reaction is almost disbelief: “The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain. I had to follow the sound of it for a moment, up and down, with my ear alone, before any words came through” (103). Though Daisy’s initial reflections might not have moved the reader to perceive anything ill-devised in her interaction, the reflections of Nick underscore the fact that she is an upper-class snob, unable to perceive value outside of class stratification.
While Daisy struggles to find value in Nick’s surroundings and his personal process, this is not the only time that consternation has led to a sense of disbelief. In fact, Gatsby himself, a man of excesses, relates the contrast between himself and Daisy and applies his view points to a greater contextual view of the events that take place. “I think he (Gatsby) revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs” (110-11).
Daisy represents the contrast between the manner in which Jay Gatsby could have pursued a moral life and a wedded life, and the transformation of his life in the absence of this morality. Daisy was a woman in an earlier moment of Gatsby’s life, and she might have been the impetus for a personal transformation for the then young Gatsby, but his inability to be bridled was clearly a defining fault that led to his downfall. Fitzgerald wrote: “His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete” (133-34). Gatsby could have embraced this life, but his choice to reject it instead was clearly a factor that shaped his moral view and the emerging depravity that took hold.
It is not Gatsby’s idealism or dedication to Daisy that lends itself to the irony of the notion of lust as a central theme in the work. Instead, it can be argued that Daisy’s lust for Gatsby, Nick and Gatsby’s lust for Daisy, and Tom’s conflicted sense of self all lend themselves to the overall perspective on lust, love, and the way both influence societal perspectives. As a result, Gatsby becomes a means of understanding the larger social perspective and the decadence that ensued in the post-World War I era. There is considerable support for the supposition that Gatsby was not a significantly unique individual in his struggle for social understanding, and instead embraced the decline of morality