1920′S As Portrayed By F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby Essay, Research Paper
The Chaos of American Society in the 1920 s as Portrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Was there really a winner as a result of World War I? The mood in Germany feels that there was not any real winner of the war. Germany and its allies are not the only countries that suffered from the impact of this great war. America became a loser of World War I in their domestic society. The health of American society is diminishing, along with Germany. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles in Paris called for the German government to pay reparations for the physical and mental losses of World War I to all of the allied states. The German government is suffering a great amount of economic loss due to these reparations. Germany is in the midst of an economic depression and the value of the dollar is going down and the unemployment rates are skyrocketing. While America is getting richer and richer, Germany is getting poorer and poorer. But, American society is becoming more and more presumptuous and starting to suffer domestic problems as a result of the morale of their people. There are three main problems within the American society that are starting to emerge as a result of World War I. These problems started emerging in the early 1920 s or the so-called Jazz Age. They include, the demoralization of the country, the death of the American Dream, and the class order is facing some problems. Many new methods of living are being practiced more than they have ever been in the past. These problems are revealed through an American author in one of his many great works. In F. Scott Fitzgerald s The Great Gatsby, he reveals many social and personal dilemmas developing in the American society in the 1920 s. Through the use of the main character, Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald comes in contact with the death of many traditional aspects of American society starting to take dramatic changes.
The characters in The Great Gatsby are all facing the problem of demoralization through many sinful actions. These characters come to represent the society of America in the East during the 1920 s. One of these demoralizing aspects of society is the sin of adultery. Two cases of adultery are seen throughout the novel, one between a character named Tom Buchanan and the character of Myrtle Wilson (wife of Wilson the mechanic). Then, the affair between Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby was also present towards the end of the novel. The sin of adultery is an action seen throughout history and literature, but divorce is something that is not until the arrival of the 1920 s in America. The Great Gatsby portrays divorce as a last option, but it is still thought about in the minds of some of the characters.
You see? cried Catherine triumphantly. She lowered her voice again. It s really his wife that s keeping them apart. She s a Catholic and they don t believe in divorce.
Daisy was not a Catholic and I was a little shocked at the elaborateness of the lie, (Fitzgerald, 38).
The moral of fidelity to a person s spouse in the 1920 s in America, is being questioned here by Fitzgerald with the characters making excuses for not leaving their marriage. Divorce is emerging as an option for unfaithfulness, but there is still enough morality of staying married that they don t carry it through. In real life, Fitzgerald experienced this with his own wife, Zelda, who he believed was having extra-marital affairs. Extra-marital affairs during the 1920 s were not the only factors that led to the demoralization of America.
Organized crime made its way into the American scene during the 1920 s with the passing of Prohibition in Congress. Gangsters such as Al Capone made millions of dollars off racketeering, prostitution, and bootlegging. Organized crime in America at this time is able to gain too much power and make others corrupt. That is why a fascist government, such as Germany, must keep this corruption from emerging. Fitzgerald brings organized crime into The Great Gatsby as a warning to Americans that the new money is a threat to morality and keeping order within a country. Jay Gatsby represents this new money making business method in America with his mysterious phone call dealings and the big question as to how he gets his money. Gatsby is thought to be a bootlegger by others because he is running it through his drug stores. Gatsby always was escaping from the social scene with his mysterious calls–linking him to a suspicion of organized crime.
Almost at the moment when Mr. Gatsby identified himself a butler hurried toward him with the information that Chicago was calling him on the wire. He excused himself with a small bow that included each of us in turn, (Fitzgerald, 53).
This is ironic because Al Capone s ring of crime was based in Chicago. Gatsby s method of making money in America at this time was immoral in the sense that he was going against the government s law of prohibition. At the same time allowing people to get intoxicated, when the purpose of prohibition was to make people s morals better. Organized crime can also be linked to murder and Gatsby was also accused of being a murderer. I ll bet he killed a man, (Fitzgerald, 48). Chaos was rapidly becoming a part of the degradation of American health in the 1920 s.
The new privilege of driving automobiles was being abused with the combination of alcohol. This led to chaos in the sense that people were putting their lives as well as others in danger with this fatal combination. This flaw in American society s health could lead to many problems with automobile deaths associated with alcohol, if it is not enforced. Fitzgerald presents this problem in The Great Gatsby with several scenes of careless drivers and automobile wrecks. The first account is when Jay Gatsby s party is over with and someone wrecks in the ditch. In the ditch beside the road, right side up but violently shorn of one wheel, rested a new coupe which had left Gatsby s drive not two minutes before, (Fitzgerald, 58). It is also seen later when Nick Carraway is riding with Jordan. It was on that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man s coat, (Fitzgerald, 63). One more violent scene was presented later on in the next chapter. That was in August. A week after I left Santa Barbara Tom ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night and ripped a front wheel off his car, (Fitzgerald, 82). This reoccurrence of violent automobile wrecks shows the carelessness of Americans and their inconsideration for pedestrians and other drivers. This might be linked the arrogant nature of the Americans after World War I.
The demoralization of American society through adultery, organized crime, and reckless driving are all factors that lead up to the death of the American dream. Benjamin Franklin first introduced the American dream in his autobiography. Some aspects of Franklin s dream included freedom, opportunity, wealth, success, fulfillment, equality, pluralism, progress, and nature. But, through time, the meaning and interpretation of the real dream developed by Franklin was lost by Americans. Fitzgerald shows this through the life and character of Jay Gatsby. Gatsby represents the real America of inequality, materialism, racism, constraint, and industry. Materialist in the sense of his desire for many shirts, boats, cars, nice homes, and many other personal possessions that make him look better and supposedly feel better about his self-image. Franklin and Gatsby both represent self-made men, but Gatsby is the new kind of one depicted by Fitzgerald. Gatsby represents the new idealist American, who wants to achieve the American dream, but his ways of doing it are much different than Franklin. Gatsby is similar to Franklin for being very organized and disciplines himself as a young man. Franklin and Gatsby, as well as many self-made men, believe that one s dreams can be accomplished through self-discipline and organization. Gatsby set a schedule for him self for when to wake up, when to work out, when to eat, when to work, when to have fun, etc. He also gave himself a set of General Resolves that read:
No wasting time at Shafters or (a name, indecipherable)
No more smoking or chewing
Bath every other day
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 (crossed out) $3.00 per week
And be better to parents, (Fitzgerald, 181-182).
Fitzgerald parallels this list with Franklin s own list that portrays what it takes to be a self-made man. But, the difference Fitzgerald tries to point out that in the 1920 s, a man s goals are too big and idealistic. It is interesting to also point out the scratching out of the five dollars and putting three. Maybe this is implying his desire for spending money for material possessions or for himself. This shows his materialistic nature in The Great Gatsby. The tragedy in Gatsby s goals is his love for Daisy and that he will not accept anything other than being with her. The ways he goes about achieving his goal of ending up with her is not in accordance with the aspects of the true American dream. He wanted to become rich just like Tom Buchanan and then maybe he would have a chance at Daisy. There was only specific ways that poor Jay Gatsby could achieve this goal. These ways include many backdoor and corrupt business dealings such as bootlegging, racketeering, and many other things included in the organized crime business. This is the new method of making money in the 1920 s because many poor people, such as young Gatsby, are desperate for their goals and success and will try illegal methods to achieve this. America, with prohibition, has created a way for many poor people to become self-made men through illegal and corrupt methods. Gatsby shows a similarity with Franklin when he finally meets Nick.
He smiled understandingly much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced or seemed to face the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you (Fitzgerald, 52-53).
This face put on by Gatsby shows Franklin s concept of putting on different faces for different people to make them like you and have trust in you. The rarity of Gatsby s smile shows that America is lacking dreamers and is in desperate need of them.
This loss of the American dream is best seen in the theme of class order in American society. The lower class or peasant class that served this corrupt and immoral upper class during the 1920 s began to see a rise in a lack of appreciation for their services. So, along with the lack of discipline and with the free will of the employers, Fitzgerald depicts a type of class revolution among the peasants starting to unwind in the 1920 s. Keep your hands off the lever, snapped the elevator boy. I beg your pardon, said Mr. McKee with dignity. I didn t know I was touching it, (Fitzgerald, 42). Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry, (Fitzgerald, 93). These occurrences depicted by Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby shows a revolution of the American lower class tired of being oppressed by the oppressors and want their freedom. With the examples of the rich and their serfs or peasants, American society relates to the medieval society that gave their serfs barely any rights and privileges without something in return. The Americans in the period of the 1920 s never wanted to do someone a favor without getting something back in return. In the case of the lower class, they desired respect of their occupations and rights in return of being ruled around all of the time.
Through American literature, Germany is able to see what the real America is like by the eyes of one of its citizens. This citizen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, depicts the demoralization of many aspects of the daily life of all Americans. He shows how the American dream is lost through the main character Jay Gatsby, by the fact that his dreams and expectations are too high. Fitzgerald also shows that Americans must have some self-discipline in their actions such as drinking, sex life, and their dreams. They must not allow themselves to get out of hand with things and expect too much of themselves. This American author is showing the effects of World War I and how Americans lost their true sense of duty to their democratic country. They have lost their respect for the past and what morals they have created. Fitzgerald is drawing towards a conclusion that the situation in America will not get any better if people do not slow down and take a look of their lives and abilities. They need to follow what their parents taught them as young people and carry on those morals for the rest of their lives. Germany may be experiencing some problems, but they are not from a lack of morals of the people but they are from the people without morals that have placed them into a difficult situation. This difficult situation has been placed by none other than the Americans and their cruel reparations and terms placed on Germany. This leaves Germany no choice but to resort to Fascism. This will eliminate organized crime, corruption among leaders, and demoralization as a whole.