That’s the whole burden of this novel – the loss of those illusions that give such color to the world so that you don’t care whether things are true or false as long as they partake of the magical glory
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
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Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald fingered these thoughts into his typewriter one morning in 1924, upon writing his greatest novel and one of the most acclaimed literary works of all time, The Great Gatsby. The brilliant final draft of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic twentieth-century story of Jay Gatsby’s quest for Daisy Buchanan, examines and critiques Gatsby’s particular vision of the 1920’s American Dream. Written in 1925, the novel serves as a bridge between World War I and the Great Depression of the early 1930’s. Although Fitzgerald was an avid participant in the stereotypical Roaring Twenties lifestyle of wild partying and bootleg liquor, he was also an astute critic of his time period. The Great Gatsby certainly serves more to detail society’s failure to fulfill its potential than it does to glamorize Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age.
Mathew J. Bruccoli of The University of South Carolina argues, The Great Gatsby does not proclaim the nobility of the human spirit: it is not politically correct; it does not reveal how to solve the problems of life; it delivers no fashionable or comforting messages. It is just a masterpiece (vii). This fictional masterpiece is just that, fiction. This is important to the reader s understanding of the history that it tells, because it is not entirely true. Fitzgerald’s social insight in The Great Gatsby focuses on a select group: privileged young people between the ages of 20 and 30. In doing so, Fitzgerald provides a vision of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves (157). He describes Daisy as gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor (157).
Fitzgerald knowingly describes only part of the social class system. A small, yet powerful class of wealthy Republican men and women, well dressed and obsessed with money, power, and gossip. This story has no room for the poor and unfortunate souls who suffer from normalcy and real life problems, not covered by the large security blanket of wealth. Unlike the people accustomed to the mood and manners of the so-called Jazz Age, who were caught in a ten year binge during which everybody got rich and danced the Charleston in speakeasies while drinking bootleg hooch (x). This so-called American Dream of wealth and happiness was not shared by all in the 1920 s. Many upper-class whites of the time were set on closing borders to immigrants, for fear of becoming a minority themselves. The issue of racism was still very apparent in this time period. Wealthy men like Tom Buchanan preached, Civilization is going to pieces (17). The idea is if we don t look out the white race will be- will be utterly submerged. It s all scientific stuff; it s been proved (17). It was commonly believed that Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions and next they ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white (137). This demonstration of very overt racism in America plagued our cities until well into the later part of the twentieth century.
F. Scott Fitzgerald clearly expresses his theme in this novel through the eyes of Jay Gatsby. In point, the material success stories seemed the blueprint for happiness in the twenties. John Rockefeller, James Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and, finally, Jay Gatsby all came from obscure beginnings. Gatsby rose to wealth, relative fame, and yet, never achieved the contentment he sought. Ironically it could be said that the boy boarding the millionaire s yacht was more satisfied in his wistful material goals than the man staring out across the bay, having already attained them. People like Gatsby and Daisy appeared to have everything they wanted. Complete and utter happiness brought on by wealth. They owned what was believed to be the American Dream of the Jazz Age, but were not truly happy. They fail to fulfill their unattainable potential of perfection, and therefore, feel worthless. In spite of his success, Gatsby’s primary ideological shortcoming becomes evident as he makes Daisy Buchanan the sole focus of his belief in “the orgastic future” (189). His previously varied aspirations (evidenced, for example, by the book Gatsby’s father shows Nick detailing his son’s resolutions to improve himself) are sacrificed for Gatsby’s single-minded obsession with Daisy’s green light at the end of her dock. Even Gatsby realized the first time he kissed Daisy that once he “forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God” (117).
Throughout the novel, the narrator, Nick Carraway finds himself surrounded by lavish mansions, fancy cars, and an endless supply of material possessions. A drawback to the seemingly limitless excess Nick sees in the Buchanans, for instance, is a throwaway mentality extending past material goods. Nick explains, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made ” (188). Part of the mess left in the Buchanan’s wake at the end of the novel includes the literal and figurative death of the title character, Jay Gatsby. Certainly, his undeserved murder at the hands of a delusional George Wilson evokes sympathy; the true tragedy, however, lies in the destruction of an ultimate American idealist. The idealism evident in Gatsby’s constant aspirations helps define what Fitzgerald saw as the basis for the American Character . Gatsby is a firm believer in the American Dream of self-made success: he has, after all, not only invented and self-promoted a whole new persona for himself, but has succeeded both financially and socially. Gatsby’s father arrives for the funeral, and Nick attempts to find others to attend; everyone he speaks with, however, has an excuse. None of the guests who abused Gatsby’s hospitality at his parties all summer show up to his funeral, until Owl Eyes – a character from Nick’s first visit to Gatsby’s – arrives. Taken by shock that no one else came, Owl Eyes remembers, “Why, my God! they used to go there by the hundreds…The poor son-of-a-bitch” (183).
Fitzgerald proves to us in is novel The Great Gatsby that wealth and power can t always but love and happiness. The parties and carefree spirit may have seemed to be the focus of the 1920 s but it was much deeper. There were other problems facing the even the most privileged patrons of the era. All the money in the world couldn t but love for James Gatz. He thought it was the only thing that stood in the way of his dream. Society wasn t too much different then than it is now. Sure, there are technological and social changes, but the morals stay the same. As individuals we struggle everyday to find the same answers and values that people found eighty years ago. Was Gatsby really a bootlegger? Did he actually deal with dubious stocks? Of course, there is no doubt. But the spirit of the twenties, and the author who chose to utilize this spirit leave the reader blind to this. Instead, Fitzgerald s hero was a product and victim of that romantically materialistic current ever present throughout the decade and all thereafter-the American Dream.