The Great Gatsby's Twenties Image

The Great Gatsby is an excellent embodiment of the

Roaring Twenties. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was often

called the spokesman for the Jazz Age, captured the essence

of this time period in what is considered to be his finest

work, The Great Gatsby.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born September 24, 1896,

in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was named for his famous

ancestor, Francis Scott Key, who wrote "The Star-Spangled

Banner". He enrolled in St. Paul Academy in 1908, when he

was twelve years old. He did poorly, and later, in 1911,

enrolled in the Newman Academy. He barely made it into

Princeton in 1913, by promising he would do better there

than he had at previous schools. However, he continued to

do poorly, and eventually dropped out. He enlisted in the

army and was stationed in Alabama, where he met Zelda Sayre,

a beautiful southern belle from a wealthy family. Fitzgerald

and Zelda were engaged, and he moved to New York to try to

make a living. However, he was unsuccessful, and Zelda broke

their engagement. Then, in 1919, Charles Scribner's Sons

accepted for publication Fitzgerald's manuscript, This Side

of Paradise. The book was a success, and in 1920 Fitzgerald

and Zelda were married. In 1921 Zelda gave birth to a

daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, called Scotty. The

Fitzgeralds lived the rest of their lives hovering close to

the brink of poverty, while Scott Fitzgerald wrote numerous

short stories and four other novels (the last posthumously

in 1941) to support them. He died in Hollywood on December 21,

1940 at the age of forty-four. His wife Zelda died in a

fire at an asylum at which she had been a patient for many

years on March 11, 1947.

Fitzgerald is the most famous chronicler of America in

the 1920's, a decade he called the Jazz Age. Written in the

middle of the decade, The Great Gatsby is very much a Jazz

Age novel. Fitzgerald saw through the glitter of the Jazz

Age to the moral emptiness and hypocrisy beneath.There is

of course a sense in which The Great Gatsby is a novel of

manners: it does comment on American society in the 1920s

and it is critical of the corruption and moral disorder of

the period. Many of the main characters in The Great Gatsby

show this emptiness and hypocrisy. For example, if Daisy

Buchanan were analyzed, it would be found that she appears

to be a very empty-headed person. She ignores her marital

problems, even creating her own when she has an affair with

Gatsby, and simply chooses to pretend they never happened.

However, Daisy is very smart and witty, although cynical from

her husband's drunkenness and extramarital affairs. She is

not allowed to use these qualities though, because she is a

woman and would be silenced by her overbearing and domineering

husband, Tom. The character of Jordan Baker is a careless,

irresponsible woman, which is the way many people were in

the 1920s. Fitzgerald critized these qualities in people,

and often satirized them in his novels. However, Fitzgerald

was not the only author to do such. Many authors of this

era criticized the decadent life the people of the Jazz Age

led. The Great Gatsby basically is a book of satire.

Fitzgerald despised the lack of morals people of America in

the 1920s had, and even escaped to Europe, where people acted

slightly more sane, for a few years while writing The Great

Gatsby. Criticism of The Great Gatsby has often been

sidetracked into biography or reminiscence of the Jazz Age.

Fitzgerald obviously meant to criticize peoples' actions in

the Roaring Twenties when he wrote The Great Gatsby, or he

would not have made it so similar to conditions that existed

back then.

The word that can sum up many of the themes in the book

is position. The word encompasses themes like class, wealth,

social standing, and others. Social standing was very

important in The Great Gatsby. For example, Tom's social

standing allowed him to treat everyone, including his own

wife, like dirt, except on rare occasions when he felt like

being accommodating. Gatsby's social standing allowed him

to be generous, because everyone expected it of him after

attending or hearing about one of his lavish parties. Nick

was below the high social standings of Tom, Daisy, and Jordan,

and also below the lower social standing of Gatsby, but

members of both classes liked and trusted him. As Nick said

in chapter one of The Great Gatsby, Tom wanted Nick to like

him as well. Somehow, Nick could transcend the barriers of

certain classes, which made it easy for anyone to trust him,

whether it be Tom with talking about his mistress, or Gatsby

revealing his true identity. Wealth played a major part in

The Great Gatsby. Tom felt that Daisy was worth a $350,000

pearl necklace, while Myrtle Wilson was worth only a dog leash.

Tom also teased George Wilson about selling him a car as a

game and a way to get close to Myrtle. Wealthy people in

the 1920s generally tended to look down on the poorer people.

In The Great Gatsby, New York's poor lived in the Valley of

Ashes, a barren, desolate landscape, while the wealthy

(whether they were newly rich or old money) lived in

luxurious houses, palaces almost, living a glamorous and

decadent lifestyle. The rich lived by retreating into their

money when something unexpected happened, something bad that

should not have happened to someone with status, while the

poor had to suffer the consequences. This is the type of

life and the kind of people that Fitzgerald and other writers

of the Roaring Twenties often criticized. Fitzgerald himself

had humble beginnings, so it is possible he sympathized with

the poor of the nation's cities, which could give him good

reason to have criticized the crude and immoral behaviors of

the rich people of the Jazz Age. He was not alone in his

crusade to show the scandalous behaviors of the Roaring

Twenties. Many of America's gifted writers were alienated by

the values and lifestyles of the 1920s. Fitzgerald especially

revealed the negative side of 1920s gaiety and freedom. In not

only The Great Gatsby, but also in This Side of Paradise, he

portrayed wealthy people leading hopelessly empy lives in gilded

surroundings . However, it seems almost hypocritical of

Fitzgerald to criticize the decadent lifestyle of the Jazz

Age, because he also lived it. After This Side of Paradise

was published, he and his wife Zelda fell into a reckless,

irresponsible lifestyle that was scorned by many of his friends.

They often had large parties with lots of alcohol, similar to

Gatsby's giant parties. They lived in large, opulent houses

similar to the ones Fitzgerald describes in his novels. They

lived from one paycheck to the next, with Fitzgerald often

having to publish several short stories a month for magazines

in order to continue their wild ways of living. They were

laughed at, arrested, and almost killed a few times by their

recklessness, but they still lived it. But living that lifestyle

did not stop Fitzgerald from reproving it, which makes The

Great Gatsby a bit hypocritical. However, it also gives the

readers of The Great Gatsby a surprisingly historically accurate picture

of how life was lived back in the 1920s. Without Fitzgerald's

vivid descriptions, not only would the characters and the

settings be hard to imagine, but the history of this period

may never have been discovered by many people who had no way

of learning except by books.

Many critics say that The Great Gatsby is Fitzgerald's

masterpiece. It took him several years to write and gave him

many problems while writing it. He had to battle marital problems

and alcoholism while writing this novel, and often was

forced to write short stories for magazines to pay for all

his expenses, but he perservered and wrote one of the greatest

works of fiction America and the world has seen. It took him

many years, but F. Scott Fitzgerald finally became the great

author he dreamed of becoming.

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