Synthesis Essay on 'The Great Gatsby'

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Since it was the end of the war, America in the 1920s was a huge materialistic culture, and the roaring Twenties erupted, with wealth and status as major core values. The relationships in 'The Great Gatsby' depict this appearance of wealth as a core value; Jay Gatsby spends the entire novel attempting to be of a higher social class than he was raised in. He tries desperately to persuade others of his social standing. Similar to this, the relationship between Robbie Turner and Cecilia Tallis, in which Robbie is working class and Cecilia is the daughter of a wealthy man, reinforces this theme, as their relationship is divided by class, making it difficult for them to be together. As a result, the social climbers in both novels, Jay and Robbie, attempt to gain approval from others who are associated with the women they desire and hope to be with, in order to gain the attention of said women, as wealthy in their twenties was very desirable, and a woman during this era could only gain her social status from either being born into wealth, or marrying into it, meaning a poor man would not be very desirable.

Fitzgerald used Gatsby to express the social reality of the period, and those who attempted to improve their fortunes. Towards the end of chapter six, Nick Carraway, the narrator, writes about the night Daisy eventually went to one of Gatsby's parties, and Gatsby came to realize that what he believed was glamorous and extravagant was still not up to Daisy's standards: 'she didn't like it - she didn't have a good time'. The phrase 'she didn't like it' outlines the differences between them, as he was merely a poor boy pretending to be rich, while she was born and bred rich, and he would not know the true standards of a wealthy, lavish but classy lifestyle. However, almost in the same breath, while explaining to Nick why he and Daisy should be together, Gatsby further deludes himself into believing his own lies about his wealth and convinces himself that there are no differences between their social status. A.E Dyson claims that 'Gatsby is the apotheosis of his rootless society! He really believes in himself and his illusions', while Andrew Green describes Gatsby as 'an actor, a construct, a deceiver'. In contrast to this, in McEwan's novel 'Atonement', Robbie actively tries to distance himself from Cecilia as their relationship starts to become romantic, and he possibly comes to believe that he is more of a guest in the Tallis family home, than just the housekeeper's son whom grew up on the property; 'There was something in Robbie's manner lately! Two days before he had rung the front doorbell- in itself odd, for he had always had the freedom of the house. It could be considered that this was because he was attempting to be seen as more socially acceptable than he is, and of a higher status than simply a maid's son.

The structure of 'The Great Gatsby' varies in the book, starting with a chronological order and ending with flashbacks to reveal where Gatsby's infatuation with Daisy started in this passage from chapter 6. The use of flashbacks helps the reader understand Gatsby's personality. It is through this use of technique that we can understand why and how Gatsby was able to swindle his way into owning his flashy home and projecting a picture of himself as a high-ranking member of society. The framework directs the increasing suspense that leads to the novel's climax and the impending arrival of the foreshadowed death, which is hinted at in previous events to Gatsby. Similarly to how Fitzgerald told the story of Gatsby over five years and then used Nick as the homodiegetic narrator after the novel unraveled, 'Atonement' also takes place over many decades. The novel is divided into three parts, each of which is set in a different location during World War II, ranging from Surrey, England to France. The various points of view are the source of reality in the book since they reveal the motives and loose ends of the characters' perceptions; however, the reader cannot check the whole story until the last few pages. Nick expresses the tale of Gatsby after the incident occurs in 'The Great Gatsby,' which is written in a reflective tense. Since the novel is written from Nick's perspective, Gatsby is considered to be Nick's personal hero in the novel, despite Nick's knowledge of Gatsby's criminal history. 'At his lips' touch, she blossomed for him like a flower, and the incarnation was complete,' this line written by Nick indicates that Gatsby's social standing is irrelevant, as he had found out the illegitimacy of Gatsby's arguments by this point, but still believed he was a symbolism of perfection. A homodiegetic narrator is also present in 'Atonement,' since she is aware of all aspects of the story and is a participant in it. Briony explains parts of the novel that she was unable to see, such as during the war when Robbie traveled through France. Each chapter was written from the viewpoint of a different writer, and it was only in the final section that it was revealed that Briony had written the book. One of the characters is said to have written a section of the novel. Ruth Wahlberg states 'McEwan deploys a variety of stylistic devices and narrative techniques that give the novel its multilayered texture'.

In 'The Great Gatsby', Fitzgerald makes it abundantly clear that Tom and Daisy's wealth is superior to Jay Gatsby's wealth. Tom and Daisy were well-educated and well-connected, while Gatsby made his fortune by selling illicit alcohol and throwing lavish parties with it. Daisy and Tom represent old money, while he represents new money. Fitzgerald's best way of describing the wealth disparity is to differentiate between East and West eggs. Although Gatsby is forced to look across the water from his West Egg home, Tom and Daisy are able to live lavishly in East Egg; 'a cheerful, red and white Georgian colonial mansion, overlooking the bay'. It's not because they're richer than Gatsby; it's only that the way they earn their money and the people they meet make it possible for them to live in East Egg. While Ray Cluley claims 'America in the nineteen twenties was no longer a virginally innocent, promising land but was in fact corrupted by wealth', it can be assumed that Fitzgerald is using this as a metaphor to talk about American society during the Roaring Twenties, with new money coming into play. In contrast to this, the central characters in 'Atonement', unlike Gatsby who acquired his money illegally to escape a modest past in 'The Great Gatsby', the Tallis family reflect old money: 'Cecilia's grandfather, who grew up over an ironmonger's shop and made the family fortune with a series patents and padlocks, bolts, latches and hasps'. However, as Tom and Daisy who also reflect old money in 'The Great Gatsby' have a beautiful, extravagant home, you 'could not conceal the ugliness of the Tallis home', which highlights the idea that money can not buy beauty or happiness, as Gatsby feels it can in 'The Great Gatsby'.

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In The Great Gatsby, just like the main characters Jay, and Robbie in Atonement, Myrtle is also greatly affected by her own class status and therefore tries to fit into a class that is not her own, by becoming a mistress to the wealthy Tom Buchanan, who buys her gifts and leases her an apartment in Manhattan, where Myrtle dresses up, throws parties, and expresses disdain for servants, as if she were a member of the upper class: 'Mrs. Wilson had changed her costume sometime before and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream-colored chiffon, which gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room. With the influence of the dress, her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur.' Although Nick previously describes Myrtle in a way that would place her as working class, she clearly owns expensive clothing, obviously gifted to her by Tom, which implies her upward mobility. Both her clothing and behavior change, as she tries to convince others that she is more worthy than she is. Just like Gatsby, Myrtle, when parading around in the expensive gifts given to her by Tom, convinces herself that she is of higher status than she is. She believes that Tom has a genuine love for her, and would marry her if he could separate from Daisy. Myrtle is merely another possession to Tom, and when she tries to assert her own will, he uses violence to put her down. However, Myrtle is also delusional as she will never break the conformity of her own social position, and Tom will never take their relationship seriously, especially with Daisy in the picture which perhaps hinted through their names. 'Myrtle', defined as 'the lesser periwinkle', is a weed that is also seen as a nuisance. This can be a metaphor for her character, as she will never quite be what she wants to be; a flower, or a blooming member of the upper class. Unlike 'Daisy', a delicate, beautiful flower that blooms almost everywhere. These contrasting names and metaphors cannot be a coincidence. Biographically, this fits, as in the 1920s it would have been extremely hard to break the social order, and the working class could not even begin to compare with the higher class. Society was immensely divided by class.

In both novels, wealth is a main theme and affects almost every relationship and every character. Wealth causes major destruction, just not particularly to those who possess it. In both novels, wealthy people are able to use their wealth to their own advantage, with utter selfishness and no care for who they may be hurting along the way. In The Great Gatsby, this is evident in most characters, but mostly Tom and Daisy. Christine Ramos wrote 'By attempting to maintain his way of life, Tom has reduced whole people to ashes without any thought of consequences.' This greatly proves the point of the couples' selfishness as Tom's affair with Myrtle is ultimately the cause of her death, similar to the affair between Daisy and Gatsby; 'Gatsby dies from the shallowness of Daisy, and the hard malice of Tom', said Kent Cartwright. This was easy for them to do so, as Gatsby and Myrtle are both significantly lower in social class, with Myrtle being obviously poor and Gatsby, rich, but not born into a high class. The utter selfishness the wealth Tom and Daisy possess has given them massively affects their relationships with others and impacts so many people, and allows them to continue on with no shadow of guilt; 'They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and retreated back into their wealth'. People of lower class and status during the 20s were often treated as inferior. Carlborn, however, noted that 'atonement! does not put the discussion about class upfront', which can be heavily disputed as throughout the novel, just like in 'The Great Gatsby', people of higher status are selfish and use their selfishness to impact the lives and relationships of others, shifting blame onto those seen as inferior to them. For example, Paul gets away with raping Lola as a result of his high status and shifts the blame onto lower-class Robbie. This leads to Robbie experiencing serious isolation, showing how wealth affects the lives of those around the wealthy greatly. Robbie, who is also guilty of this, then also tries to shift the blame onto a person of even lower status than him. This, again reflects how wealth and class have a great impact on the lives and relationships of the characters in the novels, and highlights the selfishness and destruction that is caused by wealth in each novel, where people of high status consequently shatter the lives of those below them without a second thought.

The 1920s were known as the 'Big Boom,' when Wall Street was at its peak and there was a relief from the sorrow that the First World War had brought. Speakeasies were common, and the number of wealthy individuals was increasing, but only a small portion of the population was wealthy. Throughout both stories, there is a recurring theme of wealth and social status. Differences in social rank and income have a significant impact on what happens in relationships and how long they survive in The Great Gatsby. The hollowness of the population of 1920s America is reflected in their fixation with material. Gatsby highlights this materialistic state of mind when he claims 'She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me', when disputing Daisy's love for him with Tom. This indicates that the only reason Daisy was to marry was for money and status, and not the fact that she loved Tom. This, again, indicates that wealth plays a great role in impacting the lives and relationships of the characters. This is also solidified when Daisy claims that all a woman could be in the society of the 20s was a 'beautiful fool', in order to bag a wealthy man and earn a good life. Fitzgerald even further solidifies this when using wealth imagery to describe Daisy, 'her voice is full of money', which only again indicates the need for money as a personality. Jay Gatsby, 'the son of some wealthy people in the Middle West' and then soon 'came into a good deal of money', progressively builds character. Daisy Buchanan, the woman Gatsby spends so much of the novel attempting to please appears to live in her own 'artificial world' that is trimmed to perfection. Daisy soon betrays Gatsby after does not attend his funeral. From what we're told, Gatsby started his life alone as 'he had never really accepted! his parents'; he never wanted to be considered in the same class as them, so pushed for a better life for himself. Ultimately, Gatsby ends up exactly where he started: alone. Similarly, social class is partly to blame for the way Robbie and Cecilia see each other in Fitzgerald's 'Atonement'. There are two significant moments within the novel that break the social convention between the characters, the first being when Robbie removes his boots and socks before entering the house. Cecilia reads this as an act of exaggerated difference, whereas in reality, he didn't want to make a mess on the floor, and he 'on impulse' removed them because they were ripped. The second is the part when they are at the fountain together, when jumps in after removing her clothes. Robbie sees this as an insult and believes he is trying to embarrass him. This shows that like in 'The Great Gatsby' for Jay and Daisy, unequal social positions cause tension between Robbie and Cecilia, often making situations hard to read and awkward, which is possibly why it took Cecilia so long to fall for him, as it took Daisy to come to terms with the fact that Gatsby was back in her life in Fitzgerald's novel. However, unlike Gatsby, Robbie is not betrayed by the one he loves, regardless of wealth and social class as Cecila defends him by revealing her love for him and defends him when being accused of being a 'sex maniac' and a rapist.

To conclude, wealth is a core theme in both novels, and can either leave those who possess it in tragedy and despair, like those in Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby', or it can leave them with the possibility of hope and redemption, like those in McEwan's 'Atonement'. Either way, society in the 1920s was hugely divided by class and wealth, and as we can see in both novels, the poor were often scapegoated, treated poorly, or desperately trying to make a better life for themselves. However, each novel ends in a very different tone.

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Synthesis Essay on ‘The Great Gatsby’. (2024, January 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from
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