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The Great Gatsby By Scott Fitzgerald: Changes Of Social And Moral Values

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby published in 1925 explores the setting of the 1920’s to comment and reflect upon his context. He does this by critiquing his era through the ideas of unfulfillment and superficial values caused by the American dream. He reviews the Jazz Age through his portrayal of celebrations after World War I, the industrial developments and corruption. He also comments on changes in social and moral values due to world war one disillusionment. Through these settings of the 1920’s, Fitzgerald comments and reflects upon his era.

The main goal of the American dream was achieving material, spiritual and emotional fulfilment equally for all people. During this time the material aspect was achieved easily leaving spiritual and emotional ideas behind. This left many people adopting superficial values and constant feelings of unfulfillment. Throughout the book Jay Gatsby symbolises the attainment of the American dream. The first time Nick Carraway sees Gatsby, “He stretched out his arms toward the dark water…I…distinguished nothing except a single green light…”(p.22) This illustrates the irony of how he is reaching for something that physically cannot be grasped, similar to the positive aspects of the American Dream such as fulfillment, emotional and spiritual improvement. He is reaching for the light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He hasn’t grasped his relationship with Daisy due to the materialism she pursues which Gatsby doesn’t. His inability to reach these emotional aspects for so long leads to feelings of unfulfillment. Similar to people during the 1920’s, the lack of emotional values of the American dream resulted in feelings of unfulfillment. Furthermore the symbolism of the setting of The Valley of Ashes highlight the inequality for achieving this dream, “The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river…the passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene.” This emphasises the decaying land and the place of the working class. It represents the flaws of the American Dream by showing that not everyone lives in extravagant households. These inhabitants have not achieved the dream; showing that not everyone has equal opportunities. This was common for many people during the 1920’s. Jordan Baker’s character reflects continuous dissatisfaction; desire for more as a consequence of the American Dream, “At her first big gold tournament … suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round.” (p.58).This flashback connotes her dishonest and arrogant nature, which symbolises her materialistic aspirations at all costs. This shows the lengths people would go to achieve wealth and the American Dream. This gives context as during the 1920’s there was an increase in corruption which led to change in social and moral values. Therefore, the different characters and settings reflect the different attitudes towards caused by the American dream during the 1920’s.

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Fitzgerald reflects aspects of the Jazz age which celebrate the end of the Great war to comment upon his context. It was a time where young Americans felt they could reinvent themselves. This is seen through the many parties held by Gatsby, “There was music from my neighbour’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”(p.39) The simile of ‘like moths’ highlights the attraction of people to Gatsby’s wealth. The use of tricolon further reflects the appealing qualities of the party. This allows the audience to understand the excitement of the party which was much the same as party’s during the Jazz Age. The blue gardens represent the sorrowful mood caused by the people coming and going to escape their non luxurious lives by indulging themselves with champagne and parties to reinvent themselves. People of both upper and working class in the 1920’s were found at these celebrations. The industrial development during the 1920’s was also a celebration during the Jazz Age. This is displayed through the key role automobiles have in the book. This is conveyed through Nick’s narration of Gatsby’s car, “I’d seen it. Everybody had seen it. It was a rich cream colour, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns.” (p.64) This imagery highlights the luxurious nature of the car and Gatsby’s belongings. The specific details provided suggest its importance. Thus, the automobile’s superiority emphasise the sign of wealth and power the automobile had on the 1920’s society.The Jazz age was also when ‘flapper girls’ were introduced to society. They were often seen at Gatsby’s parties “Suddenly one of these gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air… dances out alone on the canvas floor.” (p.41) This illustrates the description of a young women during the 1920’s, drinking alcohol, wearing short dresses/skirts, with bob cuts and dancing. This connotes a lack of inhibition and promiscuity. It reflects the permissive society of the Jazz Age. This displays the shift in mentality due to the lack of inhibition during the Jazz Age. Therefore, the Jazz Age setting enables Fitzgerald to critique Gatsby’s parties, automobiles and flapper girls during the 1920’s.

The 1920s was a period of dramatic change in American society. Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald uses various techniques to highlight the re-evaluation of social and moral values during this era. The billboard of Doctor Eckleburg’s eyes is displayed throughout the book as an ‘observer’ of the American society. “But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.”(p.23) This symbolism displays the change in social values as the billboard reflects the degrading society. This is seen through the negative connotation in the words ‘dimmed’, ‘brood’ and ‘solemn’. These words may also indicate God’s disappoint and shame with the American society due to the change in values. Therefore, Fitzgerald uses the billboard to comment and judge the changes to the values of society. Additionally in Chapter One, the audience is introduced to the change in social and moral values of marriage. This is seen through the dialogue between Jordan Baker and Nick “‘I thought everybody knew.’… ‘Tom’s got some women in New York.’” (p.16). This conversation displays the normality of Tom having a mistress. Previously, this behaviour would have been frowned upon, however due to the conversion of values this is no longer uncommon. Resulting in the lack of trust and commitment between people. This shows the disregard and the decayed moral values during 1920s in relation to marriages. A result of this change was the hollowness and carelessness of the upper class. This is seen at the end of book after Daisy kills Myrtle, “He(Tom) was talking intently across the table at her(Daisy), and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own…”(p.146) This imagery shows the change in social values as Daisy and Tom go from having affairs with other people to planning their getaway, with no consideration to other people. This also connotes Tom’s superficiality as he is not seen as an intent or earnest character. This illustrates the negligence of the upper class which was common in the 1920s. Therefore the change in values had dramatic effects on the society in 1920’s. Conclusively, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby critiques the setting of the 1920’s through the aspects of the American dream, The Jazz Age and the changes to social and moral values.

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