The Great Gatsby By Scott Fitzgerald: Society And Popular Ideals Of The Time

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The novel, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is centred around Jay Gatsby and his pursuit to obtain his long-lived goal that is Daisy Buchannan. It follows the path of his life, showing the sheer dedication and effort he applies to his plan towards his final purpose. Written in the 1920s, The Great Gatsby mirrors it’s society and exposes popular ideals of the time. The novel challenges the central beliefs of the American Dream, hedonism and classism in the society of the 1920s and critiques the ideologies within. By use of characterisation, The Great Gatsby exposes the values of those who have become subservient to these ideologies and reminds us how truly flawed these ways of thinking are, especially the American Dream.

People who belonged to elitist classes in the 1920s held a lack of responsibility over their own actions and simply lived hedonistically without concern of the future. A self-indulgent way of living took over the early 20th century, especially for women as the ‘flapper movement’ was born. Young women challenged traditional gender roles and obligations as they acted brass and outspoken. This life of partying was most commonly found amoung higher classes as money was a necessity in order to participate. Through the use of characterisation, Daisy especially represents the epitome of a ‘flapper’, as well as endorsing the pleasure-seeking, affluent lifestyle that her social class dwelled in. Daisy spends her days lounging pathetically around her mansion and wondering what her purpose is. “What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon? cried Daisy, and the day after that, and the next thirty years?” She shows a prominent lack of direction, while reinforcing the ‘living in the moment’ way of life adopted by a typical high-class flapper. Before leaving for town on the same afternoon she calls out to Tom, “Shall we take anything to drink?” Here, Daisy is a representation for the rest of her class in regard to their attitudes towards alcoholism. The Great Gatsby as a novel downplays the prohibition of alcohol from the point of view of higher classes, which was enforced in January 1920. The fact that they interpret the law this way, showcases their carelessness and how they live solely for pleasure, disregarding any potential consequences for their decisions. Another moment when Daisy’s, as well as the elite as a whole’s, lack of accountability is made clear is during the climax of the plot. Daisy is driving a car back to West Egg, when Myrtle Wilson, the woman her husband is having an affair with, runs in front of the car and gets hit. After this, to avoid any consequence, she proceeds to leave the state with her husband and in the process, leaves Gatsby to suffer because of her cowardly retreat. Through Nick, the narrator, we are encouraged to reject Tom and Daisy. At the end of the book, they are characterised as spoiled, entitled, and indifferent rich people, who according to Nick, had '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 made.' Here, the word creatures can be interpreted as referring to people of lower society. The word smashed involves heavy connotations of irreversible damage which is exactly what the upper class and specifically Daisy’s actions lead to. Nick literally states that Daisy and Tom while acting as symbols for the entire elitist class, disregard their bad decisions and expect others to clean up after them. He also mentions how their money saves them and allowed them to act as irresponsibly as they do. Hedonistic living was adopted strongly by the upper class, causing them to indulge in everything available as well as acting without fear of consequence and to assume that the results of their actions and decisions would not harm anyone, or if they did, they showed no care towards those affected by them.

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Those born into the middle-class encounter class barriers and inevitably obtain an inability to transcend class structure regardless of the wealth and materialistic means that they work hard to achieve. The Great Gatsby exploits classism, an ideology that wasn't even recognisable in the 1920s as the society of the time became so subservient to the ruling power system. It critiques the belief that individual effort and ingenuity can lead to success, status and entry into the upper class which the novel portrays as impossible because of certain qualities endowed to characters that allow them to act as blockages. We are clearly able to see the work Gatsby has put into his persona since a very young age and are invited to support him in his pursuit for success that, being Daisy. An obvious obstacle in the way of Daisy is her higher ranking, more impressive husband, Tom. Despite Gatsby’s clear material wealth, as represented by his mansion, Tom still refers to him as “Mr nobody from nowhere”. Even though Gatsby obtained the same tangible affluence as Tom, he was still turned down by the upper class because he had to work to accomplish what he did. This so strongly exposes the ideology of classism and portrays it as extremely strict. Throughout the novel, present are many other degrading comments directed towards Gatsby’s material possessions. Gatsby's extravagant 1929 Rolls Royce, a symbol of his enormous wealth, is referred to by Tom’s as a “circus wagon” as well as his highly regarded and attended parties, “menageries”. Both comments are made in the presence of Daisy as an attempt to deter her from Gatsby as Tom has just learnt of the possibility of their affair. Tom also makes an allusion to the criminal means in which Gatsby has earned his money, “you can buy anything at a drug-store nowadays.” This causes Daisy to frown showing that she now holds suspicion over Gatsby’s wealth which from later actions, evidently is the only reason she ‘loves’ him. These pieces of dialogue from Tom showcase his prominent character traits of envy and power. As he dismisses entirely Gatsby’s wealth, his jealous attitudes shine through along with his clear lack of ability to accept anyone from a lower class, presenting him as utterly contemptuous and condescending. Through the use of blockage characters and their personas, The Great Gatsby makes a comment on classism and challenges the idea that through hard work and dedication, one can transcend rigid and unwavering class barriers.

People who belonged to the working class in the 1920s are characterised as sympathetic as readers are invited to pity their never faltering belief in the American Dream ideology. They are seen diligently working constantly and yet, still remain within the same lower socioeconomic class with no possibility of entrance into higher economic power or success. The novel challenges the American Dream and presents it as unattainable. The working class are the detritus and are often exploited by those belonging to higher classes. Tom is a significant exploiter of George, a character we are invited to pity heavily. Constantly throughout the novel, Tom is hanging a car over George’s head like bait. The car is a symbol of opportunity and George’s eagerness to obtain this vehicle shows his desire to work hard and get ahead. Tom stops to fill up Gatsby’s car in which he is driving into town. “With an effort Wilson left the shade and support of the doorway and, breathing hard, unscrewed the cap of the tank.” This quotation emphasises how hard George works as well as the entirety of the working class of which he represents. The fact that he is sick and extremely run down and still proceeds to work to earn money, shows how industrious and enterprising he is. Although pity is invited towards George because of the disrespect he endures from higher class characters, he still obtains a quiet strength and resilience towards his life. His relentless commitment to the American Dream and the idea that America is a land of opportunity is shown towards the end of the novel, he says, “I want to go west …. I’m going to get her away.” George’s ambition to move away and start over is firm as well as his yearning for triumph. He has confidence in The American Dream ideology and still persists, believing that he will eventually succeed if he works hard enough. Another example of where the American Dream is criticised occurs in Jay Gatsby's death which mirrors its demise, reflecting the pessimism of modern-day Americans. Gatsby, after an enormous effort, still having not achieved his life-long goal and ending up deceased, despite all of his hard work, completely scrutinises and condemns The American Dream as truly impossible to achieve. Through these characters, the novel exposes the ideology of The American Dream and within that, with hard work you can succeed and achieve goals.

There were many unrecognisable ideologies present in society in the 1920s. These included the American Dream, classism and Hedonism. The Great Gatsby manages to challenge all of these and presents them as either unattainable, frowned upon or fixed in position. It provides a significant criticism of the upper class and their way of living, as well as scrutinising them for their lack of willingness to accept anyone from lower socioeconomic upbringings. Through the use of characterisation, it is made clear the effects these ideologies have on various people from different backgrounds and social standings.

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The Great Gatsby By Scott Fitzgerald: Society And Popular Ideals Of The Time. (2021, July 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from
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