About the 1920's
Just so you understand what it was like when Fitzgerald wrote this
novel I'm going to give a brief description of what it was like in
the 1920's. They were known as the Roaring Twenty's because the economy
at the time was through the roof and people were partying all over the
place. At the time there was a legal ban on the manufacture and sale
of intoxicating drink called prohibition. Since a lot of people didn't
feel like drinking the gin they made in their bathtubs all the time there
was a huge market for organized crime. Organized criminals catered to the
needs of the drinking public by illegaly supplying them with liquor and
made a fortune doing it. Even with all the crime in the Jazz Age though,
it will still be remembered for its glittering lights and unbridled
Nick Carraway is the narrator of this story. As you can see on the
first page Nick holds himself in higher esteem than the other characters
in the novel. Even though Nick is the narrator he should not be completely
trusted. On the first page he boasts about how he doesn't judge people
yet throughout the story he's judging people. The only person who
he envies though is Gatsby. On [page 2] Nick says about Gatsby, He has
an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never
found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.
Also, for someone with such high moral values he doesn't handle commitment very well. That's probably
a main reason why he left the Mid West and it's part of why
he ended up going back. Nick left the Mid West to be a stock broker
in New York but didn't get rich, yet everywhere he looks these
amoral people are rolling in the wealth. That's a clue to one of the main
Gatsby is the rich, majestic, protagonist of the novel. While it isn't
clear how he made all his money it is obvious that it was through illegal
dealings in organized crime. There was a reference to the 1919 World
Series, (That's the one where the players on the Chicago White Sox helped
out organized crime by not trying their hardest when it counted). It is also
clear that the driving motivation for getting all this cash is so that
it will appeal to Daisy. Daisy was the rich girl that he fell in love
with before he joined the service. Unfortunately he just didn't have enough money
to keep her while he was overseas. When Gatsby got back she was married
to someone else but that didn't disuade him in the least. Gatsby's whole
efforts in this book are focused on trying to bring him and Daisy back
to the point of time before he joined the army except this time he has
enough money for her. Gatsby says it himself on [page 111], Can't repeat the
past? Why of course you can!.
Daisy is the woman Gatsby is trying to win back and coincidentally
she is also Nick's second cousin. Daisy doesn't have
a strong will and she cracks under pressure as will be shown late in the
book in the hotel scene. She is the original material girl and focuses on
the outward instead of the inward. Tom bought her love with a three hundred
thousand dollar necklace, and now Gatsby is doing it with a huge mansion
and a lot of nice shirts.(You'll understand the shirts thing when you read
the part of the novel when Daisy first visits Gatsby's house).
Tom is the antagonist in this novel. While Gatsby was fighting in
World War I Tom was using his wealth to sweep Daisy off her feet.
Tom is a yuppy and clearly in the way of Gatsby's love for
Daisy. He is having an affair, which
he makes no attempt to keep secret, with Myrtle Wilson while stringing
along Myrtle's husband on a business deal. He treats Myrtle even worse than
Daisy because in his eyes Daisy is worth a three hundred
thousand dollar pearl necklace while Myrtle
is worth a dog leash. With that fact in mind it is reasonable to assume Fitzgerald is telling us
that Tom considers Myrtle to be his pet dog. Tom is just the bad guy in
this story and you could not possibly like him.
Jordan is the woman in this story who connects Gatsby to Nick and
consequently Gatsby to Daisy. Jordan is also a friend of Daisy's while she
has something going with Nick during the story. She has short hair and
plays golf which back in the twenty's was uncommon for women. Therefore
you can assume she acts like a guy. She is very into the Roaring Twenty's
party scene and is carelessly going through life. The carelessness comes
out when she's driving with Nick on [page 59]:
Nick: You're a rotten driver, either you ought to be more careful
or you oughtn't to drive at all.
Jordan: I am careful.
Nick: No you're not.
Jordan: Well, other people are.
Nick: What's that got to do with it
Jordan: They'll keep out of my way, It takes two to make an
Nick: Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself?
Jordan: I hope I never will, I hate careless people. That's why
I like you.
This also tags her as a
hypocrite when she says "I hate careless people" being a careless
She's the woman Tom is having an affair with. She let's Tom push
her around and treat her however he wants and she likes it. Tom has
all the money and leads the life she wants to be a part of. She always
thought she should have done better than her current husband and having
an affair with Tom reinforces this belief of hers. Her current husband, George
Wilson, is just a poor gas station owner in the Valley of Ashes who had to
borrow a tuxedo for his wedding. Myrtle would rather be treated like a
dog by someone who has money instead of being cared for by someone who
has no money.
George is married to a woman who resents him and is having an affair
right under his nose without him knowing it. He runs a gas station which
he lives above in the Valley of Ashes which is the dirtyest area of
New York. The valley of Ashes has now become Queens if you were wondering
where it was. That's not even the worst of it but I don't want to give
up to much of the story so you'll just have to believe me.
George Wilson is just the hard luck guy in this novel and he ends up taking
it out on someone else in the end.
While he may not be a major part of this novel he serves a purpose.
He is Gatsby's connection to organized crime. He is the link
that connects Gatsby to how he gained all his money. He supposedly in
this novel is the one that fixed the World Series of 1919. He is also
a close friend of Gatsby's.
- This novel is filled with multiple themes but the predominate one
focuses on the death of the American Dream. This can be explained
by how Gatsby came to get his fortune. Through his dealings with organized
crime he didn't adhere to the American Dream guidelines. Nick also suggests
this with the manner in which he talks about all the rich characters in the
story. The immoral people have all the money. Of course looking over all this
like the eyes of God are those of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg on the billboard.
- The second theme that needs to be acknowledged is the thought of repeating
the past. Gatsby's whole being since going off to war is devoted to getting
back together with Daisy and have things be the way they were before he left.
That's why Gatsby got a house like the one Daisy used to live in right
across the bay from where she lives. He expresses this desire by reaching towards
the green light on her porch early in the book. The last paragraph, So
we beat on, boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into the past reinforces
- Fitzgerald was in his twenty's when he wrote this novel and since
he went to Princeton he was considered a spokesman for his generation.
He wrote about the third theme which is the immorality that was besieging
the 1920's. Organized crime ran rampant, people were partying all the time,
and affairs were common play. The last of which Fitzgerald portrays well
in this novel.
- The eyes of T. J. Eckleburg convey a fourth theme in this novel.
George Wilson compares them to the eyes of God looking over the valley of
Ashes. The unmoving eyes on the billboard look down on the Valley of Ashes
and see all the immorality and garbage of the times. By the end of the
novel you will realize that this symbolizes that God is dead.
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