In November 1918, when the first World War ended, the utter carnage and uncertain outcome of the conflict was disheartening and disillusioning.
During the war, people began doubting if they knew what is the right way to live a life; they lost the purpose of life. After war, the young generation, known as the Lost Generation, was set for global culture exchange, new ideas of peace, and a lavish style of life. In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the most famous Lost Generation writers, wrote his third novel The Great Gatsby.
The novel was not an instant success, but after World War II, Gatsby’s story became very popular among readers. Many new editions were produced and several movies versions were created. The novel is a social commentary, Nick Carraway, the first-person narrator, tells the readers Gatsby’s story.
He peeks into Gatsby’s love life and social life, the struggle among different classes, moral ethics, and hypocrisy of the elites of New York in 1920s, which was a time of great change in U.S. society. The novel explores human follies, the hopelessness of societal constructs, and man’s struggle with time and fate.
Fitzgerald gave the name ‘Jazz Age’ to that era, a time of glamorous lifestyle and wild parties of the upper social classes. His writing can be described as historical documentation of the era which portrays the social life of rich people through mainly ‘old money’ and ‘new money’, which draws the attention of the best critical minds of the day. Old money people like Tom Buchanan and Jordan Baker who had generational wealth, do not work but rather spend their time enjoying parties, doing whatever they fancy.
The other group of rich people, like Gatsby, was called ‘new money’. They acquired money by themselves. Old money people do not respect new money people like Tom doesn’t like Gatsby. According to him, Gatsby cannot have their (old money people) classy style of living or their taste or refinement. Not only does Gatsby have to work for a living, he comes from a low-class background. Having money is not important, rather what matters is where that money came from or when it was acquired.
However, these old money people will come to Gatsby’s parties and drink liquor, eat lavish food, and enjoy themselves, they even do not care who the host is. Sometimes, they do not even bother to wait for an invitation, they just barge in. When Gatsby dies, all these people are busy with their work and no one cares to attend his funeral.Gatsby earns his money from illegal activities such as bootlegging and organized crime.
He then changes his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby, buys a big mansion and throws lavish parties to be part of old money class with a dream to win back his love, Daisy. He knows, Daisy married Tom because Tom had more money than Gatsby at that time, so he wants to impress Daisy with his money. At one point, Daisy told Tom that she loves Gatsby and plans to elope with him.
But Daisy does not come to Gatsby’s funeral. Even later on, when Nick met Daisy, he did not see any sorrow or regret in her eyes, even though Gatsby is wrongly killed by George for her crime. Also, it was Tom who told George that the one to kill Myrtle was Gatsby. Nick loathed the immoral behavior of these people and their lack of moral values.In World War I, many men died which opened opportunities to come forward and take jobs, which brought more rights of equality and freedom to woman. In 1920, women gained right to vote, all of these change in society allowed women to live more freely.
They were more open to go out and look for happiness, some may even go too even if they have to cheat. Fitzgerald uses this changing society as a means to criticize their social behavior. Fitzgerald has successfully portrayed the decay in social values in that era.
In his 2003 paper “The Greatness of Gatsby”, Samuels mentioned that Fitzgerald’s world represents iconographically a sterile, immoral society. Myrtle Wilson, a poor garage-owner’s wife, has no hesitation becoming Tom’s mistress in order to live a better life. Myrtle never realized Tom will never accept her in his society of upper class people. On the other hand, the same is true for Gatsby too; he expects Daisy to leave Tom and come with him whereas like Myrtle, he never realized that he can never be accepted on the society of elite people such as Tom and Daisy. It goes for Daisy too; she had left Gatsby because he did not have enough money and later starts to date him when he does, even though she is already married.
It is ironical that Daisy has all wealth and yet she is not happy with Tom in her married life. Fitzgerald criticizes people’s thinking that happiness comes with wealth.Although whole society was talking about equality and freedom of woman, still rich men were toying with their lives for their own happiness and not caring how it may hurt these women. In his 1952 paper “Fitzgerald’s Brave New World”, Fussel has tried to prove his thought that Gatsby is corrupted by the values and attitudes that he holds in common with the society that destroys him. Rich men of roaring twenties were not respectful to women’s social status, rather they were trying to manipulate them, and women who just tasted a new life of freedom were getting lured to the glamorous life, even if it does not bring inner happiness and rather leaves them with a shallow feeling, like Daisy and Myrtle. In his 2003 paper “Fitzgerald’s Gatsby: The World As Ash Heap”, Miller has described that although the foreground of The Great Gatsby is largely filled with the super-sophisticated life of the rich and pleasure-bound figures of the jazz age, the “roaring twenties,” not far in the background are the Rosy Rosenthals, the Meyer Wolfsheims, the Walter Chases, in violent pursuit of money and the good, easy life.
Fitzgerald exposed the thought process of people, men and women, of the Jazz Age, and let readers conclude themselves. The society of 1920, used to think money is equal to happiness, having all the materialistic things will increase quality of life. Gatsby’s situation can be extrapolated to whole society of twenties as a social criticism of an increasingly materialistic society, a society where money is everything and people think money can bring social status and happiness. Old money people think they are elite class and all other whether new money or no money are low class.