The Great Gatsby's Twenties Image

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The Great Gatsby is an excellent embodiment of the Roaring Twenties. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was often called the spokesman for the Jazz Age, captured the essence of this time period in what is considered to be his finest work, The Great Gatsby. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was named for his famous ancestor, Francis Scott Key, who wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner". He enrolled in St. Paul Academy in 1908, when he was twelve years old. He did poorly, and later, in 1911, enrolled in the Newman Academy. He barely made it into Princeton in 1913, by promising he would do better there than he had at previous schools. However, he continued to do poorly, and eventually dropped out. He enlisted in the army and was stationed in Alabama, where he met Zelda Sayre, a beautiful southern belle from a wealthy family. Fitzgerald and Zelda were engaged, and he moved to New York to try to make a living. However, he was unsuccessful, and Zelda broke their engagement. Then, in 1919, Charles Scribner's Sons accepted for publication Fitzgerald's manuscript, This Side of Paradise. The book was a success, and in 1920 Fitzgerald and Zelda were married. In 1921 Zelda gave birth to a daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, called Scotty. The Fitzgeralds lived the rest of their lives hovering close to the brink of poverty, while Scott Fitzgerald wrote numerous short stories and four other novels (the last posthumously in 1941) to support them. He died in Hollywood on December 21, 1940 at the age of forty-four. His wife Zelda died in a fire at an asylum at which she had been a patient for many years on March 11, 1947. Fitzgerald is the most famous chronicler of America in the 1920's, a decade he called the Jazz Age. Written in the middle of the decade, The Great Gatsby is very much a Jazz Age novel. Fitzgerald saw through the glitter of the Jazz Age to the moral emptiness and hypocrisy beneath.There is of course a sense in which The Great Gatsby is a novel of manners: it does comment on American society in the 1920s and it is critical of the corruption and moral disorder of the period. Many of the main characters in The Great Gatsby show this emptiness and hypocrisy. For example, if Daisy Buchanan were analyzed, it would be found that she appears to be a very empty-headed person. She ignores her marital problems, even creating her own when she has an affair with Gatsby, and simply chooses to pretend they never happened. However, Daisy is very smart and witty, although cynical from her husband's drunkenness and extramarital affairs. She is not allowed to use these qualities though, because she is a woman and would be silenced by her overbearing and domineering husband, Tom. The character of Jordan Baker is a careless, irresponsible woman, which is the way many people were in the 1920s. Fitzgerald critized these qualities in people, and often satirized them in his novels. However, Fitzgerald was not the only author to do such. Many authors of this era criticized the decadent life the people of the Jazz Age led. The Great Gatsby basically is a book of satire. Fitzgerald despised the lack of morals people of America in the 1920s had, and even escaped to Europe, where people acted slightly more sane, for a few years while writing The Great Gatsby. Criticism of The Great Gatsby has often been sidetracked into biography or reminiscence of the Jazz Age. Fitzgerald obviously meant to criticize peoples' actions in the Roaring Twenties when he wrote The Great Gatsby, or he would not have made it so similar to conditions that existed back then. The word that can sum up many of the themes in the book is position. The word encompasses themes like class, wealth, social standing, and others. Social standing was very important in The Great Gatsby. For example, Tom's social standing allowed him to treat everyone, including his own wife, like dirt, except on rare occasions when he felt like being accommodating. Gatsby's social standing allowed him to be generous, because everyone expected it of him after attending or hearing about one of his lavish parties. Nick was below the high social standings of Tom, Daisy, and Jordan, and also below the lower social standing of Gatsby, but members of both classes liked and trusted him. As Nick said in chapter one of The Great Gatsby, Tom wanted Nick to like him as well. Somehow, Nick could transcend the barriers of certain classes, which made it easy for anyone to trust him, whether it be Tom with talking about his mistress, or Gatsby revealing his true identity. Wealth played a major part in The Great Gatsby. Tom felt that Daisy was worth a $350,000 pearl necklace, while Myrtle Wilson was worth only a dog leash. Tom also teased George Wilson about selling him a car as a game and a way to get close to Myrtle. Wealthy people in the 1920s generally tended to look down on the poorer people. In The Great Gatsby, New York's poor lived in the Valley of Ashes, a barren, desolate landscape, while the wealthy (whether they were newly rich or old money) lived in luxurious houses, palaces almost, living a glamorous and decadent lifestyle. The rich lived by retreating into their money when something unexpected happened, something bad that should not have happened to someone with status, while the poor had to suffer the consequences. This is the type of life and the kind of people that Fitzgerald and other writers of the Roaring Twenties often criticized. Fitzgerald himself had humble beginnings, so it is possible he sympathized with the poor of the nation's cities, which could give him good reason to have criticized the crude and immoral behaviors of the rich people of the Jazz Age. He was not alone in his crusade to show the scandalous behaviors of the Roaring Twenties. Many of America's gifted writers were alienated by the values and lifestyles of the 1920s. Fitzgerald especially revealed the negative side of 1920s gaiety and freedom. In not only The Great Gatsby, but also in This Side of Paradise, he portrayed wealthy people leading hopelessly empy lives in gilded surroundings . However, it seems almost hypocritical of Fitzgerald to criticize the decadent lifestyle of the Jazz Age, because he also lived it. After This Side of Paradis

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