The Great Gatsby: The Similarities of Fitzgerald’s Life during the Roaring Twenties (w9)

The Great Gatsby, by Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald is an incredibly renowned novel. Being that this novel is so well known, there have been many thoughts and opinions formed about it. There is an excess of material that has been written on The Great Gatsby, and like many critics out there, I also have my thoughts on this great novel. To me though, the most interesting aspect of The Great Gatsby is the setting, which is during the 1920’s, and how this novel also represents the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald during this time period.

First of all, it’s fundamental to recognize the background of The Great Gatsby, the novel (not to be confused with the film). This is narrated by Nick Carraway, who moved to New York from the mid-west. Nick moved to West Egg, which was populated by the new rich. His neighbor is none other than Jay Gatsby. Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan, lives with her husband, Tom Buchanan, in East Egg, which is populated by the old rich. Nick meets Jordan Baker, who is a friend of Daisy and Tom’s. Jordan tells Nick about an affair that Tom is having with a married woman, Myrtle Wilson (wife of George Wilson), who lives in the valley of ashes. Nick was later invited to one of Gatsby’s large parties, where Gatsby tells Nick that him and Daisy were in love while Gatsby was in the war. Nick then arranged a reunion between Daisy and Gatsby, and their love was rekindled. Tom eventually grew suspicious of Daisy’s affair with Gatsby, and he was completely enraged. Because of this, Tom arranged for the group to go to New York City to the Plaza Hotel, where he confronted Gatsby in a hotel room. On the way back from this confrontation, Gatsby’s car struck and killed Myrtle. Although it was Daisy who was driving the car, Gatsby took the blame for it. This ultimately resulted in Gatsby’s death, because since George Wilson assumed it must have been Myrtle’s lover who killed her, he killed Gatsby and then himself.

It is imperative to realize that there are many similarities between The Great Gatsby and its author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Most importantly, The Great Gatsby took place in the 1920’s, a time period in which Fitzgerald lived through. The 1920’s was a crucial point in Fitzgerald’s life, just as it was a crucial setting to this novel. But, although the time period was not the only similarity between the life of Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby, it is the one that assisted the most in shaping the story line.

The 1920’s, a time that is also known as The Roaring Twenties or The Jazz Age, was undoubtedly one of the rowdiest periods in the history of the United States. Fitzgerald lived through this time period, so he uses it in the setting of this novel because it is convenient and he is exceptionally insightful on it. Not to mention the fact that Fitzgerald is using experiences from his own life during the 1920’s. This time period accents many aspects of life that if Fitzgerald had used any other time period except for his own, the telling of the story of Jay Gatsby would definitely not have been as effective.

To begin with, Fitzgerald gave Nick Carraway some background that matched his. They were both from Minnesota. From Minnesota both Nick and Fitzgerald’s family’s sent them to ivy league schools. Fitzgerald attended Princeton University and Nick Carraway attended Yale University. Although, “on academic probation and close to flunking out of Princeton, Fitzgerald took a commission as an infantry second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and left school.” (Shmoop editorial team) (http://www.shmoop.com/f-scott-fitzgerald/timeline.html)

But, the fact that Fitzgerald left school to join the military mirrors Jay Gatsby, who joined the United States Army at the start of World War I. During World War I, both Jay Gatsby and F. Scott Fitzgerald fell in love with a woman at the locations they were stationed. Gatsby fell in love with Daisy, and Fitzgerald fell in love with a woman named Zelda. Like Gatsby tried to impress Daisy, Fitzgerald did the same with Zelda. Zelda wanted a rich, successful man. Because of this, Fitzgerald began to write books so that he could be that man for her. Similarly, Gatsby felt as though he needed to impress Daisy, and to do this he faulted the fact that he was rich and successful. The main way Gatsby did this was throwing his extravagant parties, in an attempt to get Daisy’s attention.

Bootleggers in the 1920's

This was the end of World War 1, and there was most definitely a very large sense of excitement. There was a new “modern way of living.” This was a wild and carefree time period. But, this also happened to be during the prohibition era. Because of people’s excess drinking and the growing problem of alcohol dependence, the government wanted to eradicate the temptation of liquor. Thus came the prohibition of alcohol. But, this did not stop people from drinking at all. There were still parties like Gatsby’s where there was an abundance of alcohol. Prohibition only “fueled the rapid growth of organized crime networks engaged in bootlegging… and fostered the emergence of wealthy and powerful gangsters who- like Gatsby- were also active in other criminal fields, such as gambling and bond fraud” (Ruggieri 112) Which is a large part of why Gatsby was so rich; he participated in these illegal activities. (http://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-xvii)

Different from Fitzgerald though, Gatsby did not drink. Fitzgerald wrote about Gatsby as a very similar man to himself, but he wrote him as a man who did not drink. Fitzgerald and Gatsby are at two different extremes when it comes to drinking. Although Gatsby participated in illegal activities involving liquor, he did not drink.

In the 1920’s there was a distinction between the upper social classes. There was the old aristocracy, which is what Daisy and Tom Buchannan were, and the newly rich, which is what Gatsby was. The difference between these two during this time period is important, because the newly rich, often times gained their wealth from criminal activity, just as Gatsby did. But, “Jay Gatsby wants to live with Daisy Buchanan because she is a member of the established American aristocracy of wealth,” (Canterbery 300) so it is obvious that at this time the old aristocracy had much more value than that of the newly rich. Although it was stated that “Gatsby lacks the maturity to realize that Daisy cannot be obtained by money alone and in a vulgar display of conspicuous consumption, he flaunts his nouveau wealth,” (Canterbery 300) meaning that Daisy is not nearly as impressed as Gatsby believed she would be with his overwhelming wealth. (http://www.jstor.org/stable/4227440) This is evident because Daisy ends up not leaving Tom for Gatsby.

Nick had always been intrigued by Gatsby, ever since he moved in and first saw Gatsby for the first time —

He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward — and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far way, that might have been the end of a dock (Fitzgerald 21)

Nick wondered about Gatsby. Nick wanted to know what was going on in Gatsby’s head, what this lonely man was like. If Gatsby wasn’t so mysterious, if people didn’t say things like, “he’s a bootlegger… one time he killed a man who found out that he…” (Fitzgerald 61), if Gatsby didn’t do things like throw his extravagant parties with his own bootlegged liquor, and if he didn’t serve in the first World War, Nick might not have been so interested by him. Or, if Gatsby didn’t fall in love with Nick’s cousin during the first World War, Nick would not have become as connected to Gatsby as he did while he was trying to help Gatsby reignite the spark between him and Daisy.

In The Great Gatsby, Nick’s friendship and obsession with Jay Gatsby is a large part of the novel. Nick’s obvious obsession with Gatsby is apparent because of the fact that he is telling a story based solely on Jay Gatsby. It was stated by Barbarese (http://www.jstor.org/stable/27546588) that “the real love story lies in the friendship of Nick and Jay Gatsby.” (cxxii) This is absolutely true, because without this friendship and obsession Nick has with Gatsby, Nick would have never even told the story of The Great Gatsby.

On the other hand, this mirrors Fitzgerald’s want to make a work out of his own life. Since his own life is particularly similar to this novel, him telling The Great Gatsby is somewhat like him telling the readers about his own life.

But, in the end, both Fitzgerald and Gatsby have their downfalls. Fitzgerald is an alcoholic whose wife suffers from nervous breakdowns, and he eventually dies of a heart attack. While in the circumstance of The Great Gatsby it leads to “extravagant parties, expensive cars, and sprawling homes providing the backdrop for adulterous affairs, car crashes, and, eventually three deaths.” (Johnson 30)

The setting in the 1920’s, the author’s own time period, is essential for many aspects of this novel. Without this being set in this time period, many important features would be lost. Along with other elements of this time period, it is especially crucial that this story be set after The Great War and during the Prohibition Era. The Roaring Twenties sets the stage for a great story line, and without it, The Great Gatsby would not be able to show the many aspects that it does.

Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank my TA, Kacey, for helping me to really understand the topic of essay two and helping me to decide what direction to go with my piece. I would also like to thank Professor Harris for helping me with how to connect the different ideas of my piece. Lastly, I would like to thank my mom and my roommates for giving me support and helping me to stay positive whenever I would get stressed out or overwhelmed about this piece.

Author’s Memo:

This piece was not easy for me, I am not especially good at writing about anything that has to do with a novel or someone else’s work. But, my piece definitely grew. It started off with just a summary of the book and a few random thoughts with nothing really to back up those thoughts. As my piece developed I started to connect all my ideas together and I got many sources to back up all my thoughts. I also started to develop more ideas as my piece was coming along. I am most proud of how I was able to connect Gatsby to Fitzgerald. It took a great deal of research to do on Fitzgerald and it took a lot of reading between the lines in The Great Gatsby to discover more about Jay Gatsby. Also, I am proud that I was able to express how much the time period really does effect the elements of the novel.

References:

Barbarese, J. T.. 1992. “”the Great Gatsby” and the American Dream”. Review of The Great Gatsby. The Sewanee Review 100 (4). The Johns Hopkins University Press: cxxi–cxxiv. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27546588.

Canterbery, E. Ray. 1999. “Thorstein Veblen and “the Great Gatsby””. Journal of Economic Issues 33 (2). Association for Evolutionary Economics: 297–304. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4227440.

Johnson, Robert. 2002. “Say It Ain’t So, Jay: Fitzgerald’s Use of Baseball in “the Great Gatsby””. The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review 1. Penn State University Press: 30–44. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41583031.

Shmoop Editorial Team. “F. Scott Fitzgerald Timeline of Important Dates.” Shmoop University, Inc. Last modified November 11, 2008. Accessed November 30, 2015. http://www.shmoop.com/f-scott-fitzgerald/timeline.html.

Ruggieri, Colleen A.. 2008. “A Reader’s Guide for “the Great Gatsby””. Review of Fitzgerald’s “the Great Gatsby”: A Reader’s Guide. The English Journal 97 (3). National Council of Teachers of English: 112–13. doi:10.2307/30046845.