Amidst the exceedingly prosperous decade of the 1920’s, traditional American lifestyles and principles were interjected by the new superficial and materialistic beliefs closely associated with “The Roaring Twenties.” Undoubtedly, the 1920’s were a decade of change. Deteriorating moralities and optimistic beliefs of overnight wealth replaced strict traditional views on religion, family structure, and work ethics. In an era of such high optimism, the pioneering spirit of the American Dream was revitalized. The nouveaux riches often clashed with the established wealth, as evident throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway, suddenly finds himself ...view middle of the document...
However, the fact that Fitzgerald creates characters who seem to contradict his own beliefs, seem to suggest that he is making a mockery of the weak marital bond common in American society during the 1920’s.
Many of the characters in Fitzgerald’s novel are portrayed as shallow and materialistic, which accurately reflects the mindset of the 1920’s. However, because Fitzgerald chooses to reveal these characters so thoroughly and frequently suggests his intentions of criticizing the superficial beliefs during that era. Undoubtedly, materialism plays a fundamental role throughout the book. Fitzgerald creates a character, Daisy, who possesses shallow values, and worships nothing but money. “She likes the moving-picture actress because she has no substance . . . She virtually announces here [liking the actress] what her criteria of human emotions and conduct are.” (Bewley, 133) As Gatsby claims, “Her voice is full of money” (115) Daisy, who is the one of the most prominent characters in the novel, is merely an egotistical fool that Fitzgerald has created in order to portray the attitudes of the era. However, Daisy is only the first of a long list of superficial characters created by Fitzgerald. During the beginning of Chapter IV, Fitzgerald imposes a large and elaborately comprehensive list of guests attending Gatsby’s parties. He states, “All these people came to Gatsby’s house in the summer.” (62) Nevertheless, Fitzgerald later emphasizes the fact that these people were using Gatsby’s mansion merely for its hospitality, and for nothing else. This becomes evident when only a single person attending Gatsby’s parties arrived at his funeral. Through this, Fitzgerald reveals the lack of loyalty, and gratitude in the 1920’s, and ultimately, the superficiality of all the characters. Therefore, through his elaborately detailed selfish characters, Fitzgerald criticizes the shallowness and materialism so apparent during the 1920’s.
Fitzgerald illustrates the corruption that accompanies power and wealth throughout the entirety of the novel. He first demonstrates the influence of wealth during Nick and Gatsby’s trip to New York where a police officer stops Gatsby. In return, Gatsby produces a white card from his pocket, whereupon the officer claims, “Right you are. Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse me.” (67) Through this encounter, Fitzgerald reveals the amount of power Gatsby possesses, but more importantly, he exposes the control which accompanies wealth and social status. Fitzgerald also reveals the corruption in American society, this time making specific reference to a non-fictional event- the 1919 World Series. Upon hearing that Meyer Wolfshiem was the gambler who fixed the World’s Series, Nick inquires,
‘Fixed the World’s Series?’ I repeated.
The idea staggered me . . .
‘How did he happen to do that?’ I asked after a minute.
‘He just saw the opportunity.’
‘Why isn’t he in jail?’
‘They can’t get him, old sport. He’s a smart man.’ (71-2)