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F. Scott Fitzgerald was accurate in his portrayal of the aristocratic flamboyancy and indifference of the 1920 s. In his novel, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald explores many aspects of indifference and flamboyancy. A large influence on this society was the pursuit of the American Dream. Gangsters played a heavily influential role in the new money aristocracy of the 1920 s. The indifference was mainly due to the advent of Prohibition in 1920.
One major societal revolution in this period was that of the new women, who expressed new actions and beliefs. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald accurately portrayed his characters Nick Carraway, Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and the novels eponym, Jay Gatsby, as a part of the society of the 1920 s. Throughout the history of America, the classic struggle has been to attain the current American Dream. During the 1920 s, this ideal included owning a home, car, and dog, and having a good woman.
In The Great Gatsby, Daisy and Tom Buchanan are, on the visible surface, an example of this American Dream (Fitzgerald 10). Tom and Daisy are in love and married, with money, a beautiful home, and a wonderful child. They also own a car, and their home is in a very affluent area. In the 1920 s, middle-class Americans owned their own homes and cars, and were making their own money. Also in the 1920 s, increased wealth was an aspect of the American Dream. The Bull Market of 1919 signaled the initial increase of wealth per capita (Allen 7).
A second bull market in 1927, 1928, and 1929 signaled a second major increase in wealth. Fitzgeralds narrator, Nick Carraway, works in bonds (Fitzgerald 7). In The Great Gatsby, Nick mentions his own books on banking, credit, and investment, as the key to shining secrets that only Midas, Morgan, and Maecenas knew (8). Yet another characteristic of the American Dream was a return to belief in the Nativist philosophy; that all inhabitants of America should be 100 % White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP), and most of all, not Socialist or Communist in any way (Allen 42). In The Great Gatsby, Tom refers to a book he has recently read, Goddard's The Rise of Coloured Empires (Fitzgerald 17). This is a mangled allusion to the actual novel The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, by Theodore Lothrop Stoddard (Maurer 24).
One last characteristic of the youthful American Dream of the 1920 s was the defiance of Prohibition. In The Great Gatsby, the main characters have absolutely no problems defying the eighteenth amendment prohibiting the sale of liquor. The Buchanan's and their guests drink often, and with no regard for the illegality of that act (Fitzgerald 15). After 16 January 1920, when Prohibition officially went into effect (Cayton 699), the sale of medicinal alcohol rose, and bootlegging and moon shining operations sprang up across the nation (Behr 84 - 85). In The Great Gatsby, it is rumored that Gatsby made his money through bootlegging and the sale of medicinal alcohol (Fitzgerald 65). Bootlegging operations were thought to be a one billion dollar business by August of 1921.
Another manner in which the young aristocrats of the 1920 s was to attend speakeasies, secret meeting places scattered throughout cities where the gin was cool and the piano was hot. It has been estimated that there were approximately 700 speakeasies in Washington, D. C. , and 4, 000 speakeasies in Boston (Cayton 700). Most bootleggers and moonshiners escaped prosecution through the paid corruption of local and other levels of government (Behr 88).
The Great Gatsby mirrored the corrupt defiance of the eighteenth amendment so closely that Jay Gatsby has often been thought to have been based on Chicago bootlegger and organized crime fixture George Remus. Gatsby mirrored Remus so closely that even Gatsby's parties were grand on the same scale as George Remus parties, and that Gatsby was rumored to have made his money in organized crime and bootlegging, as Remus did. Prohibition catapulted most notable gangsters to their fame. The gangsters began their racket as a competition to see who could provide the most illegal alcohol, but the criminals discovered that, by working together, they could rake in even more money (Cayton 701). Gangsters and other fixtures of organized crime often financed the widespread defiance of Prohibition. In Chicago, Al Capone controlled more than 10, 000 speakeasies and bootlegging operations (Allen 229).
Meyer Wolfsheim, a pivotal character in The Great Gatsby, was modeled after Arnold Rothstein (Fitzgerald 211), a major organized crime figure of New York. Rothstein was such an influential figure that he was rumored to have organized the fix of the 1919 World Series, as is implied of Wolfsheim (78), though nothing was proven during his lifetime. Wolfsheim and his inner circle were so deeply entrenched in the underworld that Gatsby's servants did not react to the sound of gunshots when Gatsby was murdered in cold blood by George Wilson (213). Wilson, of course, murdered Gatsby in grief for his wife, Myrtle, Tom Buchanan's paramour.
One of the clearest mirrors of society in The Great Gatsby is that of the new women. In The Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker both drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes in public (Fitzgerald 139). A major push towards the new womens revolution was the nineteenth amendment, allowing for womens suffrage, or right to vote. Another push towards the new women was Prohibition (Behr 88), which united young men and women in their defiance of the eighteenth amendment (Allen 86). There was also a scientific push to the new women in the psychoanalysis and research of European psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The new women, or flappers, greatly desired to match the young men at everything to be able to go out with them, smoke with them, drink with them, and pet with them (94).
Young men of the 1920 s often felt that a little experience was good for any girl (100). Perhaps it was this social revolution of women that allowed Daisy and Myrtle to cheat on their husbands (Fitzgerald 30, 88), and allows Jordan Baker to tease men into falling for her charms (Maurer 16 17). Throughout The Great Gatsby, the three main female characters, Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, and Myrtle Wilson, all embody this flapper of the 1920 s. Fitzgerald accurately portrayed the flamboyancy of the 1920 s in The Great Gatsby. Many aspects contributed to this flamboyancy and indifference. The pursuit of the American Dream contributed to the actions of Americans and to the actions of Fitzgeralds characters.
The advent of prohibition in 1920 also pushed the actions of Americans, real and imaginary. Gangsters and organized crime were an influential force in the young aristocracy of the 1920 s. The revolution of new women also greatly impacted society's twists and turns during the 1920 s. In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald accurately portrayed these aspects of 1920 s American society. Works Cited Allen, Frederick Lewis.
Only Yesterday. New York: Harper & Row, 1931. Behr, Edward. Prohibition Thirteen Years That Changed America.
New York: Arcade Publishing, 1996. Cayton, Andrew, Perry, Elisabeth Israels, Reed, Linda, and Winkler, Allan M. America Pathways to the Present. Needham: Prentice Hall, 2003. Fitzgerald, F. Scott.
The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1925. Maurer, Kate. Cliffs Notes on Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby. New York: Wiley Publishing, Inc. , 2000.
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