The Great Gatsby and the Destruction of a Generation
The beauty and splendor of Gatsby’s parties masks the decay and corruption that lay at the heart of the Roaring Twenties. The society of the Jazz Age, as observed by Fitzgerald, is morally bankrupt, and thus continually plagued by a crisis of character. Jay Gatsby, though he struggles to be a part of this world, remains unalterably an outsider. His life is a grand irony, in that it is a caricature of Twenties-style ostentation: his closet overflows with custom-made shirts; his lawn teems with “the right people,” all engaged in the serious work of absolute triviality; his mannerisms (his false British accent, his old-boy friendliness) are laughably affected. Despite all this, he can never be truly a part of the corruption that surrounds him: he remains intrinsically “great.” Nick Carrway reflects that Gatsby’s determination, his lofty goals, and most importantly the grand character of his dreams sets him above his vulgar contemporaries. F. Scott Fitzgerald constructs Gatsby as a true American dreamer, set against the decay of American society during the 1920s.
By eulogizing the tragic fate of dreamers, Fitzgerald thereby denounces 1920s America as an age of blindness and greed an age hostile to the work of dreaming. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald heralds the ruin of his own generation.
Since America has always held its entrepreneurs in the highest regard, one might expect Fitzgerald to glorify this heroic version of the American Dreamer in the pages of his novel. Instead, Fitzgerald suggests that the societal corruption which prevailed in the 1920s was uniquely inhospitable to dreamers; in fact, it was these men who led the most unfortunate lives of all…
…ible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1995.
Fielder, Leslie. “Some Notes on F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Mizener 70-76.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Scribner Classic, 1986.
Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Extremes. New York: Pantheon, 1994.
Posnock, Ross. “‘A New World, Material Without Being Real’: Fitzgerald’s Critique of Capitalism in The Great Gatsby.” Critical Essays on Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby.”
Ed. Scott Donaldson. Boston: Hall, 1984. 201-13.
Raleigh, John Henry. “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.” Mizener 99-103.
Spindler, Michael. American Literature and Social Change. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983.
Trilling, Lionel. “F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Critical Essays on Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby.” Ed. Scott Donaldson. Boston: Hall, 1984. 13-20.