Gatsby and the Jazz Age

    “The Great Gatsby takes place during the summer of 1922. Fitzgerald coined the phrase, "the Jazz Age" that same year to describe the flamboyant—"anything goes"—era that emerged in America after World War I.” (web site) Fitzgerald used events from his own life to create an accidental cross-section of the “roaring twenties”. Jazz was given life by black Americans with little formal education in music theory. Instead of playing from sheet music, jazz musicians would play what they had inside of themselves. This created a vivacious cacophony, that came together to create a decadent sound that fit perfectly into the idea of excess that dominated the twenties. Gatsby lived fast and loved life.

    Gatsby and his friends existed in an age of excess, the early nineteen-twenties was a time of new wealth challenging the old aristocracy. Young people were becoming exorbitantly wealthy, chasing the American dream. This was accomplished through hard work, and excessive spending (much like the eighties) and larger than life parties. On the surface these new millionaires appeared happy, but underneath the fancy cloths had smiling faces, American youths were becoming disenchanted with their wealth.

    Nick’s words in chapter five stand out as an example of Gatsby and Daisy’s disillusionment with their extravagant life style. “ …they looked back at me, remotely, possessed by intense life." (The Great Gatsby, Ch. 5, PG 96 nick). These words paint a picture of a boy and girl that get what they want and still feel unfulfilled. They flaunt the status that their wealth affords them, but seem unimpressed by he artificial quality of their station. It seems to me that, like spoiled children, they were not satisfied by empty excess.

    The old aristocracy of East Egg presents a picture of inherited status. These people are from generations of wealth. They are stuffy and boring, acting like heads of state, without being given an official claim to political power. These were families that taught their children how to properly present themselves as ladies and gentlemen. Public opinion of matters that should be private, had a heavy influence on how theses families used their wealth. They present a stark contrast to the flashy party culture enjoyed by the residents of West Egg.

    Jordan’s commentary on New York City, "I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone's away. There's something very sensuous about it - overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands." ( The Great Gatsby, Ch. 7 PG 125 Jordan), shows an undeserved air of entitlement. Gatsby and the other inhabitants of West Egg expect everything to fall into their hands. They all aspire to a level of greatness that is beyond the reach of their undeveloped tastes. This is a commentary on a system that bestows wealth on any individual willing to work for it. By the end of the book, Fitzgerald presents the idea that the American dream is as insubstantial as any other dream.

    "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us…” (The Great Gatsby, Ch. 9 PG 180 Nick). At the end of the book Nick summarizes the nature of Gatsby’s character, using the green light on Daisy’s dock. Gatsby invests so much of himself in chasing his childhood loves and dreams, only to find that his quest for idealized love is a futile journey.

    The quote above is completed by Nick’s assessment of Gatsby’s refusal to give up his childish dreams. “It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning-- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (The Great Gatsby, Ch. 9 PG 180 Nick). even though Gatsby’s dreams dissolve when they are brought into the light of day, he keeps on dreaming. The book ends with that quote, but Gatsby’s story continues on through the roaring twenties to the great depression.

    The thirties was an age of poverty for many people like Gatsby. Their insubstantial wealth was frivolously spent and no considerations were made for future debts. The seemingly discordant sound of jazz music symbolizes the live for life attitude of the flapper generation. These people entertained any whim they pleased, and enjoyed every minute of it. Eventually that devil-may-care philosophy lead to a fall from grace for many wealthy Americans.

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an essay about the connection between Fitzgerald's Gatsby, and the jazz age.