Prohibition And The Advancements Of Technology In The Great Gatsby By F. Scott Fitzgerald

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“The Great Gatsby” written by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925) utilises the setting of the 1920s, the decade of transition. It was the period when traditionalism shifted to modernism. Concurring with the rise of modernism was prohibition and the advancements of technology. This led to society subconsciously morphing the idea of the American Dream. Fitzgerald uses these events from the 1920s to reflect and comment upon his context that enabled him to construct his infamous novel.

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Fitzgerald utilises the transition from traditionalism to modernism of women in the 1920s to comment and reflect upon his context of the “New Woman.” Modernism changed the roles of women and how they were perceived. Women were accustomed to act and behave in a certain manner whilst fulfilling maternal roles, however, this changed following the “Great War” and from it a modern woman called a “flapper” emerged, also referred to as the “New Woman.” Zelda Fitzgerald was the embodiment of a “flapper”: a woman that pushed boundaries and their freedom. Relationships with Zelda and other “flappers” enabled Fitzgerald to integrate his comment of the “new woman” through the characterization of Daisy and Jordan Baker in “The Great Gatsby” as they represented the “New Woman” but on different ends of the spectrum. Jordan symbolises the concept of a “flapper,” whilst Daisy symbolises the transition of a traditional woman to a “flapper.” Fitzgerald crafts this through the 1st person narration of Nick Carraway. In chapter three, Nick joins Jordan at Gatsby’s party, mentioning that she was “incurably dishonest” and saying she kept “that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.” Fitzgerald, via Nick integrates principles of a “flapper” of the 1920s in Jordan, as she embodies the arrogant, “dishonest” nature of a “flapper” that embraced pushing the boundaries of social and sexual freedom, in addition to showing dislike for things remotely “acceptable.” Hence, her “insolent smile” and her ability to “satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.” Jordan’s character contrasts to Daisy, who is Tom Buchanan’s house wife and is a mother of one. “And I hope she’ll be a fool that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

Her wish for her daughter to be a “fool” demonstrates the mindset and characteristic of a traditional woman in the 1920s as they thought of themselves as inferior to men. Daisy’s link to traditionalism breaks when she accidentally kills Myrtle. Her and Tom deciding to go on a “vacation” as an excuse to escape the scene of the crime in chapter nine captures her transition from a traditional woman into a “flapper,” as she becomes an irresponsible person who pushes the boundaries of social morals. Fitzgerald comments and reflects this in Daisy’s selfish and manipulative version of a “flapper” as her character ignores the consequences of her actions. Utilising the shift from traditionalism to modernism in the 1920’s, enabled Fitzgerald to integrate his comments and reflect his context of the “New Woman” in his infamous novel.

Coinciding with modernism, Fitzgerald uses prohibition and the advancement of technology that occurred in the 1920s to reflect and comment upon his context of materialism in society. Materialism revolves around a concept of a corrupted individual necessitating possessions that hold little to no spiritual value. In the 1920s, Fitzgerald gained fame from writing and was pulled into the life of an aristocrat, relying on new technologies such as the car for traveling and alcohol because he was an alcoholic. Prohibition and the advancement of technology played a role in crafting “The Great Gatsby” and allowed Fitzgerald to utilise the invention of the car and alcohol to symbolize society’s reliance on objects, specifically in chapter three when Gatsby’s guests return home in their cars which their “headlights illuminated a bizarre and tumultuous scene” and their “incessant groaning of the horns” in the scene of an unexpected car crash. The personification of the cars draws emphasis on the invention as it was the main source of transport in the 1920s. Furthermore, this draws attention upon the social classes that were set in place as majority of middle to upper class men owned the luxury of a car. This ties with materialism in the sense that the more wealth one obtained the more reliant they were on their possessions, like the car. Additionally, the 1920s was a time when the U.S. implemented prohibition. This caused mafias and gangs to partake in the activity of “bootlegging,” the illegal importing of liquor. Similar to how Fitzgerald relied on liquor for mental purposes, Gatsby relied on bootlegging to sustain him financially. This comes from Tom Buchanan’s revelation of Gatsby being a bootlegger in chapter seven when he says to him, “I found out what your “drug-stores” were.” The revelation of Gatsby’s “career” from Daisy’s husband creates a surprising turn of events, contributing to the dramatic climax of the novel. Gatsby’s reliance on bootlegging conveys his materialistic attitude on the importing on alcohol as a way of sustenance and obtaining wealth. Thus, Fitzgerald was able to integrate and reflect the context of his materialistic society by utilising prohibition and advancements in technology to construct his novel.

From materialism, Fitzgerald was able to use the subconscious formation of the ideology of the American Dream in the 1920s to reflect and comment upon his context of relationships. Fitzgerald’s relationship with Zelda did not happen until Fitzgerald was able to prove to her that he was financially successful. After becoming wealthy only did Zelda marry him. He was able to integrate the context of his relationship through the ideology of the American Dream that subconsciously formed in the 1920s due to the social and economic boom at the time. The ideology was formed based on the concept that people in America had the opportunity to successfully achieve their own dream through their hard work. In Fitzgerald’s situation, the “dream” was his wife, Zelda. Fitzgerald reflects his context in “The Great Gatsby” in Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship. Jordan says to Nick in chapter four that “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay” referring to his mansion that was across Daisy’s home. This implies that Gatsby used his own money for the sake of being closer to Daisy, who symbolizes as his American dream but is subconsciously aware of it. Nick goes on to observe Gatsby in chapter five who he thinks had “revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes” when he and Daisy were invited to his mansion. The descriptive language of Nick’s observation gives a visual image of a woman who was amazed by the luxury of Gatsby’s home. By gaining the money to impress Daisy, he was able to attract her and rekindle the relationship they once had. This, in a sense, parallels the subconscious morphing of the ideology of the American Dream as Gatsby had to give in effort in order to attain his desire of Daisy, unaware that his intentions mimicked that of the ideology. Thus, Fitzgerald was able to comment upon this and reflect his context of relationships using the subconscious morphing of the ideology of the American Dream of the 1920s in his novel.

Overall, Fitzgerald was able to craft his infamous novel using the shift from traditionalism to modernism, prohibition, advancements of technology, and the subconscious morphing of the ideology of the American Dream all of which took place in the 1920s to reflect and comment upon his context of the “New Woman,” materialism, and relationships that ultimately enabled him to construct his infamous novel, “The Great Gatsby”.

14 May 2021

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