Scott Fitzgerald, in his 20th century novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ chooses to depict the Jazz Age as a superficial, lethargic age fuelled by capitalism caused by the boom of the stock market after the First World War. Fitzgerald explores the effects of the society at the time on men, women, upper classes and lower classes, in order to provide his reader with a comprehensive insight into the frivolous period of the Roaring Twenties. Fitzgerald chooses a homodiegetic narrator in order to comment upon the Jazz Age ‘within and without’ of the events depicted in the novel, however our judgement cannot solely be based upon the musings of Nick’s narration as he is not a totally reliable source of information, therefore Fitzgerald allows us to question, and come to our own conclusions regarding the nature of the period of deadly affluence following the First World War.

Nick, our homodiegetic narrator is introduced immediately as an unreliable source of information through Fitzgerald’s use of irony during his meditations about his own character. Nick proclaims that he is ‘inclined to reserve all judgements’, however the following lines of text include judgements such as calling people ‘veteran bores’ and ‘snobbish’, therefore the reader is immediately suspicious of Nick’s account of events, and is encouraged by Fitzgerald to come to their own conclusions on the characters and event portrayed in the novel. Fitzgerald introduces Nick as unreliable in order to reflect the unstable, consumerist nature of the Jazz Age, and to provide a more natural account of events, as Nick is a first person narrator and involved in many of the scenes in the novel. Throughout the novel, there are sections where Nick is narrating whilst he is intoxicated, which Fitzgerald uses not only to illustrate the thriftless nature of society at this time, but it allows the reader to understand how easy it was for people to get captivated by the glitz and glamour of a wealth new to this generation.

Fitzgerald explores the superficiality of the Jazz Age through his portrayal of crucial characters, as well as their surroundings in his novel; ‘The Great Gatsby’. The portrayal of Gatsby’s mansion as an introduction to the eponymous character is used to reflect the façade presented by so many as a result of the Jazz Age, as it is first introduced as a ‘factual imitation’ of a French Town Hall. Fitzgerald’s use of the noun ‘imitation’ demonstrates how the West Egg, which had thrived as a result of the Jazz Age, was just a lesser version of East Egg, which had a culture and history that the Roaring Twenties could not provide because of its superficial nature. Furthermore, Gatsby’s mansion is built on sand, reflecting the instability of not only the wealth procured during the Jazz Age, but also of the lively, spend-happy society as a whole. The Jazz Age is a superficial society on the verge of collapse, presenting a front of luxury and stability, and our homodiegetic narrator, Nick, is drawn in by this False Age, and because he is a man ‘inclined to reserve all judgements’, Fitzgerald uses him to reflect the ignorance of people towards the inevitable outcome of such a period of affluence and falsity as this. Through Daisy, Fitzgerald further reflects the superficial attitudes of the people during the Jazz age as Daisy tells Nick ‘I hope she’ll (Daisy’s daughter) be a fool, that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool’. Fitzgerald’s repetition of the noun ‘fool’ emphasises the lack of importance placed on intelligence, and personality of women during this period of time, and Fitzgerald uses the description ‘beautiful…fool’ to illustrate how looks were valued above any other traits. The importance placed on outward appearance is reflected also through the depiction of the mansions of the Buchanens’ and Gatsby, as both are beautiful on the outside, yet inside the characters are riddled with problems and darkness. Fitzgerald himself said the Jazz Age was ‘served by filling stations full of money’[1], thus he is commenting on his use of motor cars throughout the novel to represent the superficiality and affluence of the Jazz Age, and the way in which there was an endless supply of money to fuel the period. The superficiality of the Jazz Age follows the characters through the novel, from the introduction of the wealth in chapter one, to the death of Gatsby and the American Dream in chapter eight.

Fitzgerald in chapter one depicts the death of the American Dream as a result of the consumerist, superficial nature of the Jazz Age. Our first introduction to Jay Gatsby is whilst he is unaware, and he is portrayed with his arms ‘stretched out’ towards the green light at the end of the Buchanens’ dock. Gatsby’s action reflects his idealist character and the way in which his arms are ‘stretched’ illustrates his desire to achieve the things that he wants to, a desire which is fundamental to the American Dream. The light at the end of the Buchanens’ dock is green, symbolising the colour of money and the consumerism which radiates from Tom and Daisy. Ian and Michelle McMechan argue ‘those upon whom fortune smiled were given a green light to acquire wealth, status and happiness’[2], reflecting their idea that the green light at the end of the dock represented the random nature of the Jazz Age, the ease of which some people could acquire wealth and happiness that others could only dream of. McMechan is therefore illustrating the death of the American Dream through the way in which some people gained an excess of wealth during this period with little work, whereas others could not work hard enough to escape poverty. The valley of Ashes could therefore be being foreshadowed through Fitzgerald’s use of the green light of wealth, as the dark, desolate valley receives no light because of its imposing geographical barriers, and therefore receives no wealth regardless of the effort to gain wealth from the people trapped inside. The colossal nature of the mansions looming over Nick’s house are also used by Fitzgerald to illustrate how confined and restricted poorer people were by this society, and how they could never hope to tower above the mansions as they were forever cast into the shadows of consumerism, where no light of wealth could enter.

Fitzgerald uses the idea of a ‘Lost Generation’ in order to convey the juxtaposing side to the Jazz Age, of lack lustre, bored women, and men with too much power to know what to dowith. Following the First World War, a group of young people who didn’t have a youth full of freedom during the war were left restless when it ended in 1918, this group primarily conveyed through the introduction to the Buchanens and Jordan Baker. Daisy and Jordan are described as ‘buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon’; the simile of an anchored balloon is used to demonstrate how the women had no purpose in life, and were ‘anchored’ by houses, wealth and possessions, when, as the Lost Generation, it would be more natural for them to wander. Tom and Daisy ‘spent a month in France for no particular reason’ which is the epitome of purposeless, as Nick does not even elicit pleasure as a reason for their trip, which could be foreshadowing how meaningless and passionless their relationship is. Daisy’s actions are lethargic and tired; she ‘made an attempt to rise’ when Nick entered the room, which could be Fitzgerald continuing the idea of her being ‘anchored’ and weighed down. Daisy’s lack of personality is debated by critics as well as being explored throughout the novel, Ivan Ṥtrba argues; ‘Fitzgerald allows Daisy to exist only in the images men create of her’[3], conveying his view that Daisy, and women in this society were reliant on men for their attributes. Gatsby regards Daisy as the ideal woman, and holds her in the highest esteem, whereas to Tom, Daisy is little more than a display of his wealth; as a result Daisy is torn in personality, and Nick had ‘no sight into Daisy’s heart’. Jordan Baker is also a woman representative of the Lost Generation, she is ‘completely motionless’ when she is first introduced, ‘as if she were balancing something (on her chin)’, the adjective ‘motionless’ illustrates the lack of life of Jordan, which is a complete juxtaposition of the vivacity of Gatsby’s parties, as well as Tom’s party in New York. Jordan’s raised chin is emblematic of how she can be snobbish, and is trying to look down on others; and through this behaviour Fitzgerald is commenting upon the sexualised nature of women in the Jazz Age, to such an extent that their personalities are disregarded, and they have to behave in a snobbish way in order to retain independence.  Ian and Michelle McMechan argue Jordan is ‘striking, self–sufficient and well–heeled’[4], a complete contrast to the feminine, delicate nature of Daisy, which reflects the fact that as a woman in this society you either had to be fully subservient to men, or portray a façade of indestructibility.

Tom Buchanen is also part of the Lost Generation; Fitzgerald introduces him by describing his former years as a football player who reached ‘acute…excellence at twenty-one’, so that his life following ‘savors of anticlimax’. Tom is no longer a man in his prime ‘anti-climax’ is used to suggest how, even thought Tom has wealth, a wife and a child, he was heading for a greatness beyond the domestic limits, and as a result he is now stuck in limbo, trying to fulfil the power and energy he amounts from his uninspiring life. Fitzgerald’s physical description of Tom encapsulates a man capable of great power; his eyes are ‘arrogant’, his body ‘cruel’ and his manner ‘supercilious’. Tom is portrayed as having a body of ‘enormous power’ in order to reflect how insatiable Tom’s desire was to achieve, and be active, yet the lethargic nature of the Jazz Age provided him with all he could ever need to such an extent that he is restless and striving to release his pent up energy.

References

[1] F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘echos of the Jazz Age’ , (1931)

[2] Ian and Michelle McMechan, Fitzgerald’s representation of the women characters in The Great Gatsby, (Emagazine April 2006)

[3] Mgr. Ivan Štrba, Emancipated women of The Great Gatsby,

[4] Ian and Michelle McMechan, Fitzgerald’s representation of the women characters in The Great Gatsby, (Emagazine April 2006)

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