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The Great Gatsby: Themes of 1920s America

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Words: 962 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Feb 12, 2024

Words: 962|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Feb 12, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Class Privileges
  2. Recklessness and Depravity
  3. Morality and Materialism
  4. The American Dream
  5. Impact of Love

The author provides a vivid portrayal of life in America during the 1920s, with a particular focus on the relationships between different social classes. The protagonist, Jay Gatsby, represents the rags-to-riches story of an individual who achieves success and wealth through perseverance, unwavering commitment to his dreams, and hard work. This concept of personal development is explored through various themes that serve to characterize the era of the 1920s in the United States. The central themes of the novel include class privileges, the recklessness and depravity of the era, morality and materialism, the influence of the past, the pursuit of the American dream, and the impact of love.

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Class Privileges

The theme of class privileges occupies a prominent position in the novel, as society is divided into distinct groups. Tom and Daisy Buchanan represent the aristocratic class, while Gatsby belongs to the newly wealthy. The Wilson family embodies the lower class. The upper class enjoys the most privileges, as they possess wealth, bask in the recognition of their superiority, and manipulate the lives of others to fulfill their own desires. Fitzgerald highlights this behavior when he mentions that Daisy's appearance gives the impression that she and Tom belong to a "secret society" (Fitzgerald, 2007, p. 77). This comment exemplifies the actions of the aristocrats and how they exploit their social standing to satisfy their desires, knowing that others will allow them to act with impunity.

Recklessness and Depravity

The theme of recklessness and depravity during the interwar period is another crucial aspect of the novel. Fitzgerald depicts extravagant parties where individuals care little about the hosts, indulging in excessive drinking, adultery, and other vices. These portrayals paint a picture of the behavior of wealthy Americans during the 1920s. The wealthy elite treated life as one continuous party, toying with the lives of others and constantly seeking new forms of entertainment and self-gratification. Wakefield (2018) emphasizes that Gatsby's lifestyle is founded on the injustices, inequalities, and oppressions that defined the era of prosperity in the United States. Gatsby believes that immersing himself in a frivolous lifestyle will allow him to forget the source of his success. This notion demonstrates the development of the theme of recklessness throughout the narrative.

Morality and Materialism

Additionally, Fitzgerald explores the theme of the past and its influence on an individual's life. Gatsby's past is a crucial element of the story, shaping the trajectory of the main character's life. Gatsby clings to his past because it represents his transformation from a poor farmer's son to one of the wealthiest individuals in the region. The protagonist fears that his past may hinder his plans for a future with Daisy. To overcome this obstacle, Gatsby fabricates a story about his affluent ancestry, presenting himself to Nick as "the son of some wealthy people" (Fitzgerald, 2007, p. 94). This attempt to embellish his origins demonstrates his apprehension that the past may impede his desired future.

The American Dream

The theme of the American dream, personified by Gatsby, is a significant component of the novel. The American dream embodies the aspiration and ability of individuals from lower-class backgrounds to achieve social status and financial prosperity through hard work, determination, and ambition. In the novel, Fitzgerald presents this concept through Gatsby's life journey, as he transforms himself from an invented persona into a genuinely wealthy individual (Fitzgerald, 2007, p. 118). However, despite Gatsby's realization of his dreams, he discovers that the society he aspires to be a part of is corrupt and superficial. According to Mohammadi and Mohammadi (2020), Gatsby's problem lies in the fact that nothing is ever enough for him (p. 1198). He cannot fully enjoy his newfound wealth, always yearning for more and striving to prove his worthiness of the upper class. Gatsby's fate becomes a personification of the American dream, illustrating how individuals are perpetually driven to pursue something beyond their reach.

Impact of Love

Lastly, the theme of love plays a significant role in The Great Gatsby. Love is portrayed as an elusive and destructive force throughout the novel. Gatsby's infatuation with Daisy drives his every action and consumes his life. He dedicates himself to winning back Daisy's love, even though she is married to Tom. Gatsby's love for Daisy is idealized and built on a romanticized past, as he believes that their love story can overcome any obstacles. However, their relationship is ultimately doomed, as Daisy is unable to fully commit to Gatsby and chooses to stay with Tom. This unrequited love leads to tragedy and Gatsby's demise.

Moreover, the novel explores the impact of love on other characters as well. Tom and Daisy's marriage is portrayed as hollow and loveless, with both individuals engaging in extramarital affairs. Tom's affair with Myrtle Wilson is driven by lust and physical desire, rather than genuine love. Myrtle, on the other hand, has a misguided perception of love and believes that being with Tom will elevate her social status. These relationships demonstrate the destructive power of love when it is driven by selfishness, materialism, and societal expectations.

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In conclusion, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby presents a vivid portrayal of life in America during the 1920s, focusing on the relationships between different social classes. Through various themes, such as class privileges, recklessness and depravity, morality and materialism, the influence of the past, the pursuit of the American dream, and the impact of love, the novel provides a critical commentary on the societal values and aspirations of the era. Fitzgerald's exploration of these themes sheds light on the flaws and moral decay of the upper class, the emptiness of materialism, and the elusive nature of love. Ultimately, The Great Gatsby serves as a cautionary tale about the pursuit of wealth, social status, and the American dream, reminding readers of the importance of genuine human connections and the dangers of succumbing to societal pressures.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

The Great Gatsby: Themes of 1920s America. (2024, February 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-great-gatsby-themes-of-1920s-america/
“The Great Gatsby: Themes of 1920s America.” GradesFixer, 12 Feb. 2024, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-great-gatsby-themes-of-1920s-america/
The Great Gatsby: Themes of 1920s America. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-great-gatsby-themes-of-1920s-america/> [Accessed 25 Feb. 2024].
The Great Gatsby: Themes of 1920s America [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Feb 12 [cited 2024 Feb 25]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-great-gatsby-themes-of-1920s-america/
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