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The Great Gatsby

The constant flicker of the American scene1

The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald appeared in a literary and social
span of time whose watchword was modernization. Under the umbrella of the modern
term social and cultural paradigms changed completely in a wide-world scale. The Great
War revealed another face of the world and tracing new guiding lines to humankind
When the First World War ended, the old map of Europe summarized million of
human looses and casualties, broken empires, new states, the raising of new forms of
governing and new world powers. For the United States of America the World War I also
translated through human casualties, but economically speaking, it impelled the U.S. on
the top world power becoming the richest country in the world whose economy suffered a
transition from one of wartime economy to one of the peacetime economy.
The years to follow the Great War reflected the new stream of the human
perspective upon life and they were called the Roaring Twenties or the annes folles
(the Crazy Years). This period was characterized by the technological, artistic and
lifestyle newness. The unprecedented economic, infrastructural development (the mass
production of automobiles, electrification on a large scale, radio, cinema and the
telephone) and urbanization merged into forming the characteristic features of a
consuming society. Culture could not remain isolated so, the external social brand
extended upon it. There is a radical break with tradition not only in literary terms, but
also in the human attitude towards life. The war broke the Victorian vision upon life and
the new constructing vision wants to enjoy the moment to the full since they learnt the
wars painful lesson, carpe diem and nothing else. Radical changes occurred in fashion,
music, attitude towards the status of woman in society and sports.
All these labels attributed to the 1920s period are perfectly captured in the short,
but quintessential novel, The Great Gatsby. The novel mirrors the dizziying and
narcissistic wealth characteristic for the U.S. in that period of time.
The novel opens with a quotation from Thomas Parke D Invilliers: Then wear the
golden hat, if that will move her;/ If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,/ Till she
cry, Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,/ I must have you!

That foreshadows the glamour, the show and the material possession that mark the
developing constructs of the novel.
The first chapter suggests a first person narration whose narrator reveals itself
after creating the atmosphere of the novel and after mysteriously introducing Mr. Gatsby
into the narrative structure. The whole novel is developing as a confession of Nick
Carraways which reminds of Joseph Conrads narrative technique from Lord Jim.
Another element borrowed from J. Conrads Heart of Darkness this time, is the
symbol of the flicker, but Fitzgerald adapts the flicker to the American terms and
bounds and the result is the overwhelming symbol of the light that appears all over the
novel becoming a leitmotif. When arriving to West End Nick thought for a moment that
my house was on fire. Two oclock and the whole corner of the peninsula was blazing
with light which fell unrealturning a corner I saw that it was Gatsbys house lit from
tower to cellar. The jewels, the glamorous noisy parties, the artificiality of the jazz music
and jazz age are subordinated to the lights field. Gatsbys sumptuous house is a sample
of New York and Manhattans buildings: the city rising up across the river in white heaps
and sugar lamps. This delicious description increases the grandeur and the ostentation of
the consuming American society within the novel. As a stylistic device the lighting
element reflects on the brilliant phrases with poetical outburst of the text.
The world in which Jay Gatsby lives is surrounded by shining, opulent and
expensive goods but is also surrounded by the unstoppable technological explosion.
Gatsbys richness as many of the wealthy owners is immediately translated through its
car (he had a big yellow car) and its unrestricted access to the new: his long conversations
on the phone indicate the facility offered by the technology in order to solve the business
and they are an indirect referent to his luxury. The whole novel is studded with technical
references such as: the electric stove, cinema, photography, catalogue of vignettes etc.
trying to take through them the mad pulse of the modern technology. The authors
obsession with technology is reflected on the alert rhythm of narration and the dialogic
construction strongly suggests the interference of movie culture..
The external factors identified so far are deeply rooted in the society. The newness
offered by the technology, the new achievements of the women (the women gained right
to vote) the slogan live life to the full are expressed through attitude. At Gatsbys party

people came uninvited the rebellious girls or flappers were drinking, dancing on the new
attractive Afro-American rhythm of jazz music, showing off their jewels and expensive
dresses. The old values were gone and they submitted to religious nonconformity and
decadence as a response to the modern times. The jazz music and fashion acted as a
saturation point to the thirsty of newness and luxury. Probably the most representative
scene would be when Gatsby made an impressive parade with his collection of shirts in
front of Daisy. When Daisy cried stormily seeing the shirts is a clear indicator that she is
more than fashionable and so is Gatsby and that a man for her is what he wears. Daisy as
any girl then was influenced by the consumerist society and so became a materialistic girl
unable to truly love Gatsby as Jay affirmed her voice sounds like money. Tom Buchanans
affair with Myrtle and their attitude towards it (often encounters in New York) signals the
libertine concepts of that period and once again the defiance of the old morality was
regarded as component of the 1920s slogan. A defining conceptual feature of the
characters is their superficiality: Gatsby is a man of surfaces exposing his fortune in order
to impress Daisy then, after killing Myrtle, Daisy goes with her husband to Paris and
ignores completely the fact that she committed a murder and pretends not to know Nick
Carraway when he came across them on the street.
On the background of the opulent and brilliant world that the novel presents, lies
the world of smuggled good, mainly that of mobs within the Prohibition period. Among
the novel there are few indication related to the relation that Jay Gatsby might have with
this dangerous and powerful world. He was forged by the suspicious Meyer Wolfsheim
and from time to time he received some strange phones from Chicago. Skimming is
another favourite word of Fitzgeralds upon which the novel is based on.
Briefly, the novel The Great Gatsby measures the pulse of the Roaring Twenties
by successfully introducing the glamour and exquisiteness of New York and its characters
that populate West Egg, the artificiality of the jazz music and the superficiality with
which the characters treat the world and the circumstances that define their lives. Along
with the constructing of novel on the image of light, technology and skimming Fitzgerald
transforms the novel into a quintessential work of the 20th century.


Reynolds, Guy, Introduction to The Great Gatsby, Wordswoth Classics, 2001, pp.V, Rutherford College, University of
Kent at Cantebury
2. Hakim, Joy (1995). War, Peace, and All That Jazz. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 4146. ISBN 019-509514-6.
3. idem 1, pp. X

Erejdi Iulia-Ana
En-Sp, III