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Nikhil Agrawal
Mr. Touma
English 3
5 May 2016
How the Roaring Twenties Danced into a Depression
The swinging art form of jazz arose in the economic private party scene of New Orleans.
Rich whites, who were entertaining the dance craze of the Roaring Twenties, would hire six- or
seven-piece jazz bands (with mostly African American members) to provide the syncopating
rhythms played at their parties and festivities. While the beats themselves uplifted and
empowered, the lyrics themselves presented themselves as a subtle protest to the segregation and
poverty of the “New Orleans Negro” (Tyle). As the music radiated across the nation through the
radio waves, jazz became known as a cool, swaying, counterculture art. Little did the listeners
know, the cheery tunes were built on the suffering of millions, black and white, subjugated by the
rich aristocracy the musicians catered to. F. Scott Fitzgerald, recognizing this ugly truth,
references jazz tunes and lyrics in his 1925 novel The Great Gatsby to emphasize the irony in an
upbeat culture in the 1920’s, plagued with grim and reckless undertones.
Music is important in setting the tone of a scene, whether it be in film or in literature.
Small pieces of text can shift the entire mood of a passage, changing optimism to melancholy.
Fitzgerald understands this fact and strategically places jazz music to provide the tone for a
scene. As Daisy leaves Gatsby’s party, the orchestra in the background is performing “Three
O’Clock in the Morning,” a slow jazz tune from 1921, described by Fitzgerald as “sad little
waltz” (Fitzgerald 140). Through its hopeful tune and bittersweet lyrics, it is understood that the
song was placed to provide insight into Daisy’s thoughts throughout the party. Lines such as

the idea of “one more waltz” is alluring to Daisy (Terriss). Daisy knows in her own heart that it must end. “Daisy was young” and unsure about her feelings (Fitzgerald 194). the attraction to this culture is fleeting. despite the boundless “romantic possibilities absent from her world” the relationship provides (Fitzgerald 140). However. Beyond providing the reader insight into the inner thoughts of Daisy. hearts “beating in time” (Terriss). When the two lovers first met. Daisy.Agrawal 2 “daylight will be dawning soon” show us that Gatsby and Daisy’s little waltz cannot last forever (Terriss). The “Beale Street Blues”. an upbeat song from the 1920’s. Despite this inevitable truth. She wants wealth. in her rich lifestyle. Her desire is not solely for money. Their love is complete and can continue after its five-year hiatus. Fitzgerald also uses “Three O’Clock in the Morning” as a metaphor for the quiet murmurs preceding the impending crisis about to dawn. She doesn’t like his new money. one more waltz. enticing the populace with the riches of the American Dream. and the economic and social apocalypse is near. and she enjoys Gatsby’s rough nature. The culture during the time period was laced with extravagance and magic. is blaring in the background as Gatsby tells Nick the story of his first encounter with Daisy five years prior. thus the romance Gatsby has to offer isn’t lasting to her. The enchanting bubble surrounding the era must pop. as shown by the song. However. and she does not fit in socially with the rowdy West Egg crowd.a nature that is similar to the makeup of Beale Street. despite everybody’s wishes to “keep right on dancing” (Terriss). but the finale is inevitable and must be faced soon. And why wouldn’t it be? She and Gatsby are finally together. The solemn lyrics emphasize the sad truth behind the dying relationship. Fitzgerald’s use of jazz in providing insight into the characters’ thoughts is not limited to “Three O’Clock in the Morning”. She naïvely believes that riches aren’t everything. but she also wants prestige. . Maybe there is time for one more fling. but also for right kind of money.

so is the song in turn is used by Fitzgerald to comment on the excess of the era. When Gatsby goes to war. visiting the “gay Broadway” and “strolling the Prado” (Patterson).” it would cry of American capitalism’s shaky foundation (Patterson). and as the “Beale Street Blues” is a representation of the character of Gatsby. Everything seems to be going phenomenally and inclusive of all walks of life from the “honest men [to the] pick pockets” (Patterson).” and she looks to Gatsby to provide meaning and substance (Fitzgerald 194). to his Beale Street nature. unable to see the impending disaster that “Beale Street [will go] dry” (Patterson). The song looms in from the massive organ tended to by Gatsby’s personal musician. but everything goes back to her normal high class life. if “Beale Street could talk. She believes that she will be able to adjust to the mystery of Gatsby. It may seem that Fitzgerald’s inclusion of the song “Ain’t We Got Fun” is out of place. The consequences of this blindness will be felt by everyone. Almost the entire society is the “blind man on the corner singing” in self-appreciation. she attempts to hold on. Jay Gatsby is an embodiment of the extravagant culture of the 1920’s. However. save the “one or two who never drink booze. Present day Gatsby doesn’t realize this and is still spending his time chasing Daisy in futility as the “hopeless comment of the Beale Street Blues” blares in the background (Fitzgerald 194). full of “orchids and pleasant snobbery. Why would a cheery tune reeking of the narrator’s poverty be added to a story of a group of lavish socialites? The song describes a person that is failing by the standards of the real world-a contest set by the rich-but at the end of the day. demonstrating that her commitment to the crude Gatsby is not of substance (Patterson).” refusing to intoxicate themselves in the era of indulging in the illegal fountain of alcohol (Patterson). Her current life feels pointless. entangling Gatsby and Daisy in . She realizes that the main “river is wet” with wealth and that prestige is what she wanted and that “Beale Streets gone dry”. because they are having fun.Agrawal 3 has metaphorically done it all.

and despite all the fun in the world. . adding bricks to the castles. Gatsby doesn’t care. though. The sanguine piece is entirely about the material poverty of the poor in the United States. the “bill collectors will gather”. The cheerful song. proudly displaying their most valuable possession: fun. How can he celebrate his victory after Daisy spent but a day with him in the face of the five years she spent with Tom? Nothing is that simple. a bank full of illegally made money and an elusive personality that is the subject of theory and scrutiny by the general populace. illegal wealth Gatsby has accumulated in his West Egg village. However. living in their high castles of comfort. its lyrics are used to show the polarizing effects of the 1920’s lifestyle on American society. an optimistic and proud display of the American dream. as his only fun is his long lost Daisy. the poor have children” (Whiting). She is materialistic and can’t live in the cheap. The song of poverty sounds out of place in Gatsby’s luxurious mansion. The rich roll in their cash. His life is a hollow shell without her in it. now that he finally has Daisy. The riches of his life are his poverty. he finally has fun. in a seemingly cheerful scene. whistling work tunes. At the same time “Ain’t We Got Fun” addresses the flaws in the characters’ thinking. While the “rich are getting richer. emphasizes the irony of the characters’ ideologies and how they are bound to fail in their relationship. Gatsby’s naïve thinking is addressed by the musical commentary.Agrawal 4 their first reunion after five years of separation (Fitzgerald 122). fun has been evading Gatsby for years. He has no friends. The real world will jolt even the most vivid dreamers from their euphoric state (Whiting). oblivious to the divide they are contributing to. The sound of the song represents the rich of the 1920’s society. fun is not enough for Daisy. But is Gatsby really a man of luxury? Despite having all the money in the world. while the poor are represented by the lyrics. and all that matters is the fun he’s having at this moment. no matter what Gatsby thinks. as the poor are covered in the filth.

they must suppress it. and due to enterprise culture. In response to this revolution. To them. it reeks of the poverty buried under the confident façade of the Roaring Twenties. The “young rebels turned to African American culture” of New Orleans jazz to “revolt against the established order” (Barlow). the rebellious music with its spiritual and ragtime origins to juxtapose the rigid and unforgiving capitalistic (white dominated) system. To them.a new direction. to a national movement carried by the newly introduced radio waves (Barlow). or use it in a way that will benefit themselves and keep them the “dominant race” (Fitzgerald 17). The African American talent was not realized and the institution refused to acknowledge that blacks may have something to offer to society. the order itself adapted to appropriate jazz appeal and sell to a white audience. The white youth revolution was about adopting the black counter culture. Due to the radio. now had to compete for spots on the airwaves and was “vulnerable to commercial exploitation” (Barlow). The cultural revolt was characterized by the upbeat jazz music that went against the traditional folk of the time. there is no such thing as a smart black. especially for the youth of the time. the black counter culture . there is no such thing as a talented black. violating the sanctity of black jazz with capitalistic advertising tailored to make more money for the establishment. Any talent they see.Agrawal 5 a darkly cheery take on their material sufferings. but when closely examined. the song is upbeat. Not only does Fitzgerald use the messages present in jazz. This “subgroup of white Negros” were arguably responsible for the mainstream rise of jazz from a cultural genre. from a specific region. At a glance. Fitzgerald shows how the white aristocracy believes that it is their god given duty to “watch out or these other will have control over things” (Fitzgerald 17). The 1920’s was the era of breaking doors. he also manages to incorporate the troubled history of the art form in highlighting the struggles and illusions of class inequality.

Jazz tunes were just a mask for the sufferings of African Americans just as the upbeat culture of the Roaring Twenties was just a mask of the economic and social injustices the rich were committing to the poor. Fitzgerald includes jazz. These songs that seemingly marked an upward surge in respect for blacks in the artistic community. by the white society that suppressed and subjugated them for centuries. The white people are dancing in their ballrooms to a type of music with grim roots and shameful origins. His words help the reader see. a music with a dark foundation to show the same dark foundation of the 1920’s economy and society where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Fitzgerald adds another layer to his story-telling ability. and to understand the deeper implications of the society built in the 1920’s around careless and reckless norms. despite the swinging melodies of the tracks. were violated. the music was a result of Negro segregation. feel and listen to the messages each character is trying to convey. He understands the history behind the music and shows that. By including the presence of the jazz Age in his novel.Agrawal 6 was forced to adopt the white establishment. .

Scott. . Print. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner.Agrawal 7 Works Cited Page Fitzgerald. F. 2004.