Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a writer in the prosperous Roaring Twenties in the United States who saw the American dream, which is that anyone with a little intelligence, personality, courage and lots of hard work can make it financially, as hollow or even dangerous.  His novel The Great Gatsby (1925) expresses his view that one does not find fulfilment through achieving great wealth and this obsession with achieving status through the acquisition of wealth could prove to be self-destructive.  The novel presents the established wealthy families, or ‘old rich’, as decadent, indulged, intellectually shallow, bored, snobby and corrupt, and therefore as undeserving of their privileges and undesirable as company.  The novel presents the ‘new rich’, those who acquire great wealth and hope to be accepted by the ‘old rich’, as individuals on a misguided quest.  The novel suggests that achieving acceptance from these wealthy people is a game not worth playing.  It will not bring happiness or satisfaction in the long run. 

The novel also implies that the rich get away with everything.  They use people and harm people, but seem to avoid adverse consequences.  However, the all-seeing billboard showing the spectacles of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg looks down on the dramas of the story like an omnipotent god, which implies that eventually the rich may have to face judgement for their sins in the afterlife. 

The novel features the story of the enigmatic Gatsby who sought to become impressively wealthy to win the heart of Daisy, the woman of his dreams.  She was from a reasonably well-to-do family, and when they met she represented not only beauty but what Gatsby aspired to achieve socially and economically.  But after a passionate romance that left a profound impression on Gatsby, she was willing to forfeit their relationship since he was poor and soon sent away with the army to the war in France and it was unclear when he would return.  She chose instead to marry another man, the very rich Tom Buchanan, thereby marrying into greater money.  Broken-hearted, Gatsby’s love for Daisy became an obsession.  To win back her love, he made a fortune and was willing to give her everything.  But when she did love him again he wanted more from her than she was capable of giving in return: a public statement in front of Tom Buchanan that she had never loved anyone but Gatsby.  But although she did love Gatsby again, she knew she had once loved her husband.  Placed a moral dilemma of Gatsby’s making, she retreated from Gatsby yet again.  Daisy is depicted as desirable but ultimately shallow and not worth the price Gatsby paid, which was eventually his life.  Gatsby died a tragic hero, undone by the flaw in his character, his desire to impress rich people whom the novel argues were far less impressive than Gatsby was, a desire that became intricately entangled in his desire to win back Daisy, a woman not worth what Gatsby was willing to pay to win her love.  These messages are conveyed through the observations of the character Nick Carraway, the narrator and moral heart of the novel. 

The novel is also immersed in the Jazz Age of the 1920s, representing an attempt by the author to capture the flavour of the times.  The Jazz Age was an era of excess, famous for the flourishing of a musical style and for striking trends in fashion, sexual liberation and flamboyance.  However, in the United States this was somewhat compromised by Prohibition.  However, the Mafia ensured that illegal supplies of alcohol were able to fuel the festivities in the illegal bars and nightclubs (called speakeasies) and at the lavish parties.  The novel presents the social-climbing Gatsby as staging lavish parties to gain favour with the wealthy. The novel also hints that he made his fortune through dealing with criminals such as those who supplied illegal alcohol to a thirsty nation. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: The Great Gatsby meaning, The Great Gatsby themes, The Great Gatsby analysis, The Great Gatsby notes