The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a story that, on the surface, follows the romantic arc between a man and woman. But the novel’s main theme follows a darker scope. The Great Gatsby is a symbolic lens into American society during the 1920s, an era of unprecedented prosperity and material greed, before the ultimatum economic crash of 1929. Through the two main characters, Nick, and Gatsby, Fitzgerald portrays a generation of young Americans who have emerged into a post-war society with blurred morals, cynicism, and reckless greed, driving them to pursue wealth and materialistic pleasure. Fitzgerald carefully illustrates the societal divide between old money, new money, and no money, highlighting the author’s perception of the American dream, which he implies is about individualism. He makes these monetary differences through geographical symbols, where different areas represent established or new money.
Nick Carraway moved to New York in the summer of 1922. The young man rents a house in the West Egg district of Long Island, an area populated by people who have recently made their fortunes, and flaunt their wealth through parties and materialistic displays. He meets Jay Gatsby, who lives in a mansion next door, and throws these weekly outrageous parties, and pursues his love interest, Daisy Buchanan.
Fitzgerald explores new wealth in the 1920s, painting a picture of greedy, graceless new millionaires, and their distinction from old aristocracy, who possessed taste, discretion, and elegance. For example, Gatsby lives in a ridiculously luxurious mansion, and drives a Rolls-Royce, typically wearing a pink suit. He struggles to understand social cues and misinterprets interactions. In his exploration of wealth, Fitzgerald dissects the ideals of the American Dream, from which all his characters draw inspiration from. However, Gatsby, in particular, suffers from the promises of the American Dream, believing his whole life that if he makes enough money, he can graduate from lower-class to upper class, and become his love interest, Daisy’s, equal. Despite his wealth success, the established aristocracy still refuse to accept him within their circle. Fitzgerald implores the reader to question the American Dream and wonder whether such a goal is realistic.
The Great Gatsby is a classic for a reason. With poetic prose, this lens into the past is an excellent way to explore the present and future. A tragic, yet brilliant story from one of America’s most critically acclaimed writers.