Skylor's Portfolio Project

Historicism response to The Great Gatsby

Analytical response

Many plot points and characters in the novel are a product of the time. The roaring 20's in America was a time when rich, young people party extravagantly with abandon in reaction to the death and destruction from the Spanish flu pandemic and the Great War of the previous years. It was also a time of sexual revolution as the battlefield decimated a vast number of young men and left women with precedented social power by necessity. Men and women mingled for the first time in the privacy of automobiles often while under the influence of alcohol. It was within this social landscape of glamour and leisure that Gatsby threw lavish parties with open invitations to strangers every Saturday in order to attract the attention of his infatuation, Daisy. In these parties, alcohol was conspicuously consumed, flouting prohibition laws. Jazz music was prominently featured which reflects the free-form, fun loving, unrestrained attitude of the times. While flaunting his wealth, Gatsby and his fellow party goers were also thumbing their noses at death by frolicking close to it. This fun-loving attitude came with a side of recklessness that was especially dangerous for rich, entitled elites who were trained to only care about themselves. For example, a drunk party-goer drove his car into a ditch in front of an audience, proceeded to deny it, and was able to stumble away without any repercussions.

An event that shows the gullibility and sensationalism of the 20s was when a news reporter interviewed Gatsby about the accusations that he sold liquor during the prohibition and that his house was a giant boat. Of course, the first accusation was plausible and as the reader later finds out to be true. The second accusation, however, was completely ludicrous, and no modern news reporter would follow up on such a rumor. During the 20s though, it seems likely that many people would believe an outrageous story for its entertainment value. It was a time of change and extravagance when anything seems possible.

In Chapter 4, Daisy and Gatsby met at Nick's home. Gatsby’s anxiety in preparation and during their meeting revealed his insecurities and belied his persona. Before the meeting, Gatsby wanted everything to be perfect. He paid a laborer to take care of Nick's lawn, dressed up for the occasion, and bought flowers. Even so, when Daisy arrived, Gatsby acted nervous around her. In the 20s, this behavior by a gentleman from a wealthy family would be unusual. F. Scott Fitzgerald used this uncomfortable interaction and the understanding of how a secure gentleman would have behaved to show how much Gatsby pined for Daisy because of her beauty and wealth. It also hinted at how Gatsby felt like a sham despite of all the trappings in his environment.

In the last few chapters of the book, the story turned from mystery to drama as the readers learn about Gatsby's origin and about Daisy and Gatsby's affair. Gatsby grew up poor like many during a time of social inequality. To make his fortune, he became a moonshiner. Many people, from Tennessee farmers to notorious mobsters, moonshined. Thus, Gatsby's rags to riches story is conceivable for that time period. Daisy's dalliance with Gatsby also reflects women's newfound independence in the 20s. Advocates, such as Margaret Sanger and Mary Ware Dennett, distributed information about sex and contraceptives to advance women’s liberation. Instead of faithfully staying with Tom who was cheating with Myrtle, Daisy found her own affair partner. She broke Tom’s trust to the point where it was hard to tell whether the affair was respectable or not. Daisy pulled the strings in her fatal games and in the end betrayed both men. Yet, Tom still stayed with Daisy. Perhaps, Fitzgerald was making a commentary about the aftermath of 1920s women’s liberation if women were left in charge and men easily bent to women's wills and whims.

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This is a digital art piece created using photoshop. I borrowed multiple images from the web and arranged them in a way to portray timelessness in literature. I used the classic example of a clock to represent time and books to represent literature. To me, this piece gives a somewhat off putting feeling that still manages to connect with you. That is what I think books, especially classic books are, A weird connection from the book to you that floats over time completely, disregarding it. I think this piece really works if you view yourself as a part of it.