The Great Gatsby (1925), written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is one of the best novels of America which is widely read and taught in literature. One should read the novel as if it is a recent novel, referring especially to Fitzgerald’s literary language that has been used in the novel. The novel gives us a good picture of what the 1920’s of America had been and it explains the American dream well. In the 1920’s, in other words, in the roaring twenties, there was not only the American Dream that came into existence, there was also prohibition of alcohol, materialistic culture, loosening social morals, income inequality, and racism. Therefore in order to understand the roaring twenties of America well, one should agree to perceive, understand and appreciate the culture The Great Gatsby teaches to the reader.
Thus, the topic of this paper is going to be the pursuit of cultural studies focusing on Hegemony, Orientalism, rhetorical strategies, cultural capitals and as well as explaining loosening social morals; consumer, materialistic culture and introducing the context and historical context of the book. The objective of this paper is to analyse, using cultural studies, Antonio Gramsci’s Hegemony, Bourdieu’s Forms of Capital, Said’s Orientalism and Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in order to explain the corrupted American Dream, roaring twenties and specifically, the research focuses on protagonist’s (Jay Gatsby) struggles to face the hegemony of aristocratic groups, his style, how he sees the people and what it means for the reader, also Nick’s depictions of the social order of that time. Throughout the story, the cultural situations will be examined through the novel by regarding the Cultural Studies lecture that has been taught by Dr. AKMAN.
The novel is mostly misunderstood while looking at its just storyline. To understand this novel, one should examine and analyse further. Matthew J. Bruccoli, who is a Fitzgerald scholar wrote that “… the popular impression of the Twenties as a time of hedonism, alcoholic orgies, and high jinks is in some part based on misreadings of Fitzgerald’s fiction,” One, who understands, analyses and examines this novel further would understand that “Gatsby’s party has become the quintessential Twenties party. Fitzgerald’s characters have been mistaken for sheiks in raccoon coats and flappers in short skirts in cartoons. “Fitzgerald’s vision of the Roaring Twenties was serious and multifaceted, for he understood both the glamour and the waste, the charm and the self-destruction,” Bruccoli argues.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” defines the era that came to be known as the “Jazz Age,”, which is named by Fitzgerald himself. The story is set on Long Island’s North Shore and follows four primary characters: the narrator Nick Carraway, wealthy young couple Tom and Daisy Buchanan, and wealthy mystery man Jay Gatsby. In the same way that celebrities set the standard for the Roaring Twenties, this story depicts culture in a postwar, Prohibition-era society. Given its enduring popularity, the work has been referenced several times in popular culture and entertainment. Fitzgerald used societal developments of the 1920s to build Gatsby’s stories, from small details like automotives, the evolution of jazz music, and flapper culture to larger themes like Fitzgerald’s subtle allusions to income inequality, materialistic and consumer culture; organised crime culture, and bootlegging, which was the source of Gatsby’s fortune. In the novel, Fitzgerald actually informs readers about the
extravagant society of the Roaring Twenties by implementing a timeless, sympathetic narrative into the historical background of the time.
The work, which puts the reader in the mood of a never-ending vacation, was published in 1925, during the age of jazz, with its endless fun and ethical corruption of society. Jazz’s Golden Age was asynchronously a period of great misery and incomprehensible fortune. Throughout Prohibition, numerous merchants participated in the underground distribution of liquor, even sometimes providing handmade alcohol. The story digs deeper into the culture of the time, portraying numerous aspects of life in the 1920s.
To understand why the situation portrayed in the novel occurred, various events from Prohibition’s history should be examined. Alcohol has long played an essential role in American culture. Alcohol was traded as a replacement of money in several areas. However, in the eighteenth century, Christian puritans began to form sobriety groups and advocate an alcohol prohibition. Alcohol has become the most dreadful vice in the United States, preventing many Americans from completely living and working properly. In October 1919, Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, export, import, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. All of these occurrences alarmed alcohol manufacturers, who had previously dismissed the likelihood of the entire business being liquidated. Such action was unique in the United States, with its religion of private property and idea of limited state intrusion in business.
The main topic of the novel The Great Gatsby is the failure of the American dream — all of the story’s characters who have wealth have gotten it unfairly. The writer does not speak directly as Gatsby earned all of his money, but the reader eventually realises that it came to him unfairly. However, as Wang points out, Gatsby develops some of his greatest traits while
battling for success (2). Fitzgerald’s topic of immorality is intimately tied to the theme of wealth: the characters burn their lives at parties in the search of enjoyment. The magnificence of Gatsby’s parties, his guests’ emotional desolation, and the careless disposal of dirty money – all of this wonderfully characterises the time portrayed in the novel. The image of money and, by extension, prosperity is crucial to the tale. Gatsby’s entire existence has been devoted to becoming wealthy and earning Daisy’s heart (Bunce, 5). Gatsby notes that her voice “is full of money,” which Nick has the same idea of as him (Fitzgerald 120) ”Daisy’s life was filled with desire for money,” as Jiang states (Jiang, 3).
Women from wealthy households, such as Daisy and her friend Jordan Baker, do not work in the story. They live for themselves, dependent on their husbands’ earnings and the care of their servants. Miss Baker’s hairstyle and excessive conduct, on the other hand, differ from those of her companion. Jordan Baker, unlike Daisy, has a job that she devotes her time to, and even in her evening gown, she moves as if she were dressed for sports (Fitzgerald, 50). Jordan represents the strong and empowered American woman of the 1920s.
In general, Fitzgerald’s story depicts the lives of society in the 1920s. He understood better than anybody else how difficult life was for the common people and how busy the rich’s lives were. That is, the context in which the author sets his characters can be regarded as an autobiographical purpose to some extent. Consequently, the work, in its varied parts, reflects American culture in the twentieth century perfectly.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT PART I – THE AMERICAN DREAM
The higher classes are the primary subject of this story. One implies that, while the novel depicts this group in a historically significant way, there is a large portion of society that
is not spotlighted in the story. Despite the financial growth from 1920 to 1929, the 1920s were not “roaring” for all. Average incomes were usually rising, businesses were expanding, and stock market exchange was rewarding.
Fitzgerald refers to the novel’s significant socioeconomic divides through the image of the Valley of Ashes and his contrasting representation of the American dream for characters such as Gatsby and George Wilson. The latter can be found in the “ashes,” or what the affluent leave behind as they chase money with passion. George, for example, does an honest living in a run-down car repair shop to support his wife.
Fitzgerald devotes most of the work on the lives of the wealthy and famous. Jordan, the Buchanans, and even Jay Gatsby himself. Fitzgerald’s narrator, who is mostly an outcast in this environment, offers readers interesting views into the actual personality of their existence. Their prosperity is based on a lack of emotion, generosity, or general goodness to someone or anyone else. Fitzgerald investigates the weakening of America’s sense of ethics in this approach as men and women attempted to embrace a new post-WWII affluence. While it all appeared fanciful and magnificent on the surface, there is injustice and cruelty under the surface.
PART II – PROHIBITION OF ALCOHOL
Prohibition is another significant theme in the work, one that some academics believe is essential to it. Sales of alcohol were considered illegal in the United States from 1920 until 1933. Those who supported the prohibition noted a reduction in morality, faith, and family values as a consequence of consumption of alcohol. Prohibition enabled Jay Gatsby to build his fortune. He and his companions bootlegged liquor on the black market, reselling it secretly and made a fortune. Gatsby rose to the ranks of the ultra-wealthy in a way that irritated “old money” families like the Buchanans.
The “old money” side is considered as more intellectual and attractive than the “new money” side. While it is not explicitly stated what Gatsby is down to, there’s many hints that bootlegging is not his primary activity. To explain, he has a strong relationship with a crime leader, Meyer Wolfsheim, whom he connects to Nick. He refers to him as “the man who rigged the 1919 World Series.” This piece of knowledge shocks Nick and alters his entire world-view. Gatsby’s life is much darker than even Nick realises.
PART III – FLAPPERS
The flapper culture is also prevalent in The Great Gatsby. Young ladies with short hair and increasing liberties were seen during this age of women’s liberation. Jordan Baker is the ideal of this type of woman. Despite the changing character of society, the world is yet to acknowledge Jordan as an independent woman. She has several boyfriends, speaks and does whatever she likes, and is well-known as an athlete. These characteristics distinguish her apart from ladies of earlier generations. For many people during this time frame, she reflected everything that was wrong with the United States. Fitzgerald’s primary characters in The Great Gatsby are never so direct in their views of her, but Nick and others make casual observations about her.
CULTURAL ANALYSIS OF THE TEXT PART I – THE MATERIALIST CULTURE
Scott Fitzgerald used symbols well enough in the work to provide a more realistic depiction of American culture. Such symbols represent the growth of materialism and capitalist societies, as well as social challenges such as corruption. East Egg, for example, represents locations where Buchanans live. This portrays aristocracy, which took ages to build in reality. The author refers to aristocracy as “old money” symbolically (Fitzgerald and Bruccoli, 54).
They are traditionally defined by corruption. They are quite materialistic. West Egg people, or “new money” (Fitzgerald and Bruccoli, 54), are seen as upstart outsiders by East Egg peers. This is where Nick and Gatsby reside. A detailed examination of these two dissimilar cultures reveals a vision of a future fictitious American society culturally devoid of corruption and mainly not driven by individualism.
Scott Fitzgerald criticises the higher socioeconomic classes’ consumerism and materialism. Samkanashvili believes Scott Fitzgerald’s novel teaches the importance of sticking to a solid idea that individuals must work hard to attain their goals of being rich and prosperous, rather than using shortcuts that frequently lead to corruption (73). This novel’s characters’ materialistic mindset confirms this argument. Many of them are unable to properly comprehend the idea of working hard to increase their material wealth foundation. No one In the Great Gatsby becomes wealthy by working hard. Jordan does not recognize the significance of working hard and honestly. Despite being a famous golfer, she would do everything on the loose to just have her privilege. In fact, Nick says,
“Jordan is “incurably dishonest. She couldn’t stand being “at a disadvantage,” and because of this, she allegedly began dealing in subterfuges when she was particularly young in order to preserve her fresh insolent smile turned to the world while also satisfying the needs of her hard jaunty physique (Fitzgerald and Bruccoli, 63).
Jordan is really uneasy with life since she is dishonest. She is aware that her accomplishment is not earned, and that it can be taken away from her at any time. Myrtle, unlike Jordan, has little material possessions. Although her partner is committed to her, she has a great yearning for everything else. She does adore East Egg’s residents with great jealousy and terrible hatred. She can’t understand why East Egg’s residents have it so good while she and her partner are still trapped in “the valley of ashes” (Fitzgerald and Bruccoli, 76).
She believes she deserves to be with Tom, whose wealth, prestige, and status give solutions to her (Myrtle’s) poverty issues. Indeed, despite being successful and endowed with a lovely daughter and wife, Tom Buchanan feels he requires more power and authority. Fitzgerald and Bruccoli believe that “Tom would float on eternally, yearning chasing the spectacular volatility of some irrecoverable football game” (10). He is influenced by a society that encourages him to amass more riches for personal advantage than he currently has (Zeitz, 13). One lady is insufficient. His ambition comprises collecting everything at his fingertips.
Daisy is manipulative and coercive. She is aware of her ownership of the charm, which she employs to preserve security for her lives. She, like other characters in The Great Gatsby, is obsessed with money (Leader, 13). Gatsby acknowledges this truth (Fitzgerald and Bruccoli, 127). Tom and Daisy have characteristics that encourage the materialist lifestyle prominent in 1920s American society, as shown in The Great Gatsby. They have a strong confidence in the ability of money to make them appear superior to others who lack it. They “smashed up things and beings and then withdrew back into their money or their huge carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together,” Fitzgerald and Bruccoli wrote. (187-188). This notion suggests that they believed money would make them more powerful than others. Thus, material riches were vital for placing people in a specific social class and rank.
PART II – THE CONSUMER CULTURE
The Great Gatsby shows the rise of a society of greater consumerism, fuelled by growing financial success. According to Zeitz, the 1920s were a watershed moment in American history when they began to reap the benefits of greater consumption (21). Unfortunately, the 1929 depression resulted in the loss of such profits (Romer, 598). The novel’s narrator effectively depicts the increasing consumerist culture. The home on the seaside
where Gatsby lived was magnificent and luxurious. He also organised parties from time to time, which were likewise marked by excessive consumption.
America had witnessed tremendous economic expansion during the period in which The Great Gatsby was written (1920s). As a result, it is hardly unexpected that the consumer culture society that Scott Fitzgerald criticised arose. From 1921 to 1924, the American GDP increased from $69 billion to over 93 billion (Woods, 213). The total wage bill has also increased from $36.4 billion to 51.5 billion (Woods, 213). This increasing profitability benefited the citizens. As a result, consumer spending expanded dramatically as more individuals obtained access to well-paying employment.
The increased availability of goods for purchase in the free market widened the inequalities among people of varying economic classes. The availability of mass-produced commodities among the majority of Americans weakened the traditional means for identifying citizens depending on social economic classes. In this sense, increasing economic fortunes in America, along with expanding mass manufacturing in the 1920s, normalised consuming culture, such that things formerly enjoyed by rich segments of society became now accessible to those in lower socioeconomic levels.
PART III – LOOSENING SOCIAL MORALS
As Caraway discusses the atmosphere of Gatsby’s parties, it is obvious that while Americans liked the riches connected with the jazz era, they were also concerned about its social consequences. According to Zeitz, taking advantage of the decade’s wealth, youngsters organised expensive parties, got severely intoxicated on illicit liquor, and employed highly sexualised dancing forms in a large number of established jazz clubs (23). In her work, Scott Fitzgerald recalls an episode involving the restriction of the sale and manufacturing of alcohol in order to tame youngsters who had grown overfed in drinking. However, based on her
research, these limitations appeared to have little impact (Zeitz, 23). The Great Gatsby may likely represent excessive consumption in Gatsby’s parties, which are akin to those given by American youngsters in the 1920s.
Flappers first appeared in the 1920s. Women who were never content with pleasure wore knee-length skirts, decorative necklaces that were too long, and rolled stockings (Leader, 14). Regardless of the fact that only a few women exactly matched this definition of a 1920s flapper, it was widely used in the media. The goal was to convey a realistic portrayal of the rebelliousness associated with the time’s youth. Characters such as George and Tom’s romantic partners symbolise the revolt marked by declining moral standards.
“I looked at (Wilson) and then at Tom, who had just made a similar realization less than an hour before—and I realized there was no difference between the two of them.” Nick laments (Fitzgerald and Bruccoli, 158). In this statement, Nick discusses Tom and George after they realised their wives were cheating on them and that they had a fatal illness. In this background, The Great Gatsby, a novel about 1920s lifestyles, presents American society as one that destroyed conventional values and social conventions, such as rejecting the moral need to be faithful in marriage.
The Great Gatsby’s culture of loosened morals is partly explained by growing immorality. Gatsby and his accomplices, including Wolfsheim, engage in criminal activities (Silver). For example, there are reports that Gatsby is involved in the importation and transportation of illicit booze despite the current restriction. This discovery symbolises a society in 1920 American society that supports and preserves a culture of impunity fuelled by materialism and the degradation of societal morality. The Great Gatsby’s economic and social immoralities illustrate the fall of the American ideal.
In Cultural Hegemony, Antonio Gramsci discusses the concept of dominant groups’ capacity to govern society. Hegemony, according to Gramsci, is “manufactured consent established by intellectual articulation in a public space in which conflicting articulations are likewise articulated.” It can also be interpreted to mean that the haves rule the have-nots. Following Globe War I, America saw significant political, economic, social, and cultural developments in the global world. After World War I, industrialism and entrepreneurship flourished, particularly in the 1920s. These historic revolutions also had an influence on the changes that occurred in American society at the period. They classified American society into two dominant hegemonic groups: moneyed and aristocratic. These powerful organisations ruled over humans. The dominance of the two dominant groups may be observed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s amazing American classic novel The Great Gatsby. The moneyed class, as portrayed by Jay Gatsby, lives in West Egg, while the aristocratic class, as represented by Tom Buchanan, lives in East Egg. Tom is usually the winner since he hails from an aristocratic family with prestige and class. As a result, no matter how hard Gatsby tries, he always loses while competing against Tom.
Cultural capital, like “the development of a strong body,” lives inside the embodied condition, according to Bourdieu. Culture is gained by a process of embodiment and absorption, which takes time because it entails labour of inculcation and assimilation” (244). Personal effort and sacrifice, “the length of acquisition,” access to wealth and time to attain cultural capital (in education, health, etc.), and the economic freedom to do so without the need to actively participate in the labour market for economic survival all play a role in an individual’s attainment of cultural capital. What’s more, because the embodied condition of cultural capital becomes an important part of an individual, it cannot be passed directly, but is frequently subject to “a hereditary transmission that is always strongly veiled,” according to
Bourdieu. That is, cultural capital is passed down from generation to generation in a manner similar to but more nuanced than familial economic transmission.
To illustrate, Nick Carraway begins his narrative of The Great Gatsby by outlining his profile of social and cultural capital. He starts by discussing his relatives as “prominent, well- to-do people in this Middle Western city for three six generations,” “something of a clan,” presumably inherited from “the Dukes of Buccleuch”. It is said that Nick reminds many people of his great uncle, in the means of the process of cultural capital transfer by making it appear to be a direct familial lineage.
On the one hand, I regard Nick’s critical judgments as a reflective technique intended to elicit societal critique from the reader—as Donaldson argues, “It is not necessary to admire Nick Carraway to learn something about oneself from the story he relates” (106). Fitzgerald’s indictment of class-based “sin” by the storyline of the novel, not just Nick’s perceptions of that plot, is equally valid at times. Fitzgerald, like his companions, was fighting with his own beliefs about wealth, gender, race, and American entitlement to cultural and social capital, and therefore The Great Gatsby might be regarded as a self-conscious critique over his own preconceptions, in my conservative opinion.
Quote one: “I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” Daisy says the quote when talking to Nick Carraway regarding her kid. Daisy’s daughter is a newborn, and Daisy hopes that when she grows up, she will be a fool. That’s because she wishes for her daughter to have a lovely life with little problems. She doesn’t want her kid to comprehend men and how they cheat on women. This quote illustrates the logos or logic’s audience appeal. Daisy’s reasoning is that she just wants the best for her kid. She doesn’t want her child to see the harsh reality that many mothers face.
Quote two: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.” Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s best buddy, made this statement. The green light overlooks the river between Gatsby and Daisy’s residences. The green light represents Gatsby’s desire to meet Daisy again someday. He strives to reproduce the sensation he felt when he had just met Daisy as a young person. The remark is about Gatsby’s desire to be flawless. This quote demonstrates pathos, or emotion. He cares so much about Daisy that he altered his life to be together with her.
Quote three: “He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.” Nick Carraway also contributed to this statement. He’s referring to Gatsby and the uniqueness that he possesses. Nick sees Gatsby as an example of hope and optimism. This quote is about ethos or ethics. Because Nick is the storyteller, you believe him. Nick persuades readers to see Gatsby through the same perspective he does.
In The Great Gatsby, readers encounter prejudice, such as when Tom says, “it’s up to the dominant race to watch out or these other races will take control of everything.” The narrative took place during a period of rapid change. Tom, like the rest of the privileged, fought change because it endangered his comfortable way of life. However, until the pandemonium at the Plaza Hotel, this bigotry is hidden. As Tom and Gatsby argue over Daisy, Tom says, “Nowadays they begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and then they’ll toss everything away and have marriages between black and white.” Though the novel is generally
about over-consumption, the American Dream and consumerism, Fitzgerald quietly reminds us of the fact that racism still exists.
In the novel, Nick, the male protagonist, expresses his view on two men: Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan. They are the two subjects, masculine and active, who engage in a duel conflict, most depicted in the climax of their confrontation in the Plaza Hotel over an item, Daisy. Nick’s insights about Daisy’s character are limited to her observed behaviour and what the other people tell about her, excluding a brief personal interaction with Daisy. It is the same approach that is distinctive of the Orientalism heritage, and which, according to Edward Said, has the purpose of silencing the Oriental and making him mute.
This strong binary conflict between men and women exists in The Great Gatsby. Scott Fitzgerald produced stereotypical characters, even in terms of physical composition. On the one hand, Tom Buchanan is depicted as a “champion polo player” with “an enormous robust figure” (12), while Daisy is portrayed as fragile and feminine, “a nice girl.’’ The process of othering, according to Edward Said, is the connection of the Oriental/other by the orientalist/subject to “elements in Western society (delinquents, the mad, women, the impoverished),” and this network diagram is “primarily built out of biological determinism. “For Edward Said, Orientalism is “a totally male domain,” encouraging a male understanding of the universe and viewing the Orient as an “incorporated weak partner,” just as it does women.
The Great Gatsby is about Jay Gatsby’s dream, the male American dream. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that its key female characters are ignored. Daisy is the witch-like conspirator and the target of love fulfilment, whereas Jordan Baker is the ruthlessly dishonest and arrogant flapper. (Long Kim Martin, 147) They are either the polar opposite of the masculine dream’s perfection or its scapegoat.
As a cultural study research paper, The Great Gatsby was a great subject to work on as it had many topics, many references and many aspects to talk about. Even though the novel seems as a positive story which introduces a man’s success, his life, and his romantic situations, it had many negative aspects throughout the cultural status. I personally think that this novel has been written as a reaction against roaring twenties, which is a period that had loosening social morals, extremely high economic status regarding high classes and not-necessary fun.
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