Prohibition and Organised Crime

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  • Prohibition and Organised Crime
    • What was it?
      • Jobs were scarce and people needed to provide for their families, gangsterism was dangerous but provided an easy way to make money.
      • It was organized crime who supplied the booze. In January of 1920 the American government banned the sale and supply of alcohol, the government thought that this would curb crime and violence, prohibition did not achieve it’s goals, leading more toward higher crime rates and excessive violence.
      • Alcohol was seen as the devils advocate and banning the substance would help improve the quality of American lives. It caused an explosive growth in crime with more than double the amount of illegal bars and saloons operating than before prohibition.
      • With a large coastline it was almost impossible to police with only five percent of alcohol ever being confiscated.
      • Bribing government officials was common, and people were increasingly crafty in the way they would hide  alcohol such as hollowed out canes, false books and hip flasks. Violence on the streets increased as did unemployment.
      • The Criminal gangs that supplied the booze were ruthless with over inflated prices, often fighting each other for control of the trade. A whole black market was created around alcohol.
      • The quality of alcohol was poor and many people became sick, deaths from alcohol poisoning had risen 400%, people will argue that alcohol was less easily obtainable before prohibition since the bootlegging industry was so immense, you could purchase alcohol on almost any street in America, many home products were of poor quality however people were very inventive about the making of home alcohol.
    • How does it relate to the novel?
      • Gatsby character represents “new money;” he’s a seemingly overnight success with no known ties to family wealth. It is heavily inferred that Gatsby earned his fortune, at least in part, through bootlegging. How else could he afford his lavish parties with bottomless cocktails to spare?
      • Daisy’s husband Tom gives voice to these suspicions during a heated argument, when he accuses Gatsby and his business partner Meyer Wolfsheim of illegally selling liquor through the drug stores they own.
        • This fictional subplot is based in fact. For a small fee, doctors would prescribe their patients whiskey for just about any ailment, and sometimes no ailment at all.
        • As for Gatsby’s partner Meyer Wolfsheim, a character described as the man behind fixing the 1919 World Series, he was clearly influenced by a real gangster named Arnold Rothstein.
      • The novel, at least in part, provides a reflection of the social issues and attitudes of the time period.
    • How does it relate to Fitzgerald
      • Prohibition drove America's drinking population into speakeasies, underground clubs where people could enjoy their booze and the newly popular jazz music.
      • His drinking interfered badly with his work. By 1939 he had lost his contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer and spent the year bouncing between freelance movie gigs, drunken benders, and hospitals.


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