The Great Gatsby

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Historical Background

The Great Gatsby was published in 1925 and was set in the Roaring Twenties. This was a glamorous decade marked by cultural, artistic and social developments, but it was brought to an end by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which triggered the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the 1920s, America became very prosperous as the country recovered from World War 1. There was a policy of prohibition. This meant that alcohol was illegal, but the continued demand meant that there was a lot of money to be made from bootlegging. It was a time of great social change- the younger generation started to rebel against tradition.

The American Dream is the idea that America is a land of opportunity, where a determined and able individual can achieve anything, regardless of their social background. After the war many people, including Fitzgerald himself, began to challenge this idea and wonder if it was really possible. Fitzgerald was part of a group of authors who thought the American Dream had been reduced to the pursuit of wealth. They wrote about their concerns about the widespread materialism of the 1920s.

Fitzgerald sets The Great Gatsby in an altered version of Long Island and Manhattan. Great Neck and Manhasset Neck become East and West Egg, and the large landfill site at Flushing is renamed the valley of ashes. The main sites represent different elements of the 1920s east-American lifestyle:

  • The wealthy upper classes who inherited their money live in East Egg, West Egg hosts new money- people who have earned their money.
  • Manhattan's skyscrapers and luxurious hotel suites symbolise wealth. But it's also filled with lonely clerks who spend all their time working and gangsters who meet in seedy bars.
  • The valley of ashes is a stretch of wasteland which sits between the other sites and connects them. The valley illustrates that the excess of wealth can't be achieved without exploiting another part of society.

The Plot

Nick is the narrator of the novel and claims to the reader that he's tolerant and non-judgemental. Nick's from an established Midwest family and has just moved to West Egg on Long Island to start a career in bonds. He rents a bungalow next door to a mansion owned by a man named Gatsby. Soon after his arrival he goes to dinner in East Egg at Tom and Daisy Buchanan's mansion. Daisy is Nick's cousin and he knows Tom from Yale. At their house Nick meets Jordan Baker, a professional golfer. Tom reveals that he has strong racial prejudices. During dinner the phone rings, Tom goes to answer it and Daisy follows. Jordan tells Nick that it's Tom's mistress. When Nick goes home he sees Gatsby reaching out to a distant green light across the Sound.

One afternoon Tom and Nick take…

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