Contextual Study: the Great Gatsby & American Beauty

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Contextual Study: The Great Gatsby & American Beauty

The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald and the American Dream both provides insight into the evolution that American culture has undergone in two different eras. The Great Gatsby is set during the Jazz Age, an era of great hope for the future. It was a decade of economic prosperity, with wealth a desired goal; a period of excess when money was spent extravagantly on having a good time. And the American Dream is set in the nineties where the original dream is all but forgotten, replaced by mindless urge to acquire more money. The two texts produce a different insight of the ‘American Dream’, which is created by its context.

In the Great Gatsby and the American Dream, not only is there a difference in attitude, but also in character roles and morals due to contextual change. There are also very common changes such as the music, from the Jazz in Gatsby’s parties to Rock, Lester’s Pink Floyd. There is also change in technology, from Gatsby’s Juice machine to Ricky’s video camera. And also interestingly, there is use of drugs (significantly depressants) in both the texts; the drug of choice shifting from alcohol to marijuana.

There is also a big change in conservatism and the role of males and females in societies. In the Great Gatsby, there is no mention of sexual intimacy. But in the American Dream, sex underscores the entire tale, including homosexuality being acceptable by the majority, which would have been unthinkable back in the twenties. And the irony is the fact that the homosexuals are seemingly the only normal, happy people in the story. In the Great Gatsby, Daisy is overpowered by Tom, where as in the American Beauty, Lester is controlled by Carolyn (but he does change near the end of the movie).

During the twenties, ‘new money’ was frowned upon. But in the nineties, being wealthy entails class and social grace. Before background was very important, aristocratic background or ‘old money’ and...
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