The Great Gatsby:
Jazz Age Values and Their Reflection Upon the American Dream
Table of Contents
Works Cited 11
The Great Gatsby has been acclaimed as one of the most important novels of the 20th century, and has become an American, and even world, classic. Fitzgerald has not only been heralded for his literary genius in the writing of this novel, but also for his impeccably accurate portrayal of the Jazz Age within The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald has furthermore been accredited with coining the term “Jazz Age.” It has come to mean “[a] new era of ‘relaxation’.” This age further takes its name from “popular music, which saw a tremendous surge in popularity” (Boland). Among the prominent concerns and trends of the period were “the public embrace of technological developments typically seen as progress—cars, air travel, and the telephone—as well as new modernist trends in social behavior, the arts, and culture” (Boland). The Great Gatsby fulfills its role of portraying the Jazz Age accurately, illustrating many of the values of this time period, key among them revolution, innocence, excess, and disillusionment. These values have in turn played a very detrimental role upon the idea of the American Dream, leading to the definitive failure of this idealized world.
First, one of the largest themes of the Jazz Age is revolution. Some of the most predominant forms of revolution illustrated within The Great Gatsby were in music, culture, and technology.
Prior to the 1920s, mainstream American music mostly consisted of folk tunes. The emphasis was on everyday people learning to play for themselves and their families and friends at home. By the twenties, the humble tradition of the Mississippi Delta bluesmen had begun to filter through the “hot towns” of Chicago and New York City producing a potent music not everyone could play (Kersh). The relatively new phonograph and radio allowed previously regional music like the blues to be heard nationwide, creating the first Jazz Age stars (Kersh). Indeed this changing nature of music is what fueled not only Gatsby’s numerous parties but also the general feel of the novel. These parties defied tradition, consisting of “a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums” (Fitzgerald, 26). The music had a certain effect on the guests; it hypnotised them, and they let their bodies flow as if on thin air. As the music started, they reacted to it and began to dance; they were “holding each other tortuously, fashionably…and a great number of single girls dancing individualistically” (Fitzgerald, 31). They were temporarily in another world and were free to dance however they felt like. This new music scene allowed for self-expression and individualism, especially among the women. It ultimately aided a different type of woman to emerge.
The Jazz Age also saw the surfacing of the “New Woman”: the flapper. The flapper was “smart, witty, brash, and eloquent. These women…drank and partied just as hard as the men” (Boland). The flapper dress also detoured significantly from traditional feminine attire of modesty and conservatism: the dress exposed enough skin (in just the right places) to attract the attention of the right boys. It added allure to the woman’s body—her gorgeous dress, bobbed hair, sparkling jewelry, and toned limbs moving together to the rhythm of the music, Jazz (Boland). Expression, individuality, and personal freedom were the most important ideals to the flapper woman, another reason for the immediate hit of Jazz music. Jordan Baker epitomized the flapper to a higher better degree than did Daisy within The Great...