Throughout ‘The Great Gatsby’, F. Scott Fitzgerald arguably presents marriage as counterproductive and disadvantageous, often hindered by the characters’ own selfish desires. Critics, such as Perrett in ‘America in the Twenties’, describe the 1920s as a time where writers “steadily derided marriage as an outmoded institution, something the modern world could well do without” and this would certainly seem to ring true of Fitzgerald’s novel. The relationships can be shown to be corrupted by materialistic longing whilst many produce conflict and violence. Similarly, Richard Yates’ ‘Revolutionary Road’, set in the 1950s where marriage is considered idyllic and the expected status-quo, shows the flaws and underlying issues that occur whilst characters strive for the perfect family unit. Both novels show characters attempting to create the illusion of perfection, where the shattering of the image creates dramatic scenes in both texts. In both these time periods, advertising had caused people to aspire to achieve an ideal and marriage is viewed as the benchmark of the times, yet the novels suggest this doesn’t ultimately end in happiness. Although there are aspects of unconditional love within the marriages, the novels present marriage as an institution where the collision of individual needs and outmoded ideals make it dysfunctional.
Marriages in ‘The Great Gatsby’ are linked with materialistic desires. It is evident that Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s marriage is largely based on these aspirations. Daisy is described by Nick as having “an excitement in her voice that men who cared for her found difficult to forget” and by Fitzgerald presenting her as a beautiful trophy that men aspire to win, Tom also becomes an object of admiration. Tom, coming from an upper class family with “old money”, provides Daisy with security and stability. Nick describes their home as being “even more elaborate than I expected” with “French windows” which were “glowing now with reflected gold”, displaying Tom’s wealth and lifestyle he provides Daisy with. Fitzgerald describing gold as ‘reflected’ could symbolise the Tom’s materialistic arrogance is shown when he states that Daisy isn’t leaving him for Gatsby, stating “certainly not for a common swindler like you”. Tom’s assertive use of language shows his absolute belief in his position. Gatsby also reveals Daisy’s ulterior motive for marriage, when explaining to Tom that Daisy “only married you because I was poor”. The fragile materialism on which their union is based leads to infidelity and betrayal, and while the marriage survives in superficial terms, it is ultimately unstable. Ironically, the object of Tom’s extra-marital lust, Myrtle Wilson is also a character whose happiness is compromised by selfish desires. It is said that she “can’t stand” Wilson, and that when discovering he “borrowed somebody’s best suit” for their wedding, she “lay down and cried.” This implies her hatred for him is based on her belief that he is socially inferior to other men, underlying society’s belief that wealth and status are a desirable basis for a union. This also rings true of the 1950s view on marriage, where although the ‘ideal’ is more concrete, it is no less difficult to gain. In ‘Revolutionary Road’, Shep and Milly Campbell represent the typical, mundane couple that the Wheelers seem to despise. Their use of their “The Campbells” signpost portrays them as the perfect family unit, where in 1950s America this is ‘ideal’. They can arguably be said to have materialistic aspirations when Shep consoles himself when thinking that Milly “could dress nearly as well as April Wheeler.” Implying that image and appearance are a key positive to their marriage, Yates uses these desires to display the underlying issues and exploits the stereotype in order to make the ideal 50s marriage seem almost laughable. Milly also reveals her materialistic values when she admits “the first rude surprise was that his mother’s money was...
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