e 11 Essay)The Roaring Twenties is considered to be a time of excessive celebration and immense corruption. The novel, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a criticism of American society and its values during this era of history. This criticism is first apparent in the people who go to Gatsby’s parties. They get absurdly drunk, do not know who their host is and are rude by excessively gossiping about him. This commentary is also shown in the corruption of the police. Gatsby is able to pay off the police so that the activities going on at his home will go unnoticed and so that he may behave as he wishes. This criticism is finally shown in the corruption of friendship and love, the simple fact being that there is none. People use Gatsby and then throw him away. Fitzgerald’s criticism of American society and its values during this time period is first shown in the behaviour of people at Gatsby’s parties.
The people who go to Gatsby’s house on Saturday night only go to have a good time. The guests get drunk, get into fights, and act like complete idiots. This behaviour is apparent when Nick goes to one of Gatsby’s parties for the first time. Nick says,
The large room was full of people. One of the girls in yellow was
playing the piano, and beside her stood a tall, red-haired young lady…
engaged in song. She had drunk a quantity of champagne…she was
not only singing she was weeping too…Most of the remaining
women were having fights with men said to be their husbands…
One of the men was talking with curious intensity to a young
actress, and his wife…resorted to flank attacks…(52)
The people at the party are so drunk that they are barely aware of what they are doing. As they become more drunk, they become more absurd. The woman singing a happy song bursts into tears for no reason. Men become more friendly to women other than their wives, and wives become more violent in dealing with the situations facing them. The people are also so intoxicated that they have almost no clue of what is going on around them. This excessiveness is shown when Nick leaves the party and observes a car accident in the front drive. Nick says,
Then, very gradually, part by part, a pale, dangling individual
stepped out of the wreck, pawing tentatively at the ground with
a large uncertain dancing shoe…
Wha’s matter?’ he inquired calmly. Did we run outa gas?’
Half a dozen fingers pointed at the amputated wheel – he
stared at it for a moment, and then looked upward as though
he suspected it had dropped from the sky…At least a dozen men,
some of them a little better off than he was, explained that wheel
and car were no longer joined by any physical bond. (55-56)
This man in the car is so drunk he does not even realize that the car has stopped moving; furthermore, he even fails to recognize that the wheel is no longer a part of the car. The people behave carelessly and rudely at Gatsby’s parties. They only go to his house for a good time and to have plenty of drinks. Fitzgerald’s criticism of American society in the 1920’s is also shown in the corruption of the police.
The police in this era when people need extra discipline are corrupt. The police are easily paid off by money and allow people to go on with their crude behaviour. This corruption of the police, the force which protects men from itself, is shown when Nick is driving to town with Gatsby. Gatsby is explaining to Nick his history, and does not notice that he is speeding; they are stopped by the police, but nothing happens. Nick says,
…I heard the familiar jug-jug-spat!’ of a motorcycle, and
a frantic policeman rode alongside.
All right, old sport,’ called Gatsby. We slowed down. Taking
a white card from his wallet, he waved it before the man’s eyes.
Right you are,’ agreed the policeman, tipping his cap. Know
you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse me!’ (67)
Gatsby has paid off the commissioner of the police, and in return he can drive and behave however he wants without having to worry about an authority figure or the consequences of his actions. With the corruption of the police, people can behave wildly and excessively. Much like Gatsby they have very little care for the consequences of their actions, and are usually looking out for themselves. Fitzgerald’s commentary on the behaviour and corruption of the roaring twenties is finally shown in friendship and love.
There is no such thing as friendship or love in this era. People only look out for themselves, using others for their own means and purposes. This mentality is best shown in Gatsby. The people who go to his parties only use him for a good time. Daisy only uses him as a fling, manipulating him to believe that she actually loves him again. Klipsinger mooches off Gatsby and lives in his home. When Gatsby truly needs a friend, no one is there but Nick. This corruption of friendship is shown when Tom and some of his friends ride over to Gatsby’s house but only use him for a drink. Nick describes the situation as,
They were a party of three on horseback- Tom and a man named
Sloane and a pretty woman in a brown riding-habit, who had been
I’m delighted to see you,’ said Gatsby, standing on his porch. I’m
delighted that you dropped in.’
As though they cared!…He was profoundly affected by the fact
that Tom was there. But he would be uneasy anyhow until he
had given them something, realizing in a vague way that that
was all they came for. (98)
Tom and his friends do not like Gatsby in any way. They know that he is generous and that he is new money’ so they decide to use him for their own means by dropping in unexpectedly only to get a drink. This corruption of friendship is also shown when Gatsby dies and Klipsinger phones. After all the generosity Gatsby gave him, Klipsinger will not even show up at his funeral. His excuse for not going is that the new people he lives with are going on a picnic and he is expected to be with them. The only reason he calls is to try to get Nick to send him a pair of tennis shoes that he left at the house. This corruption of friendship and love is lastly shown in Gatsby’s funeral when Nick is talking to owl-eyes. They say,
I heard a car stop and then the sound of someone splashing after
us over the soggy ground…It was the man with the owl-eyed glasses
whom I had found marveling over Gatsby’s books in the library one
night three months before…I tried to think about Gatsby…and I could
only remember without resentment, that Daisy hadn’t sent a message
or a flower…Owl-eyes spoke to me by the gate.
I couldn’t get to the house,’ he remarked.
Neither could anybody else.’
Go on!’ He started. Why, my God! They used to go there by the
He took off his glasses and wiped them again, outside and in.
The poor son-of-a-bitch,’ he said. (165-166)
So many people went to Gatsby’s parties and used him for a good time, but when Gatsby actually needed them, none of them were there. Daisy, the woman that Gatsby believed loved him as he had loved her for so many years, did not only not attend his funeral, but did not even send a flower or message. All the people Gatsby knows uses him for their own means and then discard him. There is no such thing as friendship or love.
The Roaring Twenties is considered a time of mass corruption and excessive absurdity. F. Scott Fitzgerald uses his novel, The Great Gatsby, to criticize the American society and its values in this era. This criticism is best shown in the behaviour of the people who go to Gatsby’s parties; they are careless, rude and only looking out for themselves. It is also shown in the corruption of the police, who are easily paid to look the other way. It is finally apparent in the corruption of friendship and love, the truth being that there is none. This society and its values are self-centered and materialistic, caring very little for consequences and others. Fitzgerald’s message is delivered magnificently and causes one to be appalled by the behaviour of the people during this time in history.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. England: Penguin Books, 1950.