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What social problems are exposed in The Great Gatsby?

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is set in the 1920’s, a period of American History known as the “Roaring Twenties”. The Great Gatsby is the story of the extravagant lifestyle of the rich and famous of New York in this time of peace and prosperity. The story is told by Nick Carraway, a young bonds salesman who has just moved to the wealthy but unfashionable area known as the “West Egg”. However, behind the lavish displays of wealth and spectacular gatherings, the author exposes many social and human problems facing the inhabitants of Long Island. His use of: realistic writing, first person narrative, symbolism all help to convey his message to the reader.

The main topic or problem raised by the author in the novel is the hollowness of the upper class. The Great Gatsby focuses around the lifestyle of the self-made millionaires living in the West Egg as compared to the old aristocracy of the countries richest families living in the East Egg.

“Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water”

The residents of the West Egg are portrayed as tasteless, wasteful, extravagant and socially ill mannered. The residents of the East Egg are seen to be elegant, graceful and the opposite to their West Egg neighbours. For example, the Buchanan’s own an elegant mansion on the East Egg while Gatsby resides in his giant gothic mansion.

“The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard – it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than 40 acres of lawn and garden”

This extract clearly emphasizes the enormity of Gatsby’s mansion, and the fact that it would never be socially accepted if it were built on the East Egg. Gatsby built the house for one reason, to attract the attention of his old flame, Daisy Buchanan. Daisy is the cousin of Nick, the novel’s narrator. Gatsby has been in love with Daisy ever since their short-lived love affair during the war. Daisy on the other hand, married an extremely wealthy man by the name of Tom Buchanan because of his money. Daisy and Tom are so used to being wealthy that they never worry about hurting others.

“Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand”

This quote refers to the scene where Tom Buchanan breaks his mistress’ nose just because she is yelling at him. This shows he has no regard for anybody but himself. The hollowness of both Tom and Daisy is exemplified when they just move house rather than attending Gatsby’s funeral, even after Gatsby was killed because he was protecting Daisy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald uses a number of different techniques to convey his story more clearly to the reader. His use of first person narrative is very effective in giving a more personal and realistic touch to the novel. The story in narrated by Nick Carraway, a young man who has moved to New York to learn about the bonds business. He is renting a house right next to Gatsby for “just $80 dollars a month.” He is also the cousin of Daisy Buchanan and was in the same secret society as Tom Buchanan at Yale. Nick is a very tolerant man who reserves almost all his judgments.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

Because of this, the reader sees Nick as a very honest and believable character. This gives the story a more realistic feel. Nick watches on as the events of the novel unfold and he is the only person who learns the truth about Gatsby. Gatsby is a very mysterious man who is gossiped about regularly.

Another technique used by the author is that of symbolism. There are many symbols in the novel, however, the main symbol is the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. The green light represents Gatsby’s hope for the future. Gatsby’s quest for Daisy is also associated with the American dream, and the green light is used to symbolise that idea. It is a metaphor for the constant struggle of human’s to reach their goals. This quote captures Gatsby’s quest yet also the American dream:

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning– So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

In Conclusion, F. Scott Fitzgerald exposes many human and social problems of the 1920’s. The main problem in the novel is the hollowness of the rich. He makes the story more believable by using a variety of different techniques including: first person narrative, symbolism, setting and his realistic writing style. The end result, The Great Gatsby, is a close study of the period and the problems associated with it.

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