The 1920s were a very important decade in U.S. history. In the wake of World War 1, the United States was facing the Great Depression, prohibition, and many other major changes that would shape the world for decades.
The Great Gatsby, as a novel, is still read and studied today, even though time has flown by and it is now almost 100 years later. Set during the Jazz Age, the book takes place around New York City and shows the life of Gatsby the Great, as he navigates through the world of prohibition.
Real-life for Jay Gatsby was a lifestyle of wealth and prosperity. Many others in the 1920s were struggling to pay the bills in the ramp-up to the Great Depression and prohibition, but Gatsby lived a fancier lifestyle basking in old money and wealth, throwing rampant parties at his mansion in West Egg on Long Island in New York. Situated just outside of New York City, his parties were the events of the time, with everyone wanting to attend.
The Great Gatsby is not exactly a true story, but it is a work of fiction that is certainly based on some elements of truth.
When and Where does the Great Gatsby take Place?
Set in West Egg and East Egg, two fictional communities on Long Island in New York, the Great Gatsby takes place in the aftermath of World War 1 in the 1920s.
The Great Gatsby also takes place in the Valley of Ashes. George Wilson and the Valley of Ashes represent the polar opposite of the lifestyle that Gatsby and friends were living out in West and East Egg.
The 1920s were a time of strife for many. This book does a great job of highlighting the battles the poor faced, while also showing that if you had money you did not face the same problems. Using money, you were able to obtain alcohol even when it was outlawed, and you were able to throw lavish parties even while other people struggled to eat. Those themes are still studied today, class differences, and what it is like to have money versus being poor.
How does the Great Gatsby represent the 1920s?
Prohibition was alive and well during the time of 1920s. Despite alcohol being prohibited, Jay Gatsby through many elaborate parties for the wealthy, shunning his nose at prohibition. This was indicative of the 1920s, as many people held bathtub gin parties, and found other covert methods of obtaining alcohol. Gatsby was after the wealthy life and enjoyed partying in the West Egg on Long Island in New York.
Gatsby’s house is actually in West Egg, which was full of pomp and circumstance in its own right but was still considered less desirable than across the bay in East Egg. The fact that Gatsby was partying in a wealthy neighborhood, but it was still considered not as great as East Egg, is like today talking about owning a 2 million dollar penthouse in Manhattan or a 1.4 million dollar penthouse.
We see class wars today, just like back then. The difference in the Valley of Ashes versus East Egg and West Egg is like the difference in living in a Manhattan penthouse or living in poverty down the block because you can’t pay rent.
What type of Parties did Gatsby Throw?
Gatsby spared no expense and used his mansion in West Egg on Long Island in New York to throw parties for the rich and the famous. He wanted fame and fortune, and that is how he modeled his parties. The Great Gatsby included all the parties in East Egg and West Egg and did a great job at showing the differences between classes – between wealthy people and poor people, and what life was like for the rich vs the poor.
Nick Carraway’s role in the Great Gatsby
Carraway was an integral part of this book, serving as its narrator. The reason he could serve as the narrator is that he was such a close confidant of the main character, Jay Gatsby. This gave him unique insight into the lifestyle Gatsby was living out on Long Island. Some say the book is essentially a memoir written from Carraway’s perspective of his relationship with Gatsby.
There were many key players in the book from Daisy and Tom Buchanan to Nick Carraway, but many would argue that Carraway was the most important character outside of Jay Gatsby himself.
Through Carraway’s eyes, we can see what the themes of the book really were, and what types of lifestyles the rich and famous got to live in the 1920s.
What is the Theme of the Great Gatsby?
There are many different themes, but chasing wealth and fame is at the core of the Great Gatsby. Real-life for Gatsby was not the same as real-life for average citizens back then. He spent the book, and his life, chasing after a high-roller fancy lifestyle. Gatsby takes a goal like wealth and fame and runs with it.
The Valley of Ashes in the book represents the opposite of fame and fortune. Showing what is like to be poor, like George Wilson, Fitzgerald uses the Valley of Ashes to show that some poor people are living in ashes, which is quite the opposite of the lifestyle Jay, Nick Carraway, and their friends are living in just a train ride away in east or west egg. If East Egg represented fame and fortune then the Valley of Ashes represented poverty and desolation.
The book does a nice job of showing the different ways of life people experience in the 1920s time period.
In the book, there are also a few love stories discussed, Jay and Daisy, Daisy and Tom, Nick and Jordan, etc. Those love stories have also withstood the test of time, as readers today can relate to each of those characters in their pursuit of love.
What Themes are as Relevant in the 2020s as they were in the 1920s?
Part of the reason this book has aged so well is so many of the themes are so relevant today. A guy like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk can have billions of dollars and throw as many parties with the rich and famous as he wants, whereas more people are living a lot closer to the poverty line and cannot even put food on the table.
The roaring 20s, the 1920s that is, were the first time we really saw the differences in class become so highlighted and magnified. The roaring 20s, the 2020s that is, are showing signs of the same wedges between classes. It is a lot easier to have access to good healthcare and healthy foods if you have money than if you are poor. In general, there is a lack of equality between the rich and the poor. You might find yourself nodding along with the Great Gatsby and thinking that the themes of the book are still relevant today.
Will the Great Gatsby be Relevant in another 100 years?
Chances are, yes, it will probably still be relevant. We are no closer to having a way to blend the different classes of wealth to equal rights than we were 100 years ago. There are welfare programs in place and some subsidized housing available for some people in poverty, but people of the lowest wealth class are never going to live the same lifestyle as the upper elite.
The book also has love stories, some broken hearts, and illustrious affairs. As long as people have not been replaced completely by robots, themes of love will be relevant. That’s why many books from hundreds of years ago still manage to hold their relevance.
Are themes of Prohibition still Relevant today?
Bootlegging and parties with illicit alcohol were rampant in the Great Gatsby. While you can never say never, it is unlikely our world in the United States is ever headed again down a path towards prohibition. It is highly unlikely alcohol will be illegal at any point in our future.
That said, it does not mean that those parts of the book are irrelevant nowadays. It just means that those parts of the book should be viewed with an eye to history and what that meant in our past, and not with an eye to the future.
And, as the United States works to legalize marijuana that could be viewed similarly to the fight to legalize alcohol in the 1920s. For decades, people have been sneaking in hits of marijuana, but now that some states have legalized it, the need for covert parties is becoming less and less of a need.