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Comparing ‘The Great Gatsby’ and the Roaring Twenties: An Essay on Historical Context

Aug 29, 2023 | 0 comments

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Aug 29, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a literary masterpiece that explores the themes of wealth, love, and the American Dream during the Roaring Twenties. This article explores the historical context of “The Great Gatsby” and the Roaring Twenties, examining their similarities, differences, and the era’s impact on the novel’s characters and plot.

The Great Gatsby” provides an insightful portrayal of the social and cultural landscape of the 1920s. Set in the lavish world of the wealthy elite, the novel depicts the opulence and extravagance that defined the era. Through the character of Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald explores the theme of the American Dream and how it can be alluring and elusive.

The Roaring Twenties, or the Jazz Age, was a period of significant social and cultural changes. The 1920s saw economic prosperity and consumerism rise, fueled by technological advancements and a booming economy. However, it was also a time of Prohibition, leading to increased organized crime. The Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance brought about a cultural renaissance, with jazz music and African-American arts flourishing.


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By comparing “The Great Gatsby” with the Roaring Twenties, this article highlights the similarities and differences between the novel and the historical period. It will explore how the historical context of the 1920s shaped the story’s characters and plot. It will analyze the critique of the American Dream in both the novel and the historical period.

By examining the historical context and its impact on the novel, this essay will comprehensively analyze “The Great Gatsby” and its significance in capturing the essence of the Roaring Twenties.

Key takeaway:

  • The Great Gatsby and the Roaring Twenties: “The Great Gatsby” provides a glimpse into the vibrant and decadent lifestyle of the Roaring Twenties, exploring themes of wealth, corruption, and the pursuit of the American Dream.
  • Historical context: The Roaring Twenties was a time of significant social and cultural changes, economic prosperity, Prohibition, and the rise of organized crime. This backdrop helps to shape the characters and plot in “The Great Gatsby.”
  • Comparing “The Great Gatsby” and the Roaring Twenties: While the novel captures the essence of the historical period, it also highlights the differences between the extravagant lifestyle depicted in the book and the realities of the Roaring Twenties, including the critique of the American Dream.

Overview of “The Great Gatsby” and the Roaring Twenties

The Great Gatsby” offers an overview of the Roaring Twenties within its narrative. Set in the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel provides readers with a glimpse into the lives of wealthy individuals and their pursuit of the American Dream. It captures the essence of this transformative period in American history, highlighting the economic prosperity, urbanization, and emergence of new social norms that characterized the era.

“The Great Gatsby” explores themes such as love, wealth, and the corrupting power of materialism, all prevalent during the Roaring Twenties. Within the novel, Fitzgerald portrays the significant social and cultural changes that challenged traditional values and gave rise to new ideas about women’s rights, sexuality, and consumerism. The Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance are showcased as they brought about a flourishing of arts and culture, with jazz music becoming a symbol of the vibrant spirit of the time.

Deeply intertwined with the historical backdrop of the era, “The Great Gatsby” examines the consequences of the pursuit of wealth and status, the desire for love and acceptance, and the stark contrasts between the wealthy elite and the working class. By analyzing the historical context of the novel, one can understand how the social and cultural changes of the Roaring Twenties shaped the characters and the plot.

Overall, “The Great Gatsby” is an overview of the Roaring Twenties and a window into the complexities and contradictions of this transformative period in American history. It reflects the realities of the time, exploring the excesses and moral decay prevalent during the era while delving into the disillusionment those who believed in the American Dream felt.


The Great Gatsby: An Exploration

Delve into the captivating world of “The Great Gatsby” in this exploration, where we’ll unravel the story’s essence and dive into its key themes. Get ready to venture into the lavish and intriguing lives of Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, and the enigmatic characters that populate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. Discover this literary gem’s glamour, passion, and societal critique. Prepare to be transported to the glittering era of the 1920s, where excess and disillusionment intertwine in this iconic novel.


Summary of “The Great Gatsby”

“The Great Gatsby: A Summary” is a captivating novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which takes place in the 1920s during the renowned Roaring Twenties era. This literary masterpiece revolves around the intriguing life of Jay Gatsby – a mysterious and affluent man – as narrated by Nick Carraway, the main protagonist.

Gatsby is famous for his extravagant parties and opulent lifestyle, all as part of his relentless pursuit to win back the heart of his beloved Daisy Buchanan. However, his relentless chase of the American Dream ultimately leads to his downfall, shedding light on the corruption embedded within this ideal.

This novel meticulously explores profound themes such as the illusion of wealth and status, the hollowness prevalent in the upper class, and the profound intricacies of human relationships. It also delves into the destructive power of obsession, unraveling the dark side hidden beneath the surface.

The Great Gatsby” tells a tale of yearning, desire, and the relentless quest for an unattainable dream. It skillfully presents a vivid portrayal of the Jazz Age and the opulence dominating the 1920s while unmasking the shadows within this era. With its memorable characters and poetic prose, this masterpiece offers a poignant commentary on eternal themes such as love, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness.”


Critical Themes in “The Great Gatsby”

In the renowned novel “The Great Gatsby,” multiple key themes are extensively explored, shedding a revealing light on the societal aspects of the Roaring Twenties. These encompass the American Dream, wealth and materialism, social class, love and desire, and the corruption of the American Dream.

The novel’s central and recurrent theme is the American Dream, which characters like Jay Gatsby enthusiastically pursue as they long for wealth and happiness. F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays the American Dream as an elusive and destructive concept, exposing its dark and detrimental underbelly.

Throughout the story, the themes of wealth and materialism remain ever-present. The characters in the novel are fixated on their social status and driven by an insatiable desire for material possessions. Fitzgerald astutely critiques the hollowness of this relentless pursuit, revealing the emptiness of a life solely focused on accumulating wealth and material gain.

The novel also highlights social class’s significant role in its narrative. The characters are divided into distinct social strata, with the upper class representing privilege and power, while the lower class strives to rise above their circumstances. Fitzgerald skillfully exposes the inequalities and shallowness prevalent within these social divisions.

Love and desire are omnipresent themes explored through the intricate relationships between the characters. Jay Gatsby’s intense yearning for Daisy is fueled by his desire to recapture the past and construct an idyllic future with her. However, their love is overshadowed by their connection’s superficial and shallow nature.

Furthermore, the corruption of the American Dream permeates the entire novel. Fitzgerald scrutinizes how the relentless pursuit of wealth and success can lead to moral decay and the loss of personal integrity.


The Roaring Twenties: Historical Context

In the vibrant era of the 1920s, known as the Roaring Twenties, the world witnessed a whirlwind of social, cultural, and economic changes. Step into the historical context of this fascinating time as we embark on a journey through the sub-sections that delve into the social and cultural differences of the 1920s, the flourishing economy and consumerism, the dark underworld of Prohibition and organized crime, and the vibrant Jazz Age and the influential Harlem Renaissance. Get ready to immerse yourself in a captivating exploration of a transformative era.


Social and Cultural Changes in the 1920s

During the 1920s, significant social and cultural changes transformed American society. These Social and Cultural Changes in the 1920s profoundly impacted various aspects of life during that time.

1. Women’s Liberation: The 1920s began the women’s liberation movement, also known as the “Flapper” era. Women gained more freedom and independence, challenging traditional gender roles. They had more opportunities for education and employment, and their fashion choices became more daring.

2. Technological Advancements: The 1920s saw a boom in technological advancements, especially in communication. The introduction of radios, phonographs, and motion pictures allowed mass culture and entertainment to spread. It also facilitated the dissemination of new ideas and trends.

3. Jazz Age: The 1920s is often referred to as the Jazz Age due to the popularity and influence of jazz music. Jazz became a symbol of rebellion and freedom, breaking away from the traditional music of the past. It was a cultural expression that crossed racial boundaries and represented the era’s spirit.

4. Prohibition: One of the most notable social changes of the 1920s was the implementation of Prohibition. The ban on selling, producing, and distributing alcoholic beverages led to the rise of illegal speakeasies and organized crime. The consumption of alcohol became associated with rebellion and the defiance of authority.

5. Cultural Shifts: The 1920s brought about a cultural shift focused on materialism and consumerism. Economic prosperity increased leisure activities, such as attending movies, sporting events, and dancing marathons.

The social and cultural changes of the 1920s created a new sense of freedom and individualism, shaping how people lived and interacted during this vibrant time in American history.


Economic Prosperity and Consumerism

The Roaring Twenties was a period of significant economic prosperity and consumerism in the United States. Rapid industrialization, technological advancements, and increased consumer spending characterized it. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States grew by an average of 4.7% per year, indicating a robust economy with high levels of economic prosperity.

Consumerism thrived during the Roaring Twenties, as Americans wholeheartedly embraced a culture of materialism and excess. The availability of affordable consumer goods, such as automobiles, household appliances, and entertainment technologies, fueled a strong desire for luxury and convenience. People believed that material possessions and indulgence were crucial symbols of social status and personal success.

However, this economic prosperity and consumerism period also had its dark side. The relentless pursuit of wealth and material possessions resulted in a widening wealth gap between the rich and the poor. While some individuals relished the luxuries of the era, many others faced poverty and economic hardships.

Overall, the Roaring Twenties were defined by economic prosperity and consumerism. This time, it witnessed a flourishing economy and a culture driven by a genuine desire for material goods. Nevertheless, it is imperative to acknowledge and address the inequities and societal challenges that accompanied this era of remarkable economic growth.


Prohibition and the Rise of Organized Crime

During the 1920s in the United States, the implementation of Prohibition led to the rise of organized crime. Prohibition and the Rise of Organized Crime With the sale, production, and distribution of alcoholic beverages became illegal, criminal organizations saw an opportunity to exploit this demand. They began smuggling and bootlegging alcohol, creating a network of illicit activities.

Organized crime syndicates, such as the Chicago Outfit led by Al Capone, took control of the illicit alcohol trade. These organizations operated speakeasies, secret bars where people could purchase alcohol, often under the protection of local law enforcement officials.

The profits from organized crime skyrocketed during this time. It is estimated that at the height of Prohibition, illegal alcohol sales reached $3.6 billion annually, equivalent to around $50 billion today. This influx of money allowed criminal organizations to expand their influence and power, corrupting law enforcement and politicians.

Prohibition and the Rise of Organized Crime

Prohibition also led to other criminal activities, such as gambling, prostitution, and drug trafficking. The illegal activities associated with Prohibition significantly impacted the social fabric of the time, leading to increased violence and crime rates in many cities.

One true story that exemplifies the impact of Prohibition and the rise of organized crime is the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit orchestrated the murder of seven rival gang members, demonstrating the brutality and violence associated with organized crime during this period.

In summary, Prohibition in the 1920s increased organized crime as criminal organizations capitalized on the demand for illegal alcohol. The rise of organized crime syndicates, such as the Chicago Outfit, resulted in a booming illicit alcohol trade and the expansion of criminal activities beyond alcohol smuggling. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is a chilling reminder of this era’s violence and brutality.


The Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance

  • The Jazz Age, also known as the Roaring Twenties, was a period of cultural and artistic innovation in America. It was characterized by the rise of jazz music, which became popular in nightclubs and dance halls.
  • The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement primarily centered in Harlem, New York City. The emergence of African-American artists, writers, musicians, and intellectuals characterized it.
  • During the Jazz Age, jazz music became the dominant form of popular music. It brought together elements of African and European musical traditions, resulting in a unique and energetic sound.
  • The Harlem Renaissance was a significant cultural and social movement for African Americans. It fostered pride in African American heritage and sought to challenge racial stereotypes and discrimination through art, literature, and music.
  • Both the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance contributed to America’s cultural and artistic development. They brought new voices and perspectives to the forefront and challenged the status quo.
  • The Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance were interconnected movements. Many African-American musicians and artists who contributed to the Harlem Renaissance were jazz musicians, and jazz music played a significant role in the cultural atmosphere of the time.
  • The Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance were also characterized by a spirit of liberation and a rejection of traditional societal norms. They celebrated creativity, individualism, and freedom of expression.

The Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance were pivotal periods in American history, where cultural and artistic innovation flourished. They contributed to developing jazz music as a distinct genre and provided a platform for African-American artists to showcase their talents and challenge societal norms. The impacts of the Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance can still be felt today as they continue to inspire and influence artists and musicians worldwide.


Comparing “The Great Gatsby” and the Roaring Twenties

Step back into the dazzling world of “The Great Gatsby” and the Roaring Twenties as we compare the connections and disparities between Fitzgerald’s iconic novel and this vibrant historical era. Uncover the intriguing similarities that intertwine the book’s pages with the reality of the 1920s while also exploring the fascinating differences that set them apart. Get ready to immerse yourself in an era of excess, ambition, and hidden truths as we uncover the parallel dimensions between literature and history.


Similarities between the Novel and the Historical Period

Numerous resemblances become apparent when examining the parallels between “The Great Gatsby” and the historical era of the Roaring Twenties. One notable similarity lies in the prevalent materialism and relentless pursuit of wealth that permeates both the novel and the actual period. In “The Great Gatsby,” characters such as Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan proudly display their affluence and partake in extravagant soirées, reflecting the luxury and extravagance of the 1920s.

Another likeness can be found in social stratification and the stark contrast between the wealthy and the impoverished. In both the novel and the historical epoch, a small privileged class experienced immense riches and advantages while most of society grappled with poverty and economic hardships.

Both “The Great Gatsby” and the Roaring Twenties bore witness to a rebellion against conventional social norms. The characters in the novel challenge societal conventions through their pursuit of personal desires and disregard for traditional values. Similarly, the 1920s witnessed a shift in societal norms, characterized by the rise of flapper culture and a more progressive attitude towards sexuality and gender roles.

Overall, “The Great Gatsby” effectively captures the essence of the Roaring Twenties by portraying materialism, social inequality, and evolving societal values. The similarities between the novel and the historical period offer a deeper comprehension of the social and cultural dynamics within both contexts.


Differences between the Novel and the Historical Period

The differences between the novel “The Great Gatsby” and the historical period can be observed in various aspects, such as societal norms, cultural values, and economic conditions. Let’s explore these dissimilarities in a table:


Aspect “The Great Gatsby” Novel Historical Period
Social and Cultural Norms The characters in the novel engage in extravagant parties casual relationships, and display reckless behavior. In the historical period, the 1920s was known for its rebellious spirit, relaxed moral standards, and a shift towards materialistic pursuits.
Economic Conditions The novel portrays a society marked by extreme wealth and extravagant lifestyles, with the characters flaunting their riches. In the historical period, the 1920s experienced economic prosperity, with the rise of consumerism, increased production, and mass consumption.
Prohibition and Organized Crime The novel touches on the illegal sale and consumption of alcohol, a prevalent issue during Prohibition. In the historical period, the 1920s saw the implementation of Prohibition, leading to the rise of bootleggers and organized crime.
Cultural Movements The novel highlights the hedonistic lifestyle of the Jazz Age and references the Harlem Renaissance as a backdrop. The historical period was characterized by the Jazz Age, an era of cultural and artistic innovation, and the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing African-American arts and literature in Harlem, New York.


In summary, “The Great Gatsby” differs from the historical period in terms of social norms, economic conditions, Prohibition’s impact, and cultural movements’ influence. These dissimilarities provide a unique perspective on the Roaring Twenties and offer insights into the complexities of the period. Embracing these differences allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of both the novel’s narrative and the historical context in which it is set.


Analysis of Historical Context in “The Great Gatsby”

Step back in time and uncover the vibrant world of “The Great Gatsby.” We’ll embark on a journey of historical analysis, examining how the dynamic backdrop of the Roaring Twenties influenced the characters and plot of this iconic novel. Dive deeper into the exploration as we unravel the thought-provoking critique of the American Dream. Prepare to be captivated by the interplay between fiction and historical reality as we navigate the rich tapestry of “The Great Gatsby’s” historical context.


How the Historical Context Shapes the Characters and Plot

The impact of the historical context on the development of characters and plot is significant. In the case of “The Great Gatsby,” the Roaring Twenties serve as the backdrop that shapes the motivations and actions of the characters.

The exuberance and decadence of the 1920s have a crucial role in molding the characters in “The Great Gatsby.” The era of economic prosperity and consumerism influences characters like Jay Gatsby, who sees wealth and material possessions as a means to win back Daisy Buchanan. The concept of the American Dream, offering social mobility and success, is also reflected in Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of the elusive Daisy.

The Jazz Age’s social and cultural changes impact the behavior and attitudes of the novel’s characters. The hedonistic atmosphere characterized by extravagant parties and excessive lifestyles is depicted in Gatsby’s lavish gatherings at his mansion, where guests indulge in superficiality and excess.

The prohibition era, which banned alcohol, led to organized crime and illegal activities. This element plays a crucial role in shaping the plot of “The Great Gatsby,” as Jay Gatsby himself engages in bootlegging operations and other illicit activities to amass his wealth.

The historical context of the Roaring Twenties in “The Great Gatsby” shapes the characters’ desires, values, and actions. It offers a lens through which we can comprehend their motivations and the consequences of pursuing wealth, love, and the American Dream.

Pro-tip: Understanding the historical context of a novel enhances appreciation and interpretation of the characters and plot. Researching the period and societal influences deepens understanding of the author’s intentions and the story’s relevance to its historical setting.


Exploring the Critique of the American Dream

In “The Great Gatsby” and the Roaring Twenties, there is a critique of the American Dream. The characters in the novel and the societal changes of the 1920s shed light on the flaws and limitations of the American Dream.

The critique of the American Dream stems from the pursuit of material wealth and social status. In the novel, characters like Jay Gatsby and others are driven by their desire to attain the wealth and luxury they believe will bring them happiness and fulfillment. Their relentless pursuit leads to emptiness and disillusionment.

The critique also lies in the idea that the American Dream is not equally accessible to everyone. While characters like Gatsby can reinvent themselves and achieve material success, others are trapped in poverty and struggle to improve their circumstances. This inequality and the superficial nature of the American Dream are highlighted throughout the novel.

The novel explores how pursuing the American Dream can corrupt individuals and lead to moral decay. Characters engage in unethical behavior, lavish parties, and materialistic consumption to fill the void in their lives. This critique suggests that the American Dream can lead to the erosion of moral values and the loss of authenticity.

Overall, “The Great Gatsby” and the Roaring Twenties critically examine the American Dream. The novel exposes the flaws and limitations of this ideal, highlighting the pursuit of material wealth, inequality, and moral decay. By exploring the critique of the American Dream, readers are encouraged to question the validity and true meaning of success and happiness in society.


Frequently Asked Questions


What were the key characteristics of the Roaring Twenties?


The Roaring Twenties was a tumultuous decade in United States history, marked by the rise of new money, social revolution, and the decay of social and moral values. It was a time of wild parties, the emergence of flappers, and women’s newfound freedom and independence. The decade also saw the prohibition era, the rise of speakeasies and illegal drinking establishments, and the growth of consumer culture.

Who were the main social groups during the Roaring Twenties?


During the Roaring Twenties, there were distinct social classes, including the rich, the middle class, and the poor. Within the wealthy class, there were those born into wealth (known as “old money”) and those who acquired wealth through illegal means (referred to as “new money”). In The Great Gatsby, characters like Daisy, Tom, and Jordan represent the “old money” class, while Gatsby himself represents the “new money” type. Nick, the narrator, comes from a middle-class background, while characters like George and Myrtle are poor.

What was the significance of the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby?


The Valley of Ashes is a place overlooked by society, where poor characters reside. It symbolizes the decayed social and moral values of the time. In The Great Gatsby, the Valley of Ashes starkly contrasts the luxurious lifestyle of the rich characters. It represents the dark reality and the disparity between the different social classes.

How did the Roaring Twenties impact relationships and moral values?


The Roaring Twenties brought about cultural differences and changes in social and moral values. The era saw the emergence of glamorous flappers and shallow relationships. Characters in The Great Gatsby, such as Tom, engaged in extramarital affairs, reflecting the decay and corruption beneath the surface of the decadence of the Jazz Age. Fitzgerald explores the theme of worldly wealth and the loss of moral compass, capturing the darker side of the era.

What role did women play in the Roaring Twenties and The Great Gatsby?


Women played a significant role in the social revolution of the Roaring Twenties. They were happy about their ability to vote and their newfound freedom and independence. The image of a flapper was created during this time, with characters like Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby being seen as flappers at Gatsby’s parties. Women’s dresses became shorter, and they engaged in activities like smoking, drinking, and dancing the swing, disregarding traditional values.

How did The Great Gatsby reflect the cultural and historical context of the Roaring Twenties?


The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, captures the essence of the Roaring Twenties. The novel reflects the impact of World War I on American society, the rise of new money, and the challenges it posed to traditional social barriers. It explores the decay and corruption beneath the surface of the Jazz Age, criticizes consumer culture and advertising, and foreshadows the doom ahead, mirroring the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression.

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