The Great Gatsby is full of lavish spending, huge parties and all round hedonistic enjoyment, showing a ‘definitive record of the glamorous side’ of the 1920s on every level.
America in the 1920s had the highest living standard in the world, the United States owned around 40% of the entire world’s wealth, with this money the established rich spent their time living a glamorous lifestyle. In the 1920s the class of the established rich certainly knew how to be glamorous, as Fitzgerald shows through Daisy and Tom Buchanan. The Buchanan’s house was ‘more elaborate’ then Nick expected, it was a ‘Georgian Colonial mansion,’ and they also had luxury items such as a ‘motor boat’ and ‘horses.’ Tom obviously took pride in his house and processions, saying that he has ‘got a nice place.’
The money was also spent immorally; they always seem to have a plentiful amount of alcohol, like ‘the cocktails’ which Tom drank like ‘it was a drop on the bottom of a glass’ showing he must drink a lot. This alcohol was bought illegally as prohibition was in place from 1920 to 1933 which banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of liquor in the USA. RACISM??????
Not only did the established rich have luxury items, they also did not work for their money, giving them plenty of free time to spend as they please, Jordan Baker had enough time to take up golfing, and ‘play in tournaments.’ Yet with all this money and free time the Buchanan’s lives are unfulfilled as they have spiritual goals, Daisy is unhappy in life and questions her purpose in life by saying ‘What shall we do this afternoon? And the day after? And the next thirty years?’ this showing the darker side to the 1920s.
Fitzgerald shows glamour through Gatsby’s extravagant parties, Gatsby is new money as he worked for his money. From Gatsby’s ridiculous quantities of oranges to ‘the orchestra’ which played at his parties, Gatsby made sure that his parties were glamorous. At first Gatsby’s parties seem magical, as Gatsby’s ‘blue gardens were alive with the whispering and the champagne and the stars.’ The ‘floating rounds of cocktails permeated the garden’ and the ‘air was alive with chatter and laughter,’ everybody seemed to be having a fantastic time. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda would have known first-hand how glamorous these jazz age parties were as they often attended them and they lived a glamorous life style.
Yet underneath the glamour of Gatsby’s parties we see the bleaker side of the 1920s. Fitzgerald shows the work put in to the parties, to make the orange juice a butler had to press ‘a little button… two hundred times.’ After the parties ‘eight servants… toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes… repairing the ravages of the night before,’ as the party guests left so much destruction in their way. Gatsby’s parties may be glamorous but he paid a great deal to make them this way.
It is alleged that Gatsby made his money immorally, by bootlegging, Tom suggests this when he said ‘I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him.’ It was easy to make money illegally in the 1920’s, due to prohibition many found it easy to sell alcohol over the counter or to speakeasies, which were secret bars in the 1920s, these people were often called bootleggers. This was an illegal way of getting the money; showing unglamorous, illegal acts were done to make these glamorous parties.
Therefore alcohol in Gatsby’s parties was plentiful, he even had his own bar, but this alcohol led to carelessness as owl eyes was ‘drunk for about a week’ and alcohol also lead to recklessness in the form of car crashes, and violent actions with women ‘kicking off into the night, dragged away by men said to be their husbands.’
Gatsby paid a great amount of money but did the guests really care about their host? Nick was ‘one of the few guests, who had actually been invited,’ and of all of the guests who were at Gatsby’s parties only one came to his funeral, this shows the caring attitude and shallowness of people in the 1920s.
Despite the unprecedented economic growth and excessive glamorous spending during the 1920s, the gap between rich and poor became increasingly prevalent. As most of the characters are very wealthy the rich and glamorous atmosphere defines the novel’s tone, the focus on the upper class lifestyle gives the novel a mood of extravagance. However, this society is contrasted with the poverty of those living near the Valley of Ashes; which is based on T.S Elliott’s poem ‘The Wasteland’. Like Elliott’s wasteland, the Valley of Ashes is a hideous image of a spiritually dead world, a symbol of the collapse of moral values after the chaos of the war. In the Great Gatsby we see how the Wilson’s live, which is a stark contrast from the Buchannan’s glamorous lifestyle. Nick could not believe that the Wilson’s lived in such a place, he thought the ‘garage must be a blind, and that sumptuous and romantic apartments were concealed overhead.’ Their lifestyle is so unglamorous; it gives the darker side of the Jazz age.
Myrtle Wilson tried hard to climb the classes by having an affair with Tom Buchannan, but even the apartment he provides for her is small and Tom treats her badly, he even breaks her nose, in his eyes she will always be lower than Daisy. George also tries very hard to make his money honestly, when Tom comes in he is so eager to have some business, George is a failure of the American Dream, he will never achieve the glamorous lifestyle he wants to provide.