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Historical Analysis of The Great Gatsby

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Nick Upper

on 19 April 2013

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Transcript of Historical Analysis of The Great Gatsby

Historical Analysis of The
Great Gatsby What is a historical analysis? Pre-1920's Historical
Background World War I The First World War brought economic and social changes to the world, with the United States situated as the most powerful nation. The influx of now-single veterans made a large unmarried population that was later open for relationships. Economic Growth During and following World War I, the manufacturing sectors of the nation were working in full capacity. The need for workers caused wages to rise and for the nation to experience an economic boom. Technological Advancement The technological advances made during the First World War translated to technological progress at home, with the nation buying such things as radios in abundance. This increase of the purchase of communication devices allowed for the country to become more unified and in touch with various trending topics. Wage Gaps in the Rich and Poor Strata Following the American "Gilded Age," the United States had a growing middle class as a result of a more equal income distribution, facilitated by many young entrepreneurs making fortunes. However, the gap between the rich and poor remained a large one. American Imperialism/Racism/Jingoism During the 19th and 20th centuries, America expanded throughout the Pacific Ocean, following the trend of the resurgence of European Imperialism. This led to a nation that pitied 'lesser men' like members of non-white races. 1920's Background
Information Increased Female Identity/Freedom During the 1920s, women experienced a period of freedom in both social and personal aspects of life. This gave way to a new 'ideal image' of a woman; a "flapper." For example, the ideal image included short hair, something that was commonly a male attribute. The Boom: Bonds and Stocks Old v. New Money With the rising economy brought with the victory of World War I, citizens of the United States began to buy and sell bonds and stocks. These items were extremely profitable, and during the time, had low risk involved. This changed, of course, with the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Smoking During the time period, smoking was common among the middle and upper classes. At the time, there appeared to be no drawbacks to smoking, so people smoked very often and very casually. Eventually, the symbol of the smoking woman began to intertwine itself with the ideal image of the cosmopolitan woman of the era. Old Money New Money Prohibition With the signing of the 18th Amendment to the American Constitution, the sale, ownership, and consumption was declared illegal throughout the United States. However, alcohol consumption began to rise, and even though the amendment was repealed in 1933, the drinking rates never fell back to pre-Prohibition levels. Jargon What is Jargon? Jargon is a classification of words that are used specifically for a time period or culture, and are not used during modern context or have different connotations to today's culture. Hydroplane "And don’t forget we’re going up in the hydroplane tomorrow morning at nine o’clock." (Fitzgerald 53)

A hydroplane is commonly known as a “boat.” Old Sport “Want to go with me, old sport?” (Fitzgerald 47)


The equivalent today would be “bro” or “brah.” Bootlegger “’He’s a bootlegger,’ said the young ladies, moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers. ‘One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to Von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil’” (Fitzgerald 61)

A bootlegger was a person who smuggled alcohol throughout the United States during the Prohibition Era. Grounds “After the house, we were to see the grounds and the swimming pool, and the hydroplane and the mid-summer flowers” (Fitzgerald 92)


The term “grounds” is the equivalent of a yard or a grassy portion of a house property. Fortnight “At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough covered lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden.” (Fitzgerald 40)

A commonly used phrase in other nations, a fortnight refers to a period lasting fourteen days. Finger-bowls “A pair of stage twins, who turned out to be the girls in yellow, did a baby act in costume, and champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger-bowls” (Fitzgerald 46)

A finger-bowl is a bowl that is used to rinse a person's hands after a meal, and was used by the members of the richest families. “Drug Store” "‘Plenty of gas,’ said Tom boisterously. He looked at the
gauge. ‘And if it runs out I can stop at a drug store. You can
buy anything at a drug store nowadays.’" (Fitzgerald 121)

The use of a 'drug store' as a general store was commonplace during the time period. Later on, drug stores would also sell food and soda in addition to various goods like gasoline. “Pneumatic Mattress” "He stopped at the garage for a pneumatic mattress that had amused his guests for the summer (Fitzgerald 161)."

The equivalent today would be a blow-up mattress. It should be noted that after blowing up the mattress, Gatsby uses it to relax in his pool, which is still done commonly today. “Gave Ear” "She held my hand impersonally, as a promise that she’d
take care of me in a minute, and gave ear to two girls in twin
yellow dresses who stopped at the foot of the steps." (Fitzgerald 42)

In context, the quote means that the person being described, Jordan Baker, listens intently to the two girls who call out to her. Historical References James J. Hill James J. Hill was a famous businessman during the 19th and 20th centuries. He is mostly remembered for being a railroad executive and a model of the "rags-to-riches" philosophy. The Castle Rackrent “That’s the secret of Castle Rackrent” (Fitzgerald 85)


The Castle Rackrent is a novel written during the 1800s and received critical acclaim and popularity. It is regarded as one of the first novels of the “historical fiction” genre. In this context it refers to a well-kept secret. Parodying Famous Actors “Of theatrical people there were Gus Waize and Horace O’Donavan and Lester Myer and George Duckweed and Francis Bull.” (Fitzgerald 63)

The names used in the book are fake names, utilizing odd-sounding surnames. However, to a reader who is not living in the 20th century, the names can be passed off as normal names for actors or actresses. The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy Have you read ‘The Rise of the Coloured Empires’ by this man Goddard?’ (Fitzgerald 12) Social Conventions
Reflected in the Book Newspapers and the Speed of Communication Rumrunners and Gang Crime The ban on alcohol provided a need for people to illegally distrute ales to bars around the nation. This need was satisfied by the rise of gangs and rumrunners, who became deeply ingrained in the organized crime circuits. A historical analysis of a book focuses on how the book fits into the time period it was written in. This includes focus on speaking, pop culture references, and the time period as a whole. "If he'd of lived, he'd of been a great man. A man like James J. Hill. He'd of helped build up the country." (Fitzgerald 168) Tom's reference to a book "The Rise of the Coloured Empires" is a parody of a real book written by Lothrop Stoddard, whose name is also being parodied, which was published in 1920. The book focused primarily on how whites worldwide were in danger of being overrun by the uncivilized majority, and called for less imperialism and colonization. "Old Money" is a term used to describe those who had their fortunes handed down from other family members. In the book, Tom is an example of "old money." "New Money" describes the opposite, where men made their fortunes through business ventures on their own, and received little funding or inheritance from their families. In the book, Gatsby is an example of "New Money." "I saw it in the Chicago newspaper,’ he said. ‘It was all in the Chicago newspaper. I started right away" (Fitzgerald 167) The quote demonstrates how the technological evolution of communication technology allowed for minor news, like a celebrity's death, to spread throughout the nation with extreme ease. "Most of those reports were a nightmare—grotesque, circumstantial, eager and untrue" (Fitzgerald 163) This description of how reporters reacted to Gatsby's death gives an accurate description of how the 'tabloids' at the time worked. This new paparazzi was created simply to follow the stars of the era, people who had gained recognition with the development of communications technologies. Racism and White Supremacy Throughout the book, Tom refers to various books or opinions of the time period that claim white superiority over all other races. This attitude, facilitated by the earlier stages of American Imperialism, were still reflected during the 1920s. These opinions, radical to a modern reader, were commonplace for the time period. A Post-World War I Society The book's main focus, Gatsby, is a veteran of World War I. It is in this conflict that Gatsby earns various medals and is seen as a hero. However, the conflict makes him not allow to get married, common for men who went to war. Therefore, when Gatsby came back to America, he joined the many thousands of other single men, causing a large population of the nation to begin dating at much later ages. Old Money Versus New Money This conflict between old and new money is demonstrated in how the neighborhoods in the book are separated, with the East and West sides representative of either old or new money. Gay "Having a gay time now?" (Fitzgerald 47)

Unlike the modern context, a "gay time" would be one that is simply one that is enjoyed. Works Cited Fitzgerald, Francis S. The Great Gatsby. Vol. 1. New York: Scibner, 1925. Print. Gillom, Steven M., and Cathy D. Matson. The American Experiment. Boston: aaaaaaaHoughton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2009. Print. Stocks and Bonds in the Book In the novel, the narrator, Nick, takes a job as a bond speculator as soon as he moves to the city, even though he has little to no experience with the stock market. This idea of being able to immediately jump into the stock market and make millions was a common idea during the time period.
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