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Transcript of Gatsby
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940)
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 24, 1896.
In 1908, Scott entered St. Paul Academy. He "tried too hard" and came across as a know-it-all. During his ten years at St. Paul, he published some articles and three stories - but declined academically and was deeply unpopular. Always felt he was a poor boy in rich boys' institutions. Enrolled in Princeton on his Aunt's inheritance - failed out in 1915.
He joined the Navy and was stationed at Camp Sheridan,
but he was never posted overseas - bothered him all his life.
He gave both Nick and Gatsby war records.
Always fell for "the girl" - rich, popular, daring, beautiful and out of reach. First Ginevra King (more Daisy than Zelda) when he was 18 and was 16. "Poor boys shouldn't think of marrying rich girls."
In 1918, Fitzgerald met and fell in love with eighteen-year-old Zelda Sayre. She refused to marry Scott because he couldn't support her in the manner to which she was accustomed - she broke off the engagement to please her father.
Scott went to New York City to write a novel and win the girl. Every character in The Great Gatsby is pulled into the city. He was overwhelmed. In 1919, Fitzgerald returned home to Minnesota. He wrote and published This Side of Paradise, in 1920.
One week after the novel was released, Fitzgerald and Zelda were married. The novel defined the Jazz Age youth culture.
The family lived an extravagant lifestyle that included much drinking and many parties.
They mixed with the very highest society in New York and in Paris.
They were the golden couple (literally - both golden-haired beauties - they reveled in being "twins") of a golden age, so famous that every exploit was printed in the paper.
Fitzgerald and Zelda "created and all but destroyed one another."
In 1925, Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby. It was not a commercial success. Reviews were very mixed. The entire first printing of roughly 25,000 books netted $6,261 for Fitzgerald. In 2013, a single first edition with the dust jackets went for $194,000 at auction.
In October of 1929, Zelda tried to wrest the steering wheel from Scott and drive over a cliff on the outskirts of Paris. The same month, the stock market crashed. They returned to the states, and Zelda was institutionalized.
In 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack. He was living in Hollywood writing scripts - having an affair with a woman who looked very much like Zelda and working with a secretary who he treated very much as his daughter. On a binge, he could drink 12 beers and a quart of gin in a single sitting. He had virtually slipped into literary oblivion.
The Roaring Twenties
Mass-production and chain stores drove down prices and encouraged consumers to spend. It was the start of mass advertising. "You look just like the man in the adverts..." - an image-driven consumer culture. Indeed - God is reduced to a faded advertisement in the Valley of Ashes.
The concept of credit was being used to help more Americans buy durable goods such as cars and stoves. Cars are major symbols of the novel - "bad drivers." But his novel is prescient - when he wrote it, the crash wasn't on America's radar.
Runaway consumer credit was part of the overload that
resulted in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Americans were also spending more money
on entertainment, especially the movies.
In 1920, for the first time in United States history, more people were living in cities than on farms. Presidents Warren G. Harding (1921 – 1923), Calvin Coolidge (1923 – 1929) and Herbert Hoover (1929 – 1933)
supported big business and passed legislation that benefited large corporations.
The Harding Administration’s Teapot Dome Scandal illustrated the corrupt nature of the age.
"I am not fit for this office and should never have been here." - Warren Harding
Calvin Coolidge especially favored a laissez faire attitude toward big business,
thus allowing for credit and investment abuses that would lead to the 1929 crash.
Prohibition, Organized Crime, and Gatsby’s Fortune:
Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of “intoxicating liquors” in the United States was ratified on January 16, 1919.
Prohibition banned only the manufacture, sale, and transport,
not the possession or consumption of alcohol.
Fitzgerald never specifies how Gatsby makes such a huge fortune in five years...but this was an
age when fortunes could be made quickly, in spectacular fashion and largely illegally.
NOTES ON FITZGERALD’S STYLE, SETTING, AND THEMES
Fitzgerald is known for his imagistic and poetic prose. Breaks all the rules - "tells and doesn't show."
The novel is crazy over-structured - elaborately over designed like other Modernist works. There are ten or more major symbol systems: time (450 mentions in the novel), temperature, geographical direction, names, music, vision, cars, birds, colors, medieval quest romances, Greek myth, and WATER.
Fitzgerald created a "detached poetic style that elevates but doesn't obliterate ordinary American language." The novel is ultimately neither plot driven or character driven - it is language driven - voice driven. Gatsby is Nick's projection as much as Daisy is Gatsby's projection. Fitzgerald "summons an omniscient American voice that renders the American Dream irresistible, heartbreaking, and buoyant all at once."
The setting of the story is in the summer of 1922, near New York City, in the towns of West Egg and East Egg.
Other Social Changes:
1. The decline/mythos of the American Dream -
sink or swim
2. The stratification of social classes: old money,
new money, no money.
3. The hollowness of the upper class - they float,
they don't have to try, they know where they
4. The tragedy of living past the "Golden Moment"
in one's life - the futility of trying to recapture the
5. The glory in trying to realize a futile dream
Professional sports grew in popularity as people spent more and more money on entertainment.
In 1919, the scandal with the World Series involving the White Sox rocked the sports world. Arnold Rothstein, a Jewish gangster, nicknamed "the brain," fixed the World Series. Meyer Wolfsheim is based on the real man, but the portrayal is also an anti semitic stereotype.
The nineteenth amendment, which granted women the right to vote, changed the nature of American politics and society. Women, who had held factory jobs during the war, had no intention of returning home. But there was a great fear of women's liberation.
Immigration, which had subsided during the war, increased drastically. From the late 1880's to 1919, 17 million immigrants pass through New York City - Greeks, Russians, Polish Jews, Italians, and Romanians. Meanwhile, African American migrated from the South to create the Harlem Renaissance of Jazz, poetry, and novels. Nativism and fear of immigrants skyrocketed. Tom Buchanan represents this white fear. The actual title of the book was, "The Rising Tide of Color Against White-World Supremacy."
The threat of differing political ideas and the loss of American jobs to foreigners created an intense dislike of outsiders - the novel is mixed in its tone - "Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge."
Prohibition began on January 16, 1920,
when the Eighteenth Amendment went
Home brewing, smuggled in from Canada, speakeasies, whiskey proscribed for "medicinal" purposes (over one million gallons per year prescribed and consumed...), disdain for authority, and the rise of smuggling and organized crime. Al Capone made his fortune on bootleg alcohol.
Scott wrote, “I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self-respect and it’s these things I’d believe in even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all that she should be…I love her and that’s the beginning and the end of it.”