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The Great Gatsby: Background

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Clare Chatfield

on 1 October 2018

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Transcript of The Great Gatsby: Background

When The Great Gatsby was published ...
World War I
had ended only a few years earlier (1918)
The economy in the United States was BOOMING
had just begun (1919)--this made the buying and selling and consumption of
alcohol illegal
were a
relatively new
invention--and were owned by upper middle class and wealthy people
had only recently been granted
the right to vote
by the 19th Amendment (1920)
were experiencing new
(shorter skirts that showed legs) and hair (short bobs) and
(dating, dancing, working outside the home)
the Jazz Age was in full swing
Great Gatsby Covers
The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
setting: the summer of 1922 in the Hamptons on Long Island (New York)
year published:

main characters:
Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan, Myrtle Wilson, and Nick Carraway (the narrator)
F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota (the Midwest) in 1896
Parents were upper-middle-class Irish Catholics
Princeton University
(East Coast Ivy League)
Fascinated by the East Coast class structure
Became an officer in the U.S. Army after college (remember that the Great War was going on)
Fell in love with a local beauty
Zelda Sayre
when he was stationed in Alabama--her father was a state judge
They became engaged but Zelda broke off the engagement because Fitzgerald didn't have much money
The Roaring Twenties
After the so-called "Great War" (WWI), America felt disillusioned.
The war seemed to have been fought over nothing, and very little changed as a result.
America had entered a period of economic growth, a growing middle class (with an appetite for goods), and an emphasis on materialism.
This era was known as the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties--people were determined to "party."
Ironically, Prohibition was in effect. People made fortunes bootlegging or importing alcohol for speakeasies, taverns, and nightclubs.
The Great Gatsby (1925)
While readers liked
The Great Gatsby,
critics weren't so sure ...

The Baltimore Sun
claimed the plot was "no more than a mere anecdote" and described the characters as "mere marionettes" (puppets).

The New York Times
called the book neither "profound nor durable."

The London Times
said it was "undoubtedly a work of great promise" but criticized its "unpleasant characters."
Never a big moneymaker, The Great Gatsby went out of print in 1939.
The Fitzgeralds continue moving. They live in Paris, on the Riviera, in Delaware, and then Alabama (Zelda's home state).
Scott's drinking continues. Zelda begins suffering from mental breakdowns. She has always been emotionally fragile. Ultimately, she is diagnosed with schizophrenia. She ends up in a mental institution.
He lives in hotels in North Carolina.
He ultimately goes to Hollywood where he works as a scriptwriter to support his wife and child. He earns very good money from MGM--about $91,000 a year (which is about $500,000 or $600,000 a year in today's dollars), but is still unable to save money.
He begins dating a Hollywood writer.
The end of their lives:
Fitzgerald dies of a heart attack in 1940. He is 44 years old. His obituary doesn't even mention The Great Gatsby, which was considered one of his "minor" works.
Zelda dies 8 years later in 1948 when the mental institution she lived in burned down.
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
•Fitzgerald writes short stories for magazines.
In 1920, This Side of Paradise is published. Fitzgerald is 24 years old.

The book rockets to fame and acclaim and Fitzgerald becomes an "overnight success."

He marries Zelda one week later.

They travel to Europe and live as celebrities. They're heavy drinkers (especially Scott) and socialize with famous people.

They never seems to be enough money. They spend everything he earns. They fight often. Scott's drinking increases. They have a baby girl (their only child): Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald.

They move to New York. Scott's play bombs. They go to Paris. They move to Rome. Zelda has an affair.
Their tempestuous lives.
His reputation grows after his death.

His novel,
The Last Tycoon, was published posthumously (after death).

It was very popular.

In the 1940s and 50s, critics "re-discovered" The Great Gatsby and christened it one of the most enduring novels of the 20th century.

It has been one of the most widely taught novels in American high schools. Its themes regarding enduring love, transformation, class, and the American Dream continue to captivate Americans almost 90 years later.
The Fitzgeralds
F. Scott and his daughter "Scottie"
Baltimore, 1935
"Flappers" in the 1920s
In 1918, 1 of 15 families owned a car.
In 1929, 1 out of 5 families owned a car.
The phonograph made "instant" dance parties possible.
The climate in the Southwest's Mojave Desert is quite _________, with less than 5 inches of rainfall per year.

a. plethora
b. devoid
c. arid
d. dearth
Full transcript