America during 1920s enjoyed a consummate historical period – so called the ‘Economic Boom’. Consequently, more and more people became wealthy. This resulted in dramatic changes in American social structure as there was a huge increase in the middle classes. People’s obsession over their wealth had no limits. There was a big emphasis on individualism as the Republicans enjoyed widespread support due to their achievements. Perhaps this explains the attitude of the characters in the ‘Great Gatsby’.
Gatsby’s desire for wealth and individualism was certainly boosted by his feelings towards Daisy. Daisy Buchannan – who had a high rank in American society even before she got married, could not belong to Gatsby’s world and their relationship in the light of this period of American history was seen as irrational. The gaps in American social structure were undoubtedly large, however Republican’s idea of individualism allowed an access to higher rank in society. Characters’ traits such as determination, adroitness and hard-work were heavily respected in US during that time. This explains Gatsby’s struggle in achieving respected status and wealth. Perhaps, from a political point of view, Gatsby therefore could be seen as a model of a successful American during the ‘Economic Boom’.
America – a great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose.
Herbert Hoover (1874 – 1964) – Republican president of USA
Furthermore, the Americans’ position during the 1920s made them think that they are infallible. Certainly, this resulted in racism and over – patriotic attitude. For example, Tom says that ‘Civilisation’s going to pieces’ referring to ‘The Rise of Colored Empires’ and defines Americans as the ‘dominant race’ (chapter I). This boundless confidence spread into different countries and the term of an ‘American Dream’ (that is – a dream of a total achievement of wealth) became more and more popular.
Ironically, America’s ‘Economic Boom’ was a direct consequence of the First World War when they isolated themselves and achieved a great deal of widespread wealth at the cost of the other suffering countries. In fact, the ‘Economic Boom’ was mostly a result of a well-developed trade of military supplies with countries involved in war.
Similarly, ‘The Valley of Ashes’ (“a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat” – Chapter II) can be seen as the symbol of American’s abusing of the lower social classes as the wealthy businessmen dump their ashes on the land belonging to lower ranks. Perhaps in this sense, Fitzgerald hints at his contempt of a Republican idea and despises the order in USA during that time.
Therefore the ill-thought through American idea of desire for money descended from the ‘Economic Boom’ in 1920s. Having said this, we are not surprised when Gatsby describes Daisy’s voice as ‘full of money’. Wealth and competitiveness was considered as the norm because in early 20th century America such values had been seen as essential to become a politically correct ‘American’. To become politically correct one tended, or maybe preferred, to become blind to human suffering. It is best described by Nick that “Tom and Daisy – smashed up creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness”. Indeed, in this way, Tom and Daisy have managed to brutally achieve their ‘American Dream’.