Reinvention of the Great Gatsby Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Great Gatsby: A Novel of Reinvention

"The 1920s were characterized by conservatism, affluence, and cultural frivolity, yet it was also a time of social economic and political change. The first modern decade in American history paved the way for the reforms of the 1930s. American popular culture began to reflect an urban, industrial, consumer oriented society" (Ingui, 89). The strong economic boom following the Great War gave birth to a time known as "The Roaring 20's. This was a prosperous era, characterized largely by wealth and change. "President Calvin Coolidge declared that the business of America was business. In many ways, his statement defined the 1920s. Amid all the tensions, an unprecedented flood of new consumer items entered the marketplace, and progressive calls for government regulation were rejected in favor of a revival of the old free enterprise individualism" (Hermansen). This summarized statement of the decade best encapsulates the conditions which created the mindset of Jay Gatsby. Gatsby was driven very much by a spirit that created America, a rugged individualism and pioneer spirit, one which was willing to plunge himself into business (even if the dealings were shady). Gatsby, was after all, a bootlegger, as alcohol was illegal thanks to the Volstead Act.

The period after WWI represented a loss of American innocence and a frenzy of politicians and other leaders that the reassuring "good old days" were due to return and what everyone knew as "normalcy" would largely return (Bayan, 2). At the same time, the 1920s were a period where others clamored heatedly in the other direction and did not want to return to what they considered to be the staleness of the past. Rather, "…individuals looked forward and were only interested in fulfilling their desires. Fitzgerald coined the phrase "jazz age" with the notion of excess in mind. Psychologist Robert Lifton's notion of historical dislocation plays a significant role in defining one's understanding of the twenties friction between normalcy and the jazz age. Historical dislocation is the breakdown of social and institutional forces within a culture. In regard to the twenties, one can observe the breakdown of pre-war idealism and the ensuing tension between America's return to normal and its progression into the jazz age" (Bayan, 2). One could easily argue that Jay Gatsby represents a living characterization of this agile tension. He is at once an emblem of the jazz age as seen via his lush parties and his homes -- built on the bricks of new money (Bayan, 2). At the same time, his parties are all thrown with desire of reconnecting with Daisy Fay, and essentially stepping backwards into the past, and reliving the past, something that's essentially impossible, but which he doggedly is determined to do.

The spirit of business that was alive in the 1920s was a full financial resurgence and it was in part, responsible for giving birth to Jay Gatsby, as the time was characterized as being full of opportunity, and he was indeed an opportunist. The shivers of opportunity are felt throughout the novel, not just via Gatsby but through all the characters -- such as Nick Carraway when he gets off the 59th street Bridge, a bridge that makes him feel like anything is possible (Jackson & Dunbar, xv). Gatsby, rather, was born into a poor farming family in the Midwest. After returning from the war, Gatsby is determined to elevate his social status in order to pursue his love (Daisy). In pursing Daisy, his love, he's also pursuing so much more, either directly or indirectly. Daisy is essentially, the old-money girl, a status that Gatsby will never quite have no matter how successfully he reinvents himself. The reader realizes the seeds of reinvention present in Gatsby via early entries Gatsby had made into the "Poor Richards Almanac" which was a manual for reinvention published by Benjamin Franklin. Based on all these aspects, the reader can easily conclude that Gatsby grew up feeling inferior and that all of his efforts were to shake off the self that grew up a poor farm boy and reinvent himself, as much as humanely possible, into someone else. This devotion to reinvention was made even more possible based on the circumstances of the time which created an environment, real or false, of prosperity, which can be absolutely intoxicating. An atmosphere of prosperity and rampant consumerism can make one feel as though anything is possible, no matter how lofty or how unreasonable. The desire to recreate himself into something "better" or something more palatable to Gatsby, is the driving force behind all of his actions throughout the novel.

Essentially, Gatsby's desire to reinvent himself, is almost a desire to "father" himself. "This romantic ambition to father himself -- to make himself out of nothing -- is inspired by three main sources. These are first, the American culture of "self-help"; second, the "chivalrous" literature typified by Horatio Alger-type stories, of the self-made man, who, overcoming great poverty, becomes "successful" (that is, wealthy) beyond his wildest dreams -- only to run into the rude obstruction of people who are born in this condition… Thus Gatsby acts out a boyhood dream driven by quixotic and characteristically American fantasies of the democratic David defeating the blue-bloodied bully Goliath, blocking his path to self-improvement. Daisy serves to complete this image, to serve it's truth." (Palaver & Steinmair-Posel, 280).

The first example of Gatsby's desire to concoct a new self is stated at the end of the novel. Gatsby's father has brought a copy of "Hop Along Cassidy" (a book that Gatsby had as a boy) and before Gatsby's funeral he shows Nick Carraway the notes that Gatsby printed out on the inside cover. "On the last fly-leaf was printed the word SCHEDULE, and the date September 12, 1906, and underneath:

Rise from bed… & #8230; & #8230; & #8230;6AM. Dumb-bell exercises and wall-scaling… & #8230; & #8230; 6.15-6.30. Study electricity etc.. & #8230; & #8230; & #8230; 7.15-8.15. Work… & #8230; & #8230; & #8230;8.30-4:30 PM. Baseball and sports… & #8230; & #8230;Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it 5.00-6.00. Study needed inventions… 7.00-9.00. GENERAL RESOLVES No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable] No more smoking or chewing Bath every other day Read one improving book or magazine per week Save $5.00 {crossed out} $3.00 per week Be better to parents.

'I come across this book by accident,' said the old man. 'It just shows you don't it?'

'It just shows you.'

'Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he's got about improving his mind? He was always great for that. He told me once I et like a hog and I beat him for it'" (Fitzgerald ).

This example demonstrates how even as a young person, Gatsby was trying to achieve more than just self-improvement. He was trying to change who he was. This is most revealed in the remark is father makes about how Jay once told him that he ate like a hog. This comment reflects a degree of contempt and embarrassment for his family and roots of origin making it more likely that Gatsby's concerted efforts at such a young age stemmed from more than just a desire to be better, but from a desire to not be like his father and to leave behind the place from when he came. As alluded to earlier, this is an extremely American ideal: "American culture is predicated on liberty and freedom, grandiose abstract notions that -- naively or not -- guide us to believe that we can become anything we want and that greatness is out there for our taking. To read about Jay Gatsby's ascent from vagabond Minnesotan to new-money iconoclast is to read the story of America" (Bayan, 2001).

The meeting of Daisy was one of the elements which furthered Gatsby's desire to reinvent himself, a desire which did not wane even after the war. It was via Gatsby's friendship with Dan Cody that allowed the desire for a more prestigious social plateau to actually be inducted into the physical world. Cody was a wealthy man and together they went around the continent three times on the Cody' yacht. While Gatsby was trusted with a great deal of responsibility on this yacht, he was also well- acquainted with the "good life" and thus developed a thorough understanding of how things the rich enjoy and how to conduct oneself around people with money. Being around Cody could only further Gatsby's grip on the desire and the dogged intention to make himself rich: Cody, after all, has done it, as one of the gold-rush millionaires. Cody, Gatsby's mentor, is living proof of what can be done with hard work, timing and determination. For three years, Gatsby was around this man day in and day out. If anything could help solidify the dream and the desire for recreation, it was being in the presence of Cody.

However, it's not…

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