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Is the Twentieth century American novel a medium for social criticism? (discuss at least two writers). Both F.Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby and John Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer

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Introduction

Is the Twentieth century American novel a medium for social criticism? (discuss at least two writers). Both F.Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby and John Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer contain significant criticisms on American society but they present and explore this in different ways. Manhattan Transfer is comprised of snapshots of life, it has three sections and in the first one we are introduced to at least twenty characters. It does not focus on any one specific life or subject. The Great Gatsby is a continuing story of the lives of a small group of upper class Americans and their part in society. Not only is it interesting to consider the ways that the two writers differ in their approach to criticising society, it is interesting to examine the affects that these different styles have on the reader. One of the main themes that are prevalent in both stories is the criticism of society's obsession with wealth and status. Fitzgerald explores this theme through the unfolding of the lives of his characters and their attitudes towards each other. ...read more.

Middle

A notable difference of the two novels is the familiarity of the characters, While the criticism of Fitzgerald stems from the unhappiness that can be brought about by placing wealth over love, Dos Passos shows us far less consequences but many more examples of the willingness of people to enter a relationship for money and status. We almost read of the relationships as business deals as apposed to examining the inner workings of a relationship. The result of this technique is one of shock for the reader of the cold-hearted money driven nature of society. Both Manhattan Transfer and the Great Gatsby comment on the weight given to appearance in New York society. Right from the opening of Manhattan Transfer the reader is presented with how vital it is to look the part in order to succeed. The only job seeking advice given to Bud is to "go and git a shave and a haircut and brush the hey seeds out o' yer suit abit before you start lookin'" because "it's looks that count in this city". ...read more.

Conclusion

The oculist that is set above the dust heaps should be correcting vision not tying to gain commercial advantage by the means of advertisement; this so closely mirrors the lives of society who are willing to turn a blind eye to certain events and situations in order to gain advantage and ultimately live a care free existence. Dos Passos' overall methods of social criticism differ both in time and emotion, we are not given enough time with each character in Manhattan transfer to care about their outcome, whereas in The Great Gatsby our exposure to the characters urges us to form opinions on them and to develop a concern for their future. The motive behind including social criticism in a novel is to make the reader aware of the problems in society and to make the reader want to do something about it. As human beings we only want to make changes if we feel that they would affect us and we can only envisage ourselves being affected by something if we are able to relate to it on some level. Therefore my opinion is that Fitzgerald's approach to social criticism is more affective because his writing provokes us to react and respond to the issues being raised. ...read more.

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