The Great Gatsby - In your opinion how effective is Fitzgerald in evoking the 'ironies and disorders' and the 'wonderful glow' of the Twenties?

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Deniz Besim 13 SNC

‘The Great Gatsby offers the most profound and critical summing up we have of the ironies and disorders behind the wonderful glow of the Twenties’ (Malcolm Bradbury).  In your opinion how effective is Fitzgerald in evoking the ‘ironies and disorders’ and the ‘wonderful glow’ of the Twenties?

Fitzgerald establishes from the first chapter that having returned from ‘the East,’ Nick Carraway wants ‘the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever’ (pg 8).  This is ironic for it is essentially this ‘uniform[ity]’ and ‘moral attention’ that the characters of the novel and which the society they represent lack.  Fitzgerald presents how it is primarily these deficiencies, which create the ironies and disorders behind the beautiful yet superficial glow of America in the Twenties which he depicts both through his characters and through what they narrate to us.  In fact by focusing on characters that belong to the high class dominating society of America in the Twenties, Fitzgerald targets the heart of both what represents Americas ‘wonderful glow’ and the dysfunctions operating behind it, which Fitzgerald effectively sums up through Nick’s accounts.

It is significant in fact that Nick’s accounts are dedicated to Gatsby who Lionel Trilling has concluded ‘comes inevitably to stand for America itself’ for not only is it through him and his parties that Americas ‘Great[ness]’ and extravagance is depicted, but it is Gatsby who embodies certain concerns which Fitzgerald identifies within his society.  Such concerns involve sustaining a vision that might redeem the world from the cruelty and sufferings that are well presented through Fitzgerald’s novel.  And it is the glowing veil of Gatsby’s society which hides the disorders and allows him to sustain that vision.  This glow is for instance provided to him through superficial means; through the numerous yet unfulfilling material riches, the artificial fun (of his parties for instance), the ‘Platonic conception’ (pg 95) he has of himself, and of course through the disillusions of a glowing dream, which Daisy embodies.  This dream serves a parallel to the American Dream where the realities behind it are shown through Fitzgerald’s novel to be in fact disappointing.  Ironies are shown not only to lie behind this dream however, but behind the confident ‘Platonic conception’ which America also has of itself.  And it is the ‘material riches’ and ‘artificial fun’ that also provide the ‘wonderful glow’ which initiate these ironies and the disorders existing within the society.

More generally the beauty of this glow can be described as ‘vast, vulgar and meretricious’ (pg 95) and the people whom it attracts have been appropriately likened to moths (pg 42) which are restless, fickle, unstable and unsettled.  In fact, they are also careless as they take advantage of the hospitalities of Gatsby’s parties and yet they neither care to meet their host nor have they the decency to pay their respects to him at his funeral.  This highlights how artificial Gatsby’s company is throughout his life and suggests an irony - that though his wealth insures that he is never alone in his life, he is still lonely.  Gatsby’s isolation is however is to an extent a consequence of his own doings.  It is he who disconnected himself from his humble family roots.  In fact, the young America like the young James Gatz possessed a primitive simplicity, which contrasts the extravagant lifestyle he later cultivates and the moral sickness and lack of order that came with it.

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 The money which Gatsby earns for instance, is done so through foul suspicious dealings and similarly, the valley of ashes suggests the foul dealings on which Americas own prosperity is based.  It shows us the grotesque reality on which Americas wealth is founded and depicts an image of decay; decay of morals and ideals; decay of nature; decay and death (which is what the ashes seem to symbolise).  In fact, whilst ‘Nick’s book’ examines the fate of Gatsby and the ‘foul dust [that] floated in the wake of his dreams’ (pg 8), Fitzgerald’s examines the ‘foul dust’ that ‘floated ...

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Quality of Writing The quality of written communication is excellent. There are a few errors, but they generally extend only to missing apostrophes. Personally, I see the inclusion of page numbers after each quotation to be unnecessary, and I feel that they clutter up the essay. On two occasions (7th and 8th paragraphs) the candidate also places a quote on its own line, which is unnecessary and seems odd, particularly as this is only done with two quotes. The candidate also uses inverted commas instead of speech marks to quote the text. While this is a very minor mistake, it can create confusion when candidates want to write something in inverted commas that is not quoted from the text. However, I did this throughout my GCSEs and even into AS Level and was never corrected by teachers, so it really is nothing more than a stylistic issue, and should not be a cause for much concern.

Level of Analysis The candidate's use of quotes in this essay is very good. The candidate demonstrates appropriate analysis of quotations, because they do not simply place quotes into their essay, but they are, from time to time, examined in detail (the paragraph on the "death car" is a good example). This is a key skill in order to reach the top grades, and candidates should be aware that examiners need to see evidence of deeper analysis of the text, but it isn't needed at every opportunity, and this essay shows this well. The inclusion of comments and criticisms of the text in the essay (examples are in the second paragraph and conclusion) shows research of critical perspectives on the novel has taken place, suggesting this is a strong and committed candidate. The second paragraph is a particularly good example of this, because Trilling's comment is quoted and then its relevance to the book is explained and clear links are made. However, at GCSE (and most, if not all of an A Level course, depending on exam board) this is not necessary and is not a requirement for gaining top grades. It is impressive and if it is reasonable to include it, then candidates should consider this, but if they choose not to do this then it will not affect their performance.

Response to Question This question needs candidates to focus on areas of the text that could come under the 'ironies and disorders' and 'wonderful glow' of the period in which the novel is set, and in doing so, contrast the ways in which Fitzgerald portrays the wealthy characters of the novel as being careless, hedonistic and at the same time incredibly glamorous. The candidate is very successful in this, making reference to the text and linking it to the words in the question, and also to other themes in the novel, such as the American Dream. Repeating the words in the question is a good habit to get into, because it helps you to stay on track, and shows the examiner you're aware of what you need to be discussing.