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 in the wake’ of its original aspirations. Fitzgerald fondly recalls the American founders through Nick who happily comments on being ‘a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler’ (pg 9) who had certain ‘fundamental decencies’ (pg 7), which he valued. And according to these settlers, as Dr Julian Cowley agrees, America was to essentially be an agrarian society living from the land, a peace-loving nation and one that provided fundamental equalities to all its citizens. All these ideals are shown to be violated. For not only is America shown by Fitzgerald to be full of class distinctions both between the rich and poor (where ‘the rich get richer and the poor get – children’ (pg 92)) and between those established rich (Tom Buchanan) and ‘New Money’ (Gatsby), but far from being a peace-loving nation, Fitzgerald emphasises the involvement of his characters in the First World War. The Great War in fact contributed to the advancement and consequent ‘Great[ness]’ of both Gatsby and the United States and it was following the event of this War that America was shown by a census to have become a predominantly urban nation for the first time.
It is this urban nation that creates the ‘inexhaustible variety of life’ which ‘simultaneously enchants and repels’ Nick. Nick declares for instance how he likes New York for ‘the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines give to the restless eye’ (pg 57). Such is the vibrancy which Fitzgerald generates through his novel and this is highlighted by the range of colour which Fitzgerald uses through the novel; green, silver, yellow, orange, gold, and he had regretted not naming the title of his book Under the Red, White and Blue. Yet referring back to the quote, the word ‘restless’ is also used. This is an adjective Fitzgerald uses a number of times through his novel and highlights the general attitude of his characters to life. Constantly they seek for some new (short-term) preoccupation, yet nothing really lasts for them; they have houses, yet no home; contacts, yet no friend; affairs, yet no love. Their lives remain unfulfilled, empty even, and as Nick reveals in the following melancholy sentence:
‘At the enchanting metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes and I felt it in others’ (pg 57).
This ‘haunting loneliness’ which has been presented by other American writers including through John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937) for instance can be a relative issue to the period after the First World War when America had detached itself from the rest of the world in a period of Isolationism. And it is in fact this period after the First World War that Gertrude Stein termed ‘the Lost Generation’ which characterised an age with no purpose. Tom and Daisy are two characters representative of that age who like the expatriate Americans in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) have no sense of direction:
‘They drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together’ (pg 12).
With such limited meaning to their lives it seems that it is more a curse to be rich than a blessing. Fitzgerald in fact appropriately alludes to Midas (pg 10) who had wished that whatever he touched turned to gold only to find that in reality, his wish was a curse. Far from being happy, Tom and Daisy have come to be ‘pretty cynical about everything’ (pg 21) and the valley of ashes (which displays the consequence of wealth) seems further to justify this cynical attitude. Through it Fitzgerald presents a bleak spiritual landscape far from the colour and vibrancy of the glowing world of the Twenties. Instead, it is characterised by the dull colour of grey (grey cars, ash-grey men – grey land (pg 26)) and seems to signify towards all that is wrong with Fitzgerald’s world initiated by corrupted morality. And despite the general cynical attitude of the characters in the novel, they fail to see their own morality as the cause of the many problems in their world. In fact, not only do they prefer to forget and ‘get away’ (pg 29) from their own grotesque effects, but they refuse to actually come to terms with or realise certain problems or concerns.
What the characters of the novel do see however involve issues which personally involve them. Nick himself has limited insight to what unfolds around him and this may have something to so with his view that ‘life is so much more successfully looked at from a single window after all’ (pg 10). We ourselves are aware that his accounts not only are selected, but they are limited to what only he knows, sees or thinks. For instance his accounts are incredibly biased in Gatsby’s favour whilst seeing Daisy as a conspirator with Tom, one that ‘smashe[s] up things and creatures’ and then retreats carelessly back into her world (pg 170). Yet this may not be the case. Daisy’s carelessness and oblivion may for example be to an extent a façade – to keep herself presented as the ‘beautiful little fool’ which she feels society values most in a woman. It seems that deep down she herself has grievances which society has disabled her from expressing: ‘I’m p-paralysed…’ (pg 14) are her first uttered words and then she echoes these words with Jordan later on in the novel when they together declare that they ‘can’t move’ and highlight their social entrapment. Behind Daisy’s own glowing veil are hidden grievances which are for instance indicated not only by the fact that she had ‘cried and cried’ (pg 74) against marrying Tom before then seeming ‘mad about her husband’ (pg 75) in pretence that all is fine, but through her melancholy singing on page 104 where she ‘bring[s] out a meaning in every word that it had never had before and never would have again.’ Her feelings here reflect the woman on page 52 who ‘was not only singing, she was weeping too.’ There is a melancholy aura about these women, yet Nick’s attitude to them both lacks sympathy and understanding. Thus, though Nick may attempt to be objectively critical about his society, he is at the same time limited to his own experiences and boundaries of knowledge.
It must be acknowledged that Fitzgerald himself was very much a part of this society and like Nick who declares himself both ‘within and without’ it, he also attempts to be objective to his society using the novel. However, the extent to which Fitzgerald can offer the ‘most profound and critical summing up’ he has of the Twenties is undermined by the fact that he is also limited to his own experiences of life amongst the high-class society of the Twenties. Fitzgerald gives little mention, for instance of any of the other (majority) classes apart from the industrial working class which he represents mainly through a single character – Wilson. Though Fitzgerald does very briefly near the end of the novel also introduce Michaelis who is a working class figure and is shown to be one of the only caring and compassionate members of the novel, Fitzgerald avoids offering any contextual indication towards the hardships of life amongst such other classes or groups. For instance, though Fitzgerald presents the racist attitudes existing in his society, he fails to present the foul consequences of such attitudes within his society like that experienced by the characters in The Colour Purple for example.
The fact is that the social elite which Fitzgerald knew and belonged to was only concerned in pursuing their own economic and social pleasures in life and consequently had ‘no interest in politics’ (as Fitzgerald put it). They were completely careless and ignorant of the nation which they dominated and Fitzgerald presents this most effectively through Tom for example where most notably in chapter one he pointlessly (and ridiculously) worries about the possibility that ‘the white race will be utterly submerged’ by ‘other races’ (pg 18). Yet Tom fails to see that ‘civilisation’s [already in] pieces’ through people like him who ‘have produced all the things that go to make’ it (pg 18). Furthermore the question arises to whether Tom is even illiterate, for it is indicated on page 22 that unable to read to himself, he regularly uses Jordan to ‘read aloud to him from the Saturday Evening Post.’
The baseness in the nature of Nick’s society is shown more collectively in chapter four where Nick lists the kind of people that attend Gatsby’s parties whose names Fitzgerald has satirically associated to animals (Catlip, Katspaugh, Ferret, Fishguard, Beaver etc). The consequent confusions and disorders of this society are well presented through the violence and disruptions which many of these people have been connected to. They include murders, suicides and car accidents which also actively involve the main characters of the novel.
Unsatisfied relationships is another disorder affecting the novel which is hardly surprising considering the superficiality on which relations are based; a friend is someone with ‘gonnegtions’ and a ‘worthy’ husband is a rich one. Marriage in fact seems to have lost its meaning and attitudes towards it have become childlike:
‘I think I’ll arrange a marriage…I’ll sort of fling you together…lock you up accidentally…push you out to sea, and all that sort of thing’ Daisy says after Nick only just meets Jordan. This and the fact that Daisy had rejected Gatsby for Tom because he was too poor and she couldn’t wait for him highlights the fact that marriage here is something more of a social security than that grounded by love. Consequently family values are also given little meaning and the consequent lack of family groundings indicates that Pammy’s generation would also grow up lost, alone and with no sense of direction. It seems in fact that more characters than Gatsby can be termed ‘Mr Nobody form Nowhere’ (pg 123) for little if any mention is given of Tom or Daisy’s family, Jordan’s family is ‘one aunt about a thousand years old’ (pg 23) and Pammy’s family, though they are materially there, emotionally they are detached from her.
These detachments seem to attribute to the loneliness felt by the characters of the society; the ‘haunting loneliness’ which is inevitably linked to death. In fact Fitzgerald’s novel more generally serves to remind me of T. S Eliot’s poem The Waste Land where its landscape is as dismal as that of the valley of ashes. Everything about the valley of ashes from its ashes to its dust seems to in fact be fating death. And though R. W Stallman declares that ‘nothing is proven real or absolute’ in the novel, death is ironically the one thing that is:
‘So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight’ (pg 129) and Fitzgerald establishes the fact that his characters are ‘careless drivers’ where symbolically it can be interpreted that they drive the course of events towards destruction (for themselves, Gatsby, America or otherwise).
The ‘death car’ (pg 131) in fact seems to be one of the most significant symbols used by Fitzgerald to represent and connect both the glow and the ironies and disorders of the Twenties. The automobile for instance is shown through the novel to be a symbol of social and physical mobility as well as a sign of America’s freedom. Yet the fact that in the novel the car always traces its way through to the valley of ashes where the garages – the source of its fuelling – are based both highlights the combustion with which it is associated and signifies it as the instrument of death. Indeed the ‘death car’ is also presented by other contemporary writers of Fitzgerald’s including through Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (1925) and Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry (1927). And Fitzgerald has not only shown how Gatsby’s car was to brutally take the life of Myrtle, but it was the tracks of this same automobile which Wilson followed to take the life of Gatsby himself.
Overall it seems that throughout The Great Gatsby, all that is shown to represent America’s ‘wonderful glow’ is undermined. And though through the novel Nick and the other characters’ tone may be romantic or admiring, it is also pessimistic and critical. Fitzgerald suggests that America isn’t in fact a democracy as promoted, but a Plutocracy. And the nation is shown to be controlled by a class who can’t even control their own lives which as R. W. Stallman agrees, ‘is infested with violence and disruption.’ More importantly the natures of the characters presented in this class are debased; their morality is centred on hypocrisy, greed and ignorance and it is with such attitudes that they control their nation. Yet the characters aren’t only instigators, but victims of their society’s disorders and Leland J Person describes how there is an ‘alienation of men and women before the materialistic values of modern society’ which attributes to the characters’ lonely world. Fitzgerald, through using these characters who belong to the society top of America’s social and economic hierarchy with which he is so familiar, is effective not only in presenting the attractive glow of America, but in presenting the prime root behind some of the major concerns and problems of his nation. Still there are limitations in what Fitzgerald has managed to present through his novel for he has presented only a world to which he himself is familiar and for instance has failed to offer more detailed accounts on the ‘wonderful glow’ and ‘ironies and disorders’ behind the glamorous world of showbiz. Consequently his accounts are overall restricted to ‘summing up’ the Twenties through the eyes of one particular class rather than offering a more general account on the glow and disorders of the Twenties.
Body of essay consists of 2917 words
Here's what a star student thought of this essay
Quality of writing
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
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
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.