The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary/Historical Information

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LITERARY/HISTORICAL INFORMATION

The Great Gatsby is set in the 1920’s, a period known in America as the Roaring Twenties. After the end of World War I and before the stock market crash of 1929, there was a spirit of rebellion in the United States. The people attacked the old-time stability and respectability, represented by Nick in the novel. In its place, they drank, partied, and grew liberal, as represented by the Buchanans and the Fitzgeralds themselves.

In the 1920’s, the United States went on a joy ride. Fuelled by the war, the economy was booming. The value of stocks steadily rose, spending was at an all time high, and real estate boomed. The people flocked to the city from the country and purchased Model T’s to gain mobility. They danced to jazz music, drank bootleg liquor, attended sporting events in record numbers, went to the movies, and dressed in new fashions that shocked the more conservative citizens. The women, often known as flappers, wore short skirts, cut their hair, and frequently dared to take a job outside the home. Radios kept everyone abreast of what was going on in this age of excess.

It is not surprising that during this rebellious period, a change was brewing in literature. Writers such as Edith Wharton and Henry James had brought a new realism to literature, and H.L. Mencken was calling for even greater literary freedom. Authors were encouraged to cease using restrained language, to write with realism about the problems of city life, and to incorporate bold new Themes, including sex. In his writing, Fitzgerald followed the call of this new realism; so did other writers of the 1920’s, such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Willa Cather, and Sinclair Lewis.