In reference to The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald A Literary Analysis During the Roaring 20’s, women’s rights were on the surge. In 1920, women’s suffrage organizations gained momentum, and eventually the right to vote for women was granted by the 19th amendment. Looking back on this colossal step forward for women’s rights, most would agree that this was a positive achievement. At the time, however, many men did not support women’s gains of power. Because of the social reform that many women desired, women’s suffrage deeply affected the government and the laws created during this time period. In the same year as women gained suffrage, alcohol was also prohibited. Most of the supporters of the prohibition were female activists speaking out against the evils of drinking. To men, this was a concrete example of how their rights were being infringed upon by women’s votes, and ultimately because of women’s increase in power. Throughout the 20’s, and evidenced in The Great Gatsby, men attempt to regain power they had lost due to the women’s rights movement. The 20’s is now familiarly called the “lost generation” due to the resulting feelings of disillusionment. Throughout this era, the social and economic woes of the nation were at its peak. The prohibition was in full swing, and the deaths of the World War decimated morale. The state of the nation was bleak, and men were frustrated with these disastrous conditions that they could not control. Because of this, the men of the “lost generation” desired to regain control in whatever ways they could. In The Great Gatsby, this is shown most often in men’s domestic life. Men that had lost control because of women’s increasing independence only struggled more to regain this power. To the frustration of Tom and Gatsby, the independent female protagonist Daisy remains out of any one male’s control throughout the novel. Gatsby wants “nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I have never loved you’” (116). This clearly shows his desire to be the sole, dominant male in Daisy’s life. Not only does he want a public proclamation of Daisy’s love, but he also wants Daisy to have never loved any other besides him. Gatsby refuses to admit that Daisy has ever cared for Tom, and because of this, Gatsby falsely believes he has complete control over Daisy. At one point in the past, before meeting Tom, Daisy may have only loved Gatsby. Gatsby wishes to “recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy” (117). He wants to regain the feeling of power he once had when Daisy had loved solely him. Because Daisy was the most desirable, beautiful young lady, being her lover was a powerful position. Gatsby wants nothing else than to regain this power by controlling Daisy’s love, and regain the reputation of being the beautiful Daisy’s lover. Reputation was highly valued socially during the Roarin’ 20’s. Because reputation is based on people’s actions, it was one of the few things that which people thought they could control. In The Great Gatsby, people only present their contrived personalities to the public eye. No act is too great to impress the public, and any ideology can be assumed in order to bolster reputation. These facades give people the illusion of control over other’s opinions of them. Tom Buchanan, the once nationally famous football player, was “one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterwards savours of anti-climax” (10). After the immense fame and reputation he had acquired at twenty-one, the rest of his life was devoted to reclaim some of the reputation he once had. In his youth, Tom had power over everyone else in the nation simply because of his football prowess. People knew his name, and he had the power to influence anyone simply because of his fame. After his career ended, he was in a constant struggle to preserve that reputation. Even though Nick Carraway is neither rich nor influential, Tom still “want[s] [Nick] to like him with some harsh, defiant wistfulness of his own” (12). While Nick visits Tom Buchanan and his wife, Tom is preoccupied with displaying his intelligence. He mentions books that he has read, full of ideas that are what he calls scientific and well proven. Tom attempts to invoke the name of science in order impress Nick, while he obviously has little to no evidence for his ideas. Tom’s struggle to prove his intelligence is “pathetic… as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more” (18). This shows that Tom as a young man was complacent, and sure of himself because of his reputation, but now he struggles to gain other’s approval in order to feel valuable again. Tom’s desire to impress Nick is a pathetic attempt to regain his once powerful reputation, and some of the lost power of his youth. His sole goal is to remain part of the powerful and influential social upper class, and in a position of control. Gaining control and influence may be easy for members of the upper class, like Tom and Gatsby, but for the poor, it is considerably more difficult. The poor are rarely influential, or have great reputations, so what do they have left? For Mr. Wilson, the only area he had authority over was his domestic life. When his wife began having an affair with Tom, Mr. Wilson reacts drastically in order to retain what little authority he has. Wilson mentions to Tom that he is considering moving west, and that he and his wife had been considering this for a while. Wilson believes that if only he can remove the rich, urban temptations from Myrtle, then he can regain control and be the dominant man in her life again. Wilson became physically ill from learning about Myrtle’s unfaithfulness, and “looked guilty, unforgivably guilty- as if he had just got some poor girl with child” (131). At first, it may seem curious that Wilson is the one consumed with guilt, while it is his wife that is the adulterer. Wilson, in his state of destitution, lives only to satisfy Myrtle. When she is unfaithful, Wilson feels as though he has failed his only goal. He has lost any control of his life when Myrtle decides to abandon him for Tom. This makes it clearer why Wilson ends up murdering Gatsby and then kills himself. After Myrtle has been killed, Wilson has lost the central part of his own life. In a completely irrational desire for power, Wilson seeks revenge and murders Gatsby. Arguably, his suicide was the moment in which Wilson had the most control of his life. While the rich have easier methods of gaining power during the Roarin’ 20’s, the poor are only left with drastic measures. As women in the Great Gatsby start reaching for more independence, the men are unsure of how to react. When Daisy starts acting suspiciously, and has an affair with Gatsby, Tom is then placed in a difficult situation. Should he confront her, or Gatsby, or even divorce her? Mr. Wilson is also faced with a similar dilemma with his wife, Myrtle. Wilson reacts completely inappropriately to his wife’s affair by murdering the man he suspects she has had sex with. Tom and Wilson refuse to deal with their situations in an upfront manner with their wives, but instead only desire revenge. In spite of this, the characters in The Great Gatsby are not completely misguided. When Jordan Baker leaves Nick for another man, Nick reacts in a healthy manner by letting her leave. This is extremely different from Tom and Wilson’s reactions to their wives being uncommitted. Ultimately, Nick Carraway is the only man that is satisfied with his life at the end. The Great Gatsby shows that living in rapidly changing times should be dealt with in a progressive way, rather than bitterly trying to regain the past.
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