8 Ways 'The Great Gatsby' Captures the Roaring Twenties

8 Ways 'The Great Gatsby' Captures the Roaring Twenties


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More than any other author, F. Scott Fitzgerald can be said to have captured the rollicking, tumultuous decade known as the Roaring Twenties, from its wild parties, dancing and illegal drinking to its post-war prosperity and its new freedoms for women.

Above all, Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby has been hailed as the quintessential portrait of Jazz Age America, inspiring Hollywood adaptations populated by dashing bootleggers and glamorous flappers in short, fringed dresses.

But amid that decade of newfound prosperity and economic growth, Fitzgerald—like other writers of the so-called “Lost Generation”—wondered if America had lost its moral compass in the rush to embrace post-war materialism and consumer culture. While The Great Gatsby captures the exuberance of the 1920s, it’s ultimately a portrayal of the darker side of the era, and a pointed criticism of the corruption and immorality lurking beneath the glitz and glamour.

World War I echoes in the 1920s.

Set in 1922, four years after the end of the Great War, as it was then known, Fitzgerald’s novel reflects the ways in which that conflict had transformed American society. The war left Europe devastated, and marked the emergence of the United States as the preeminent power in the world. From 1920 to 1929, America enjoyed an economic boom, with a steady rise in income levels, business growth, construction and trading on the stock market.

In The Great Gatsby, both Nick Carraway, the narrator, and Jay Gatsby himself are veterans of World War I, and it is Gatsby’s war service that kicks off his rise from a “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere” (in the words of his romantic rival, Tom Buchanan) to the fabulously wealthy owner of a mansion on West Egg, Long Island.

Speakeasies flourished when Prohibition failed.

Beginning in early 1920, the U.S. government began enforcing the 18th Amendment, which banned the sale and manufacture of “intoxicating liquors.” But banning alcohol didn’t stop people from drinking; instead, speakeasies and other illegal drinking establishments flourished, and people like the Fitzgeralds made “bathtub gin” to fuel their liquor-soaked parties.

“The whole plot [of The Great Gatsby] is really driven by Prohibition in an important way,” says Sarah Churchwell, professor of humanities at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study and author of Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby (2014). “The only way in which Jay Gatsby becomes wealthy overnight is because Prohibition created a black market,” allowing bootleggers like Gatsby and his partners to amass staggering quantities of money in a short time.

Prohibition creates a ‘new money’ class.

As their wealth grew, many Americans of the 1920s broke down the traditional barriers of society. This, in turn, provoked anxiety among upper-class plutocrats (represented in the novel by Tom Buchanan). In The Great Gatsby, Prohibition finances Gatsby’s rise to a new social status, where he can court his lost love, Daisy Buchanan, whose voice (as Gatsby famously tells Nick in the novel) is “full of money.”

“One of the many unintended consequences of Prohibition was that it created this accelerated upward social mobility,” Churchwell explains. “Fitzgerald is reflecting a preoccupation at the time that there were these upstart—as they would have said—these nouveau riche people who came from dubious backgrounds and then suddenly had all this money that they were splashing around.”

The flapper was emerging.

By 1925, when Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby, flappers were out in full force, complete with bobbed hair, shorter skirts and cigarettes dangling from their mouths as they danced the Charleston. But while later Hollywood versions of Gatsby channeled flapper style, the novel itself actually captures a comparatively conservative moment, as 1922 could be considered closer to 1918 than to the heyday of the Roaring Twenties later in the decade. For one thing, the Charleston didn’t even emerge until 1923. Also, Churchwell says, “skirts in the novel are a lot longer than we think they are. We all picture them in knee-length dresses. But dresses in 1922 were ankle-length.”

Jordan Baker, the novel’s most liberated female character, pushes against some of the restrictions still constraining women by the early ‘20s: She’s athletic, single and goes out with various men. “But her society is by no means welcoming that with open arms, and she's getting pushback,” Churchwell says, noting that Tom and Daisy Buchanan, as well as Jordan’s aunt, all voice disapproval of her behavior. “As with Gatsby, and his dark path to upward social mobility, the novel is charting a cultural moment that was anxious about women's new emancipation as much as it was celebrating it.”

The novel depicts decay beneath the decadence.

Just as Gatsby’s shifty business partner, Meyer Wolfsheim, was based on the real-life New York gangster Arnold Rothstein, widely believe to have fixed the 1919 World Series, the growing crime and corruption of the Prohibition era is strongly reflected in The Great Gatsby. In Churchwell’s book, she resurrects a real-life crime that made headlines in 1922—the double murder of an adulterous couple in New Jersey—and uses it to explore the background against which Fitzgerald composed his famous novel.

“It typifies a certain kind of story about the dark underbelly of the Jazz Age that is very present in [The Great Gatsby],” she says of the murder of Rev. Edward Hall, a pastor, and Eleanor Mills, a singer in his church’s choir. “It's about adultery, it's about people who make up romantic pasts, and it's about the sordidness of it all, the tawdriness of it all and the kind of dark griminess of it.”

A new consumer culture leads to a rise in advertising.

Though not all Americans were rich, many more people than before had money to spend. And there were more and more consumer goods to spend it on, from automobiles to radios to cosmetics to household appliances like vacuums and washing machines. With the arrival of new goods and technologies came a new consumer culture driven by marketing and advertising, which Fitzgerald took care to include, and implicitly criticize, in The Great Gatsby.

“There’s this idea that America is worshipping businesses, it's worshipping advertising,” Churchwell says. In one memorable example, the cuckolded George Wilson believes the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, a figure that appears on a giant billboard above the road, are those of God.

The age of the automobile is reflected in Gatsby’s downfall.

Cars had been invented early in the 20th century, but they became ubiquitous in the 1920s, as lower prices and the advent of consumer credit enabled more and more Americans to buy their own. The liberating (and destructive) potential of the automobile is clear in The Great Gatsby, as Gatsby’s flashy, expensive car becomes the source of his downfall.

The novel predicts doom ahead.

Gatsby’s dreams of winning Daisy for himself end in failure, just as America’s era of prosperity would come to a screeching halt with the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. By 1930, 4 million Americans were unemployed; that number would reach 15 million by 1933, the Depression’s lowest point.

By 1924, when Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, he seems to have already foreseen the lasting consequences of America’s heady romance with capitalism and materialism. Through his novel, Fitzgerald foreshadows the inevitability that the decadence of the 1920s—what he would later call “the most expensive orgy in history” would end in disappointment and disillusionment.

“This novel is really a snapshot of a moment when in Fitzgerald's view, America had hit a point of no return,” Churchwell says. “It was losing its ideals rapidly, and he's capturing the moment when America was turning towards the country that we've inherited.”


Roaring Twenties in the Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is set on Long Island in the summer of 1922. This timeframe in American history is popularly known as the Roaring Twenties where society had a valued substance over money. In this story, wealth and status is a huge motivator in the characters’ relationships and outcomes. Daisy marries Tom because of the lifestyle that he provides for her. Tom’s affair with Myrtle is due to the privileged of his world and Gatsby lusts for Daisy like a prized bet. Fitzgerald’s tone, symbolism, diction, syntax, imagery, and voice to bind this novel in the DNA of American literature. The essence of America spirit is captured and distilled.

Narrator, Nick Callaway, is set as having advantages in his life such as a well to do family and an Ivy League education. His wealthier second cousin, Daisy and her husband Tom, are confident enough to invite him into their home. She laughed again, as if she said something very witty looking up into my face, promising that there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see. Pg. 9. Even though Daisy is sitting with a strange posh woman, Nick tells how she lights up when he meets her. Almost like she was just using people around her as tools and when Nick, a new face, shows up that she can act like her life is just perfect again. I believe that Daisy is a wispy character with little true enjoyment from life. The narrator includes Daisy’s attractiveness, Her voice is full of money, He said suddenly. Pg 120.

Scott Fitzgerald established this tone to further demonstrate towards the reader that Daisy’s existence is so over drawn by money that they can personally hear it in her voice. Supposedly Tom and Daisy settled down in the fashionable East egg after drifting around with rich society which played polo. When Nick illustrates the sad truth about the Mid-West, Daisy adds: How gorgeous! Let’s go back, Tom. To-morrow! pg 9. She conceives the notion that people use the money to receive something emotional from it. I feel sad for Daisy as she feels she must put up airs around everyone. Tom and Daisy’s movements are all supported by their money. Every character in The Great Gatsby is on the road to dissatisfaction. As Daisy and Nick use dialogue in chapter one, I believe Daisy confesses what her feelings are towards being a woman in the 1920’s. I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool-that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool. Pg. 17.

Girls of any class seem to be less than men, and Daisy understands that well. So, when the mistress, Myrtle, joins Tom in the evening the theme of greed is better developed. The narrator shares with the reader how the influence of elaborate attire has an influence on Myrtle’s personality, Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment,pg.31- Myrtle explained, All they think of is money. I had a woman up here last week to look at my feet, and when she gave me the bill, you’d of thought she had my appendicitis out. The car mechanics wife tries to pass as rich through her affair with Tom and is constrained by her lack of wealth. The reader witnesses the dread consequences that Myrtle faces choosing Tom. Myrtle’s insecurities to fit in with the privileged is necessary to this theme.

I believe that Fitzgerald fit Myrtle’s type of character into the novel for evidence that the American Dream was dissipating in the hearts of average civilians. Suddenly people were used as stepping stones rather than believing in their own dreams. Gatsby’s notoriety comes from, most importantly, his enormous wealth. He is a delightful character trained by the ideal of money. Partially, the reader really doesn’t know what to think of Gatsby. He acts like a gentleman but has rumors of murdering people, and when he gets nervous, he vanishes. The narrator concluded as to why Gatsby took such an interest in Nick, He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths so that he could ‘come over’ some afternoon to a stranger’s garden. Pg 78.

Gatsby had done everything in the past five years to win Daisy over with money. Including killing and bootlegging to show his worth to Daisy. This explains, in the meeting of Daisy and Gatsby, why Gatsby wants every detail to be perfect for her. Even pointing out how magnificent his luxury is, My house looks well, doesn’t it? he demanded. Pg. 89. He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Pg 91.

I agree that Gatsby had the most expensive taste out of the characters because what he was looking for was true love. His greed towards money was blinded by his love for his dearest Daisy. The importance of money to Gatsby was just what the others had a feeling that could come from the bounty of wealth, but it was the way that he used the importance which is important. Hardly anyone shows up to Gatsby’s funeral since the only thing that people are attracted to is his extravagant wealth and parties, not the man behind it all. I think that the only thing who knew the real James Gatz was his love for his Daisy People whom Nick called about Gatsby were selfish and unable to care about his tragic ending even though Gatsby had given everything he had to the unamused guests.

Using the ritzy lifestyle of the 20’s, Fitzgerald argues that in the American life, from the novel, money frequently is valued over substance. Each character failed to realize that materials cannot buy happiness. They showcase that having too much money can cause to abuse or feel superior to those who have less and lose the real meaning in life. This story was structured carefully and directed to those of The Lost Generation, but everyone that reads The Great Gatsby can value from it.


8 Ways 'The Great Gatsby' Captures the Roaring Twenties - HISTORY

On the afternoon of November 8, 1918, a celebratory conga line wound through a three-mile-long throng on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. From high-rise windows, office workers flung makeshift confetti, first ticker tape and then, when they ran out, torn-up paper. They weren’t rejoicing over the close of the influenza pandemic, although the city’s death rate had begun to fall. That afternoon, New Yorkers let loose for another reason: the end of the Great War.

The jubilance proved short-lived. A report from the United Press had prematurely declared an armistice in Europe in reality, it would be a few days more before the war officially ended. “For the moment,” reported the New York Times, “the whole population of New York was absolutely unrestrained, giving way to its emotions without any consideration of anything but the desire to express what it felt.”

Due to a false press report, New Yorkers gathered in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War I—several days too early. (National Archives)

In that same edition of the Times that detailed the celebration and described fake caskets for Kaiser Wilhelm being hoisted through the streets, a smaller headline documented 1061 new cases and 189 deaths from the influenza epidemic, still afflicting Americans coast to coast. “About twenty persons applied to the Health Department yesterday personally or by letter to adopt children whose parents have died during the epidemic,” the paper read.

Just a week earlier, over the East River in Queens, purpled bodies had piled up in the overflow shed of Cavalry Cemetery, enough that the mayor brought in 75 men to bury the accumulated corpses.

Together, the end of the war and the influenza pandemic closed out a tumultuous decade and introduced a new era with an indelible reputation: the Roaring Twenties.

On social media and in conversations from behind the shelter of masks, many Americans bat around the idea that the nation is poised for a post-Covid-19 summer of sin, spending and socializing, our own “Roaring 2020s.” On the surface, the similarities abound: A society emerges from a catastrophic pandemic in a time of extreme social inequality and nativism, and revelry ensues. But, historians say, the reality of the 1920s defies easy categorization. “The experiences of the 1920s are uneven,” says Peter Liebhold, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “If you make gross characterizations, you’re dead wrong.”

If the influenza pandemic shaped that uproarious decade, its impact cannot be neatly measured. The misnamed “Spanish flu” left some 675,000 Americans dead. The sickness particularly afflicted young people the average age of victims was 28. That death toll dwarfs the number of U.S. combat deaths (53,402, with some 45,000 additional soldiers dying of influenza or pneumonia) during World War I. Despite that disparity, authoritative histories of the era relegated the influenza pandemic on the fringes in favor of a narrative dominated by the war.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once described the 1920s as “the most expensive orgy in history.” Between quotes like that and canonical works like The Great Gatsby, the author has an outsized role in how the Roaring Twenties are viewed today. “I blame Fitzgerald for a lot of [misconceptions]” about the decade, says Lynn Dumenil, a historian who revisited the decade in her book The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s. In her class at Occidental College, Dumenil would show the feverish, champagne-fueled party scene in Baz Luhrman’s movie adaptation of Gatsby, as good an example as any of the “unnuanced” pop-culture vision of the decade as a flapper bacchanal*. “There’s this notion of the 󈧘s as a wild period where everyone is just grabbing everything they can get,” adds Nancy Bristow, history chair at the University of Puget Sound. This idea is broad-brush hyperbole of a reality that held true for only a certain class of Americans—not everyone.

“The 1920s were really a time of social ferment,” says Ranjit Dighe, an economic historian at the State University of New York, Oswego. Shifts in women’s roles, leisure time, spending and popular entertainment did characterize the 󈧘s, so those exaggerated aspects of the decade, while focused on a primarily white and upper/middle-class experience, do have a firm basis in reality. “Only [in the 1920s] did the Protestant work ethic and the old values of self-denial and frugality begin to give way to the fascination with consumption, leisure and self-realization that is the essence of modern American culture,” Dumenil, David Brody and James Henretta write in a book chapter on the era.

Notably, these changes had been brewing for years, leaving historians with no obvious link between the Roaring Twenties’ reputation and the pandemic.

The makeup and short hemlines of the "New Woman," as over-exaggerated by this performer's wardrobe, would have scandalized the Victorians. (Library of Congress / Getty Images) A dress worn by First Lady Grace Coolidge in the collections of the National Museum of American History. Her husband summed up the pro-business enthusiasm of the decade when he said, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there worships there.” (NMAH, gift of Lillian Rogers Parks)

The “New Woman” of the 1920s, typically white and middle- or upper-class, with bobbed hair and newfound social freedom, departed drastically from Victorian norms. With the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, (white) women had won the right to vote, and divorce rates reached one-in-seven by the mid-decade. “Respectable” women now wore makeup, and flappers clad in shockingly short skirts wore sheer pantyhose and smoked. More traditional or religious Americans lamented the prevalence of “petting parties.” But, as Dumenil writes in The Modern Temper, the idea of the “New Woman” took root before the 1920s. As early as 1913, commentators noted that the nation had struck “sex o’clock” in the next three years, Margaret Sanger opened one of the country’s first birth control clinics and went to jail days later. These social changes applied mostly to more well-off white women, since other groups of women had been working and having premarital sex well before the 󈧘s.

Prohibition is the backbone of 1920s mythology, which paints drinking as a glamorous indiscretion. Organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League had long agitated to dry up the nation’s heavy boozing. Such groups argued that an alcohol ban would reduce societal ills like domestic violence. They also capitalized on xenophobia, since saloons were political hubs for working-class people and immigrants. National success came in 1920, when a ban on selling alcohol went into effect.

The decade’s raucous reputation gets some things right: Prohibition did transform Americans’ relationship with alcohol, turning drinking into a coed, social activity that moved out of disreputable saloons into homes, Dighe says. New York alone housed more than 30,000 speakeasies, many run by gangsters.

But that’s not the whole picture. Alcohol consumption itself decreased in the 󈧘s. In rural areas, the reinvigorated Ku Klux Klan took it upon itself to enforce the Volstead Act and act upon anti-immigrant hostilities. (Historian Lisa McGirr has argued that Prohibition helped kickstart the penal state and the disproportionate imprisonment of people of color and immigrants.) This dark side of Prohibition highlights an undercurrent of nativism and racism throughout the 󈧘s: White Oklahomans murdered several hundred Black neighbors in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and national quotas enacted in 1924 slammed the door closed on immigration. And those speakeasies in Harlem, with their chorus girl extravaganzas, bathtub gin, and Madden’s No. 1 beer? White patrons came there to go “slumming.”

The famed Cotton Club got its start as the Club Deluxe, owned by African American boxer Jack Johnson, but later became a segregated establishment operated by gangster Owney Madden. (Bettman via Getty Images)

The 󈧘s were “a prosperity decade, no question about that,” says Dighe. Gross national product ballooned by 40 percent between 1922 and 1929. The Second Industrial Revolution—most notably electricity and the advent of the assembly line—led to a manufacturing boom. Cars could be put together in 93 minutes instead of half a day, and by the close of the decade, one-fifth of Americans owned an automobile, which they could use for leisure activities like traveling. The popularization of personal credit also enabled middle-class Americans to buy consumer goods in droves. The government, too, under the Republican administrations of Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, shared this spirit of wholehearted materialism, boosting corporations and otherwise taking a light touch to policy that corresponded with the prevailing anti-government sentiment of the time.

Examine this upbeat picture of consumerism more closely, though, and you’ll realize the economic boost of the 󈧘s was checkered. A sharp recession kicked off the decade, caused partially by the declining demand for American agricultural products after the war’s end brought European farming back into commission. (The limited data on the 1918 influenza’s impact indicates that for the most part, it caused short-term, not prolonged, business losses scholars haven’t linked it to the prosperity of the following decade.) Then, as now, income inequality reached staggering rates. By the end of the 󈧘s, despite per capita income nearly doubling, the top 1 percent of U.S. families reaped more than 22 percent of the nation’s income.

The wealthy and middle class profited. African Americans, many of whom had moved to Northern cities for work as part of the Great Migration, newcomers to the country, and farmers did not share in that prosperity. The 1920 census marked the first time more than half the country’s population lived in urban areas. For rural Americans, particularly farmers, the 󈧘s “were roaring as in a roaring fire that was burning people out,” says curator Liebhold.

The influenza pandemic’s origins remain contested, but the disease spread quickly through the world beginning in the spring of 1918, striking crowded military camps and then American cities and towns in three to four waves. The “purple death” got its name from the colors victims’ oxygen-starved bodies turned as their lungs drowned in their own fluid, and it killed quick, sometimes within hours of the first symptoms. Americans donned masks, schools and public gathering places temporarily shut down, and one-third of the globe fell ill. Doctors, with a flawed understanding of the virus’ cause, had few treatments to offer. Life insurance claims rose sevenfold, and American life expectancy decreased by 12 years.

A typist wears a mask to work during the influenza pandemic. (National Archives)

Yale sociologist and physician Nicholas Christakis hypothesizes that the 1918 pandemic falls into an ages-old pandemic pattern, one that our Covid-19 present may mimic, too. In his 2020 book, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, he argues that increasing religiosity, risk aversion and financial saving characterize times of widespread illness. Christakis expects the Covid-19 crisis to have a long tail, in terms of case numbers and social and economic impacts. But once the brunt of the disease abates in the U.S., which he forecasts for 2024, “all of those trends will reverse,” Christakis says. “Religiosity will decline… People will relentlessly seek out social interactions in nightclubs, in restaurants, in bars, in sporting events and musical concerts and political rallies. We might see some sexual licentiousness.”

Like the 1920s, Christakis also predicts lasting social and technological innovations will characterize this decade—think of how remote work and mRNA vaccines might shift status quos permanently. “People are going to want to make sense of what happened,” he says, positing that “we’ll likely see an efflorescence of the arts” post-pandemic. That’s not to say our A.C. (After Covid-19) reality will be all rosy. “We’ll be living in a changed world,” Christakis says, and that includes the lives lost (about 1 in 600 in the U.S.), the economic havoc wreaked, shortfalls in education, and the number of people left disabled due to Covid-19.

In Apollo’s Arrow, Christakis points to an Italian tax collector and shoemaker’s remembrance of the period that followed the Black Death in 1348 as an example of the collective relief we might experience at the pandemic’s end. Agnolo di Tura wrote:

And then, when the pestilence abated, all who survived gave themselves over to pleasures: monks, priests, nuns, and lay men and women all enjoyed themselves, and none worries about spending and gambling. And everyone thought himself rich because he had escaped and regained the world, and no one knew how to allow himself to do nothing.

Mapping the post-pandemic events of the 1920s onto the nation’s post-Covid-19 future resembles trying to trace the path of a nearly invisible thread in an elaborate tapestry. At its height, the influenza pandemic routinely made front-page headlines nationwide, says J. Alexander Navarro, a historian who co-edited the University of Michigan’s digital Influenza Encyclopedia, but by the beginning of 1919, before the pandemic had run its course, those articles grew shorter and less prominent.

“When we look around, unlike the Great War, there are no monuments to the flu there are no museums to the flu there are no heritage sites to the flu there’s not a stamp for the flu, all the signs we associate with commemoration,” Guy Beiner, a memory studies scholar, said during a presentation hosted by the Institute of Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He describes the pandemic as an instance of “social forgetting,” an event not wiped from memory but simply left unspoken.

Even historians largely neglected the 1918 pandemic, until Alfred Crosby reignited the field in a 1976 book, where he captured these contradictions:

Americans barely noticed and didn’t recall…but if one turns to intimate accounts, to autobiographies of those who were not in positions of authority, to collections of letters written by friend to friend…if one asks those who lived through the pandemic for their reminiscences, then it becomes apparent that Americans did notice, Americans were frightened, the courses of their lives were deflected into new channels, and that they remember the pandemic quite clearly and often acknowledge it as one of the most influential experiences of their lives.

One of the many theories about why 1918 influenza faded from historical memory holds that the trauma of World War I subsumed it. “I don’t think you can divorce the experience of the 1918 pandemic with that of the war,” says Navarro, noting that in places like Denver, Armistice Day coincided with the day social distancing restrictions eased. Public health messaging intertwined the two crises, calling mask-wearing “patriotic” and promotingOnly Yesterday, he labels the Twenties as the “post-war decade” and mentions the pandemic a grand total of once.

“My guess is it did not sit with the story that Americans tell about themselves in public. It’s not the story that they want to put in fifth-grade U.S. history textbooks, which is about us being born perfect and always getting better,” says Bristow, who wrote American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. Americans believed themselves “on the verge of putting infections disease to rest forever,” she explains, and instead, “We couldn’t do anything more about it than anybody else.” Indeed, President Woodrow Wilson, who held the office throughout the multi-year pandemic, never once mentioned it in his public comments.

An emergency hospital in Brookline, Massachusetts, during the 1918 influenza pandemic. (National Archives)

Navarro floats another theory: Deaths from infectious disease epidemics happened more routinely then, so the pandemic may not have been as shocking. (According to data compiled by the New York Times, despite the much higher proportion of deaths from the 1918 influenza, the Covid-19 pandemic has a larger gap between actual and expected deaths.) Without a solid scientific understanding of the flu’s cause—evangelical preacher Billy Sunday told congregants it was a punishment for sinning—people struggled to make sense of it.

Multiple historians pinpointed another significant discrepancy between the scarring impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and that of the 1918 influenza: Whereas many Americans today have remained masked and distanced for over a year, the 1918 influenza raged through communities quickly. Restrictions were lifted after two to six weeks, Navarro says, and most people still went in to work.

John Singer Sargent's Interior of a Hospital Tent is one of the few, peripheral works of visual art that remember the devastating 1918 pandemic. (CDC Museum Digital Exhibits / Imperial War Museum, London)

“Talking about [influenza] being forgotten is different from whether it had an impact,” Bristow says. But she hasn’t found much evidence that concretely ties the under-discussed pandemic to the societal upheaval of the 󈧘s. “One of the places you could find it would be in the writing, and we don’t see it there,” she says. Hemingway briefly remembers “the only natural death I have ever seen” from the flu, but in a minor work. In Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Anne Porter draws on her bout of near-fatal flu, writing “All the theatres and nearly all the shops and restaurants are closed, and the streets have been full of funerals all day and ambulances all night.” But that novella wasn’t published until 1939.

“When you look at the canon, of cultural literature, of cultural memory,” Beiner points out, “none of these works appear in it.”

Arts and culture undoubtedly flourished in the 󈧘s as a shared American pop culture emerged thanks to the advent of radio broadcasting, widely circulated magazines and movies. The first “talkie” debuted in 1927 and joined paid vacations and sports games in an explosion of for-fun entertainment options. The Harlem Renaissance gave the nation artists like Duke Ellington and Lena Horne, who performed at the glitzy speakeasy The Cotton Club. While a Clara Bow movie about WWI, Wings, won Best Picture at the first-ever Academy Awards, Bristow says the pandemic didn’t appear much in cinemas, and musical references are also few and far between. (Essie Jenkins’ “The 1919 Influenza Blues” presents a rare exception to this rule: “People was dying everywhere, death was creeping through the air,” she sings.)

Young people, who’d watched peers die from influenza, spearheaded these cultural shifts. “After the Great War cost millions of lives, and the great influenza killed some 50 million [worldwide], many—particularly young people—were eager to throw off the shackles of the old and bring in the new,” says John Hasse, curator emeritus at the National Museum of American History. But keep in mind, Hasse explains, that the jazz music and dancing that characterized the performing arts of the decade had roots that preceded the pandemic, like the Great Migration, jazz recording technology, and evolving attitudes about dancing in public.

People listen to the radio and dance to jazz music on Staten Island—all cultural touchstones of the 1920s. (Bettman via Getty Images)

Just because the memory of the flu wasn’t typeset, filmed or laid on a record doesn’t mean it didn’t bruise the American psyche. About, all 1 in 150 Americans died in the pandemic one New Yorker recalled neighbors “dying like leaves off trees.”

Pandemics don’t come with a consistent pattern of mental health side effects because humans have responded with different public health measures as our understanding of infectious diseases has evolved, says Steven Taylor, a University of British Columbia, Vancouver professor and the author of 2019’s The Psychology of Pandemics. But he expects the Covid-19 pandemic to psychologically impact between 10 and 20 percent of North Americans (a number sourced from ongoing surveys and past research on natural disasters). Typically, one in ten bereaved people go through “prolonged grief disorder,” Taylor notes, and for every pandemic death, more family members are left mourning. Studies show that one-third of intensive care Covid-19 survivors exhibit PTSD symptoms, and first responders already report deteriorating mental health. Even people with a degree of insulation from this firsthand suffering might still experience what Taylor calls “Covid stress syndrome,” an adjustment disorder marked by extreme anxiety about contacting Covid-19, xenophobia and wariness of strangers, traumatic stress symptoms like coronavirus nightmares, concern about financial security, and repeated information or reassurance seeking (from the news or from friends).

A pandemic slowed to a simmer will, of course, mitigate some stressors. Like Christakis, Taylor says he anticipates an increase in sociability as people try to claw back the “positive reinforcers” they’ve been deprived of in the past year. (Others, like people experiencing Covid stress syndrome, might struggle to recalibrate to yet another “new normal.”) His surveys of North American adults have also indicated a silver lining known as “post-traumatic growth,” with people reporting feeling more appreciative, spiritual and resilient, although it’s unknown whether this change will become permanent.

“Most pandemics are messy and vague when they come to an end,” says Taylor. “It won’t be waking up one morning and the sun is shining and there’s no more coronavirus.” We’ll doff our masks and let down our guards piecemeal. Overlay Covid-19 and the 2020s with the influenza pandemic and the 1920s and you’ll see unmistakable parallels, but looking closely, the comparison warps. If there were a causal link between the influenza pandemic and the Roaring Twenties, clear evidence of a collective exhalation of relief hasn’t shown up under historical x-rays.

The historical record tells us this: Some 675,000 people in the U.S. died of influenza then, and “in terms of a mass public mourning, people just went on with their lives” Navarro says. An estimated 590,000 Americans will have died of Covid-19 by the third week of May. How Americans will remember—or choose to forget—this pandemic remains an open question.

*Editor's Note, May 12, 2021: A previous version of this piece misstated the university where Lynn Dumenil taught. She is a professor emerita at Occidental College, not the University of California, Irvine.


The Great Gatsby: How it is Shaped by the Roaring Twenties (e2d2)

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. 1995. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a very renowned novel. Being that this novel is so well known, there have been many people who have given their thoughts and opinions about it. There are many aspects of this novel that have been commented on. But, to me, the most interesting aspect of The Great Gatsby is the setting, which is during the 1920’s.

First, I will give s o me background of The Great Gatsby, the novel (not to be confused with the film). This book is narrated by Nick Carraway, who moved to New York from Minnesota. He lives in West Egg, which is populated by the new rich. His neighbor none other than Jay Gatsby. Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan, lives with her husband, Tom Buchanan, in East Egg, which is populated by the old rich. Nick meets Jordan Baker, who is a friend of Daisy and Tom’s. Jordan tells Nick about an affair that Tom is having with a married woman, Myrtle Wilson (wife of George Wilson), who lives in the valley of ashes. Nick was later invited to one of Gatsby’s large parties, where Gatsby then tells Nick that him and Daisy were in love while Gatsby was in the war. So, Nick arranged a reunion between Daisy and Gatsby, and their love was rekindled. Tom eventually grew suspicious of Daisy’s affair with Gatsby, and he was completely enraged by this. So, Tom arranged for the group to go to New York City, and that is where he confronted Gatsby, in a room at the Plaza Hotel. On the way back from this confrontation, Gatsby’s car hit Myrtle, and killed her. Although it was Daisy who was driving the car, Gatsby took the blame for it. This ultimately results in Gatsby’s death, because George Wilson assumed it must have been Myrtle’s lover who killed her. So, George killed Gatsby at his mansion, and then took his own life.

Next, it’s imperative to note the many similarities between The Great Gatsby and its creator, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Most importantly, The Great Gatsby took place in the 1920’s, and Fitzgerald lived the 1920’s. The 1920’s was a crucial point in Fitzgerald’s life, just as it is in this novel. But, this was not the only similarity between them. Fitzgerald attended Princeton University and Nick Carraway attended Yale University. Although Fitzgerald dropped out of Princeton to join the United States Army while America was entering World War I. This mirrors Jay Gatsby who joined the military at the start of World War I. During World War I, both Jay Gatsby and F. Scott Fitzgerald fell in love while they were stationed at different places. Gatsby fell in love with Daisy, and Fitzgerald fell in love with a woman named Zelda. Like Gatsby tried to impress Daisy, Fitzgerald did the same with Zelda. Zelda wanted a rich, successful man, so Fitzgerald began writing books so that he could be that man for her. Similarly, Gatsby threw parties and became very rich to attempt to impress Daisy.

In the 1920’s, a time that is also known as The Roaring Twenties or The Jazz Age, it was undoubtedly one of the rowdiest periods in the history of the United States. This is Fitzgerald’s own time period, and he uses this because he uses many things that were part of his own life in this novel. But, this time period accents many aspects of life that if he had used any other time period except for his own, the telling of the story of Jay Gatsby would definitely not have been as effective.

This was the end of World War 1, so there was a very large sense of excitement, and there was a new “modern way of living.” This was definitely a wild and carefree time period. But, this also happened to be during the prohibition era. Because of people’s excess drinking and the growing problem of alcohol dependence, the government wanted to eradicate the temptation of liquor, so thus came the prohibition of alcohol. But, this did not stop people from drinking. At parties like Gatsby’s there was still an abundance of alcohol. Part of the reason Gatsby was so rich was because he participated in illegal activities, one of these activities being bootlegging.

In The Great Gatsby Nick’s friendship and obsession with Jay Gatsby is an extremely large part. This is why Nick tells the story of Jay Gatsby. Nick was absolutely intrigued by Gatsby. So this is why he tells of him. It was stated that “the real love story lies in the friendship of Nick and Jay Gatsby.” (Barbarese cxxii) This is absolutely true, because without this friendship, Nick would have never even told the story of The Great Gatsby.

Why Nick is so obsessed with Gatsby also goes with the time period. If Gatsby didn’t throw his extravagant parties with his own bootlegged liquor or if he didn’t serve in the first World War, Nick might not have been so interested by him. Or maybe if Gatsby didn’t fall in love with Nick’s cousin during the first World War, Nick wouldn’t have been as connected to Gatsby as he was, and they definitely wouldn’t have been as close of friends as they were.

In the 1920’s there was a difference between the upper social classes. There was the old aristocracy, which is what Daisy was, and there was the newly rich, which is what Gatsby was. The difference between these two at this time is important, because the newly rich, often times gained their wealth from criminal activity, just as Gatsby did. “Jay Gatsby wants to live with Daisy Buchanan because she is a member of the established American aristocracy of wealth,” (Canterbery 300) so it is obvious that at this time the old aristocracy had much more value than that of the newly rich. But, “Gatsby lacks the maturity to realize that Daisy cannot be obtained by money alone and in a vulgar display of conspicuous consumption, he flaunts his nouveau wealth,” (Canterbery 300) meaning that Daisy is not nearly as impressed as Gatsby believed she would be with his overwhelming wealth.

The setting in the 1920’s, the author’s own time period, is essential for many aspects of this novel. Without this being set in this time period, many important aspects would be lost. This time period sets the stage for a great story line, and without it, The Great Gatsby would not be able to show the many things it does.


The Great Gatsby Era: The Roaring 20s

At the time when the novel takes place, the U.S. was in the middle of a tremendous economic boom and a soaring stock market that seemed to be on a permanent upward swing. At the same time, many of the social restrictions of the early 20th century were being rejected, and progressive movements of all kinds were flourishing.

Prohibition, Bootlegging, and the Speakeasy

Socially progressive activists in both the Democratic and Republican parties united to pressure the government to ban alcohol, which was blamed for all kinds of other social ills like gambling and drug abuse.

In 1920, the U.S. passed the 18th Amendment, outlawing the production and sale of alcohol. Of course, this did little to actually stem the desire for alcoholic beverages, so a vast underground criminal empire was born to supply this demand.

The production and distribution of alcohol became the province of bootleggers - the original organized crime syndicates. Selling alcohol was accomplished in many ways, including through “speakeasies” - basically, underground social clubs.

Since speakeasies were already side-stepping the law, they also became places where people of different races and genders could mix and mingle in a way they hadn’t previously while enjoying new music like jazz. This marked a shift both in how black culture was understood and appreciated by the rest of the country and in how women’s rights were progressing, as we’ll discuss in the next sections.

If you understand the history of Prohibition, you'll make better sense of some plot and character details in The Great Gatsby:

  • Gatsby makes his fortune through bootlegging and other criminal activities.
  • Gatsby's business partner Meyer Wolfshiem is a gangster who is affiliated with organized crime and is based on the real-life crime boss Arnold Rothstein, who was indeed responsible for fixing the World Series in 1919.
  • Any time someone is drinking alcohol in the novel, they are doing something illegal, and are clearly in the know about how to get this banned substance.
  • Gatsby’s parties have a speakeasy feel in that people from different backgrounds and genders freely mix and mingle.
  • One of the rumors about Gatsby is that he is involved in a bootlegging pipeline of alcohol from Canada - this is a reference to a real-life scandal about one of the places where illegal alcohol was coming from!

Police emptying out confiscated barrels of beer into the sewer.

Women’s Rights

The 19th Amendment, passed in 1919, officially gave women the right to vote in the United States. Suffrage had been a huge goal of the women’s movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so this victory caused women to continue to push boundaries and fight for more rights during the 1920s.

The ramifications of this were political, economic, and social. Politically, the women's rights movement next took up the cause of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equal legal rights for women. The amendment came close to eventually being ratified in the 1970s, but was defeated by conservatives.

Economically, there was an increase in working women. This began during WWI as more women began to work to make up for the men fighting abroad, and as more professions opened up to them in the men's absence.

Societally, divorce became more common. Nevertheless, it was still very much frowned on, and being a housewife and having fewer rights than man was still the norm in the 1920s. Another social development was the new “flapper” style. This term described women who would wear much less restricting clothing and go out drinking and dancing, which at the time was a huge violation of typical social norms.

If you understand this combination of progress and traditionalism for women's roles, you'll find it on display in The Great Gatsby:

    contemplates leaving Tom but ultimately decides to stay.
    parties and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to settle down.
    flouts traditional rules by cheating on her husband but is killed by the end of the book, suggesting women are safest when they toe the line.

Women's suffrage parade in New York City.

Racial and Religious Minority History

The post-war boom also had a positive effect on minorities in the U.S.

One of the effects was that Jewish Americans were at the forefront of promoting such issues as workers rights, civil rights, woman's rights, and other progressive causes. Jews also served in the American military during World War I in very high numbers. At the same time, their prominence gave rise to an anti-Semitic backlash, and the revival of the KKK began with the lynching of a Jewish man in 1915.

Another post-WWI development was the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social, and artistic flowering among African Americans that took place in Harlem, NY, during the 1920s. Artists from that time include W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday.

You can see the effects of these historical development several places in the novel:

  • jazz music is a fixture of Gatsby’s parties, and almost every song that Fitzgerald describes is a real life piece of music.
  • Nick's love of Manhattan as a diverse melting pot is illustrated by the appearance in Chapter 4 of a car with wealthy black passengers and a white driver.
    's racist rant in Chapter 1 and his fears that the white race will be "overrun" by minorities is based on the backlash that African American advancement occasioned.
  • The novel includes Nick's anti-Semitic description of a Jewish character - Meyer Wolfshiem.
  • There are modern theories that Jay Gatsby is may be half black and that Daisy may actually be Jewish.

Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes

Automobiles

The 1920s saw huge increases in the production and use of automobiles. Almost 1 in 4 people now had a car! This happened because of advances in mass production due to the assembly line, and because of rising incomes due to the economic boom.

Car ownership increased mobility between cities and outer suburban areas, which enabled the wealthy to work in one place but live in another. Cars also now created a totally new danger, particularly in combination with alcohol consumption.

If you're aware of the newness and attraction of cars, you'll notice that in The Great Gatsby:

  • The wealthiest characters own cars and use them to commute between Manhattan and Long Island.
  • Cars are clearly used to display wealth and status - even Tom, normally secure in his superiority, wants to brag to George Wilson about the super-fancy Rolls Royce he borrows from Gatsby.
  • Cars are tools of recklessness, danger, and violence - there are several car accidents in the novel, the most notable of which is when Daisy runs Myrtle over and kills her in Chapter 7.

Death machine, or no, you have to admit that's a pretty cool-looking car.


What Influence Did The Great Gatsby Have on American Literature?

You have to look at the novel in total, particularly the last chapters. It's important to move beyond the flappers and parties, even the two murders. The backstory that Nick (quite impossibly, in the level of detail) discovers about Jimmy Gatz, aka Jay Gatsby, is critical to feeling both the glory and the tragedy of the story.

Gatsby, it turns out, is an unmade child of the Midwest, ashamed of what he is, and schooled in the most banal kind of mail-order self reinvention, who is then elevated and corrupted by Dan Cody and his lover. These two influences are fused in the pursuit of Daisy, and much else he does. (There is a later echo of this Midwest/East motif when Nick talks about taking the train East in college, as well. We can tell it's a pretty big deal in the book's artistic intention.)

Much of American Literature is a consideration of our ability to head to the frontier, reinvent ourselves, make a shining city on a hill, be the last best hope for mankind, free ourselves of the shackles of the past, the tragic fate of birth in a particular place . you get the picture. It is shot through our attitudes to class, politics, the immigrant experience, and much else. That is why it is such an important theme in our national art -- you don't find it in the same way in the literature of England or Japan, say. This is rather uniquely explored in The Great Gatsby.

Fitzgerald, who was a very great artist and an admirer of John Keats (think the romance of impermanence, beauty that must die to have meaning, etc), added to our discourse on self-invention a deep expression of the romantic yearning inside this dream. In addition, he noticed the way in which we love the promise of the glittering and the shiny and the powerful, but how even to dream of it, let alone to seek it, also corrupts us and destroys us. And yet, we need it and live by it.

Art notices and points at previously little-noticed things in our experience, and helps us experience life more fully -- sometimes even more wisely. Fitzgerald added deeper meaning to understanding the problematic, often tragic, dimensions of pursuing the American dream, or experience.

He did this at a time when America was becoming even more powerful, and its promises of power, fame, and adoration even more extreme. That created a whole new dimension to our understanding of our culture and ourselves.


The Great Gatsby: How the Novel is Shaped by the 1920's

As The Great Gatsby is such a renowned novel, there are many critics who wrote about it. Many analyses have been done on this novel about all of it’s different aspects. The major thing that stands out to me about The Great Gatsby is the setting, during the 1920’s.

First, I will give some background of The Great Gat s by, the novel (not to be confused with the film). This book is narrated by Nick Carraway, who moves to New York from Minnesota. He lives in West Egg, which is populated by the new rich. His neighbor is none other than Jay Gatsby, and his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, lives with her husband, Tom Buchanan, in East Egg, which is populated by the old rich. Nick meets Jordan Baker, who is a friend of Daisy and Tom’s. Jordan tells Nick about an affair that Tom is having with a married woman, Myrtle Wilson (married to George Wilson), who lives in the valley of ashes. Nick was later invited to one of Gatsby’s large parties, where Gatsby then tells Nick that him and Daisy were in love when Gatsby was in the war. So, Nick arranged a reunion between Daisy and Gatsby, and their love is rekindled. Tom eventually grows suspicious of Daisy’s affair with Gatsby, and he is completely enraged by this. So, Tom arranges for the group to go to New York City, and he confronts Gatsby in a room at the Plaza Hotel. On the way back from this confrontation, Gatsby’s car hit Myrtle, and killed her. Although it was Daisy who was driving the car, Gatsby takes the blame for this. This ultimately results in Gatsby’s death, because George Wilson assumed it must have been Myrtle’s lover who killed her. So, George kills Gatsby at his mansion, and then himself.

Next, I will give some information on the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the case of this novel, knowing about Fitzgerald is important. The most important thing to note was that he lived the 1920s. He went to college at Princeton but ended up dropping out and enlisting in the army during World War 1. Fitzgerald met a woman, Zelda, during the war and fell completely in love with her. But, she wanted a man who was rich and successful, and Fitzgerald wasn’t necessarily rich or successful, so he attempted writing books to gain wealth. He also fell into a life of wild and crazy partying while trying to impress the woman he loved. Ultimately he died of a heart attack at the young age of 44.

In case you haven’t already noticed, Jay Gatsby’s life was extremely similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s. They had both attended an Ivy League school and ended up serving in the army during World War 1. Gatsby also met a woman, Daisy, during the war, who he fell completely in love with. And, for the rest of each of these man’s lives, they spent it trying to impress and please the women that they were so deeply in love with, while ultimately dying an unfortunate death at a rather young age.

In the 1920’s, a time also known as The Roaring Twenties or The Jazz Age, it was undoubtedly one of the rowdiest periods in the history of the United States. The way Fitzgerald uses this time period in this novel accents many aspects of life that if he had used any other time period, the way of telling the story of Jay Gatsby would not have been as effective. This was the end of World War 1, so there was a sense of excitement, and there was a new “modern way of living.” This was definitely a wild and carefree time period. But, this also happened to be during the prohibition era. Because of people’s excess drinking and the growing problem of alcohol dependence, the government wanted to eradicate the temptation of liquor, so thus came the prohibition of alcohol. But, this did not stop people from drinking. At parties like Gatsby’s there was still an abundance of alcohol. Part of the reason Gatsby was so rich was because he participated in illegal activities, one of these activities being bootlegging.

Something important to note about this novel is that much of the story is Nick’s friendship and obsession with Jay Gatsby, which is why he tells the story of Jay Gatsby. Nick was absolutely intrigued by Gatsby. So this is why he tells of him. It was stated that “the real love story lies in the friendship of Nick and Jay Gatsby.” (Barbarese cxxii) This is absolutely true, because without this friendship, Nick would have never even told the story of The Great Gatsby.

Why Nick is so obsessed with Gatsby also goes with the time period. If Gatsby didn’t throw his extravagant parties with his own bootlegged liquor or if he didn’t serve in the first World War, Nick might not have been so interested by him. Or maybe if Gatsby didn’t fall in love with Nick’s cousin during the first World War, Nick wouldn’t have been as connected to Gatsby as he was, and they definitely wouldn’t have been as close of friends as they were.

In the 1920’s there was a difference between the upper social classes. There was the old aristocracy, which is what Daisy was, and there was the newly rich, which is what Gatsby was. The difference between these two at this time is important, because the newly rich, often times gained their wealth from criminal activity, just as Gatsby did. “Jay Gatsby wants to live with Daisy Buchanan because she is a member of the established American aristocracy of wealth,” (Canterbery 300) so it is obvious that at this time the old aristocracy had much more value than that of the newly rich. But, “Gatsby lacks the maturity to realize that Daisy cannot be obtained by money alone and in a vulgar display of conspicuous consumption, he flaunts his nouveau wealth,” (Canterbery 300) meaning that Daisy is not nearly as impressed as Gatsby believed she would be with his overwhelming wealth.

The setting in the 1920’s is essential for many aspects of this novel. Without this being set in this time period, many important aspects would be lost. This time period sets the stage for a great story line, and without it, The Great Gatsby would not show the many things it does.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. 1995. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction.


Examples Of The American Dream In The Great Gatsby

The American Dream is supposed to represent hard work and self-made independence. The ideal is blurred though when it becomes a selfish, endless pursuit of money, material, and pleasure. In modern society, success is measured by the accumulation and display of one’s wealth: the size of one’s house, the quality of one’s wardrobe, the luster of fine jewelry, or the model of one’s automobile. In the 1920’s, society mirrored today’s outlook on success. In Fitzgerald’s rendition of the American Dream, The Great Gatsby, he captures the ideal in both the cynical and the hopeful viewpoint through the characters of Nick Carraway and none other than Jay Gatsby himself.&hellip


Art Deco in Film: The Great Gatsby

Why is the Great Gatsby so memorable? The film adaptation of the 1925 novel by the same title captures the over-the-top opulence of that era rich fashion and beautiful designs in everything including the furniture and the cars. The jazz age of the 20s was a time for the good things in life. A new generation with the hope of changing the world after the war looked to change many things including fashion and design. Art Deco was at the forefront of these changes, touching the way design was done in fashion, art, furniture, and even machines.

The Great Gatsby movie aptly captures the hedonistic party life and roaring 20s fashion. The gents in three-piece suits, and the ladies in flapper dresses and fur coats. The ballrooms are ornately decorated in with gold, luxurious carpets, and wall rugs. The Gatsby mansion in the film alone took about 14 weeks to set up and decorate.

Art Deco was perhaps the biggest design trend in the 20s and 30s fashion. It is differentiated with its luxurious materials like silk, gold, silver, rich woods, Persian rugs, premium leather, precious gemstones, and the very best in everything. Even while using the best of materials, Art Deco design was notable for its use of clean lines and geometrical shapes. Art Deco fashion took on the same concepts with rich wool suits for the gents as seen on Gatsby and his buddies, and the beautiful decadent jewelry worn by the ladies. The gold and black palettes run in much of the film’s background.

The dressing styles for the ladies in the Great Gatsby capture the flapper style very well. This was an extension of the Art Deco fashion popularized by designers like Coco Chanel. The rectangular frock like dresses was borrowed by the cubist influences of the Art Deco. The jewelry is also Art Deco-inspired wraps of bangles made of wood and Bakelite, diamond earrings, and the layered necklaces.

One of the most stunning outfits by the main actress has a sparkling headpiece made of silver and sequin threads. This is matched with a fur coat made of rich brocade silk, extensively patterned with abstract motifs. The headpiece itself is part of the Egyptian theme that was a big part of the Art Deco movement. This came from the interest sparked by the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922, with all its riches in gold, precious stones, and other hallmarks of opulence and luxury.

The sartorial sense of the gents is awesome. It was rare for a man to wear a suit in a color other than black, blue, grey, or white. But Gatsby’s characters are not shy to strut in pink linen suits, silk shirts, and gold collar bars.

It is difficult to picture the 1920s without Art Deco. It was more of a lifestyle than a fashion trend. The clothes were in this style, people lived in houses designed in Art Deco architecture, and even used household appliances and cars designed in this style. The Great Gatsby’s portrayal of haute couture, glamor, beauty, and good life captures this lifestyle perfectly.


Watch the video: 1920s Fashion Is Not What You Think It Is