The Great Gatsby: Character Flaws Enhanced and Hidden by Society The 1920s have long been remembered as the “Roaring Twenties,” an important historical and unique era of time. As a soaring stock market minted millionaires by the thousands, young Americans in the nation’s biggest cities rejected traditional social mores by embracing a modern urban culture of freedom, drinking illegally in speakeasies, dancing provocatively, and “Letting the Good Times Roll,” a popular and fitting phrase for this time period. For the first time, more Americans lived in cities than on farms.
The nation’s total wealth more than doubled between 1920 and 1929, and this economic growth “swept many Americans into an affluent but unfamiliar ‘consumer society’” (Jonathan). People from coast to coast bought the same consumer goods, listened to the same music, did the same dances and even used the same slang. Along with the fun and new times, came the serious crime. During the 1920s, some freedoms were expanded while others were limited. The 18th Amendment, “The Volstead Act”, banned the manufacture and sale of “intoxicating liquors,” which closed every tavern, bar and saloon in the United States.
From then on, it was illegal to sell any intoxication beverages with more than 0. 5% alcohol. This drove to organized crime due to people creating illegal speakeasies instead of ordinary bars. These underground bars were controlled by bootleggers, racketeers and other organized-crime figures such as Chicago gangster Al Capone. The 1920’s were filled with fun, conformity, and crime (The Roaring). Most young people in America wanted to be apart of the new modern culture, and for this reason, America was completely transformed.
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald exhibits the many conflicts of the 1920’s in Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway by showing how their character flaws are enhanced and created due to the Modern Eastern Society. Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway move to the Modern East in search of something missing in their lives. Gatsby is a millionaire falling into the category of the newly wealthy people. Gatsby’s particular story of how he became a wealthy member of society distorts and confuses his own character flaws and issues.
Gatsby was raised in a poor home with farmers as parents, and he becomes well aware of the major gap between the wealthy and the poor when he meets Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby falls in love with Daisy, a daughter of a prominent and wealthy family of Louisville, and he learns her parents will never accept him due to his social status. It is this very problem that motivates Gatsby to become a well-known, wealthy, citizen of the West Egg. Gatsby realized that he must conform into a wealthy man of the modern east to ever be in Daisy’s life.
Gatsby comes to the East solely in search of Daisy. His whole life post meeting Daisy consists of becoming the ideal husband for Daisy, and moving to New York was the easiest way to achieve this goal. Nick Carraway is a young adult, striving to live “in the moment” of the roaring twenties. He was raised in the Middle West, filled with morals, values, and tradition. As all of the great promises of the twenties arose, Nick thought the “Middle west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe- so [he] decided to go east and learn the bond business” (Fitzgerald 3).
Nick does not go to the East in search of a job or even a significant other; he moves to the East to essentially “let the good times roll” and experience the modern and fun way of life the twenties promised. To survive in the modern eastern society, Gatsby “defies oppressive society by trying to conform to it,” and this in return twists and warps his values and morals to where his true character is hidden completely and transformed into immoral chaos (Heimis 59). Because Gatsby is from a poor family, he must himself earn money to begin his journey to obtain Daisy.
During the twenties, the ‘bootlegging’ business was an easy and assure way of making money; therefore after inheriting a good deal of money from Dan Cody, Gatsby becomes involved in ‘bootlegging’. Gatsby was raised in the West, so he was clearly raised to know and understand right from wrong. Bootlegging was the start of Gatsby’s immoral decisions, essential “to transform himself from a no-account impoverished youth into a man who can be proud of his accomplishments… [sacrificing] himself for the woman he loves” (Heimis 59).
There was no price too large or punishment too severe to stop Gatsby from achieving every necessary step to have Daisy back in his life. It is the want and need for Daisy that derives Gatsby’s two other related character flaws: his inability to let the past stay in the past, and his “inability to see through and beyond illusions, especially illusions of his own creation” (Joseph). Gatsby’s entire life post meeting Daisy consists only of becoming the ideal person worthy of marrying her. When he realizes he is still unable to obtain her due to her husband, he simply cannot let go of the past.
Throughout the five years that Gatsby and Daisy are apart, Gatsby holds tight to the memories of the two of them together in love. Despite the fact that she is now a married woman, a mother, and an East Egger, Gatsby believes he can revisit the past with Daisy, and everything will be revised. He fails to understand or even acknowledge the importance of Daisy’s experiences during their time apart. Nick constantly tries to remind Gatsby that this daydream will never come true because a person cannot repeat the past, but Gatsby hangs tight to delusion that “of course you can! ” (Fitzgerald 110).
Gatsby’s entire life is based on impressing Daisy, therefore the thought of never having Daisy is unacceptable, and without Daisy, he cannot survive. Gatsby’s inability to see the reality of the situation and proceed on with his life becomes his major tragic flaw. Not only does Gatsby have an inability to forget the past, but he also is unable to see beyond his own illusions of time and people. Throughout the five years that Gatsby and Daisy are apart, Gatsby constantly reminisces on their days together. In his mind, Daisy is still completely in love with him, and nothing has changed.
Daisy’s child is the first reality awakening for Gatsby, because the child represents her marriage, her love for another man, and even her separate life from Gatsby. When Gatsby realizes this truth, he “[keeps] looking at the child with surprise” as if he “he had never believed in its existence before” (Fitzgerald 117). Gatsby’s entire life revolves around Daisy: how to impress Daisy, how to come to Daisy’s standards, and how to make sure he has Daisy in his life forever. As expected then, Gatsby has created a perfect image of his life with Daisy and Daisy herself.
When Gatsby finally sees Daisy after these five years, Nick wonders is there was some part of Daisy that “tumbled short of his dreams–not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion” (Fitzgerald 95). Gatsby creates a false illusion of his future life with Daisy, and this in return affects his entire way and meaning of life. Gatsby did whatever necessary to conform to the social norms in Daisy’s world, and the many mistakes and obstacles he endured in this society enhanced and created many of his character flaws.
Nick is deathly silent, exceedingly patient, and awfully flexible in every uncomfortable and immoral situation he is placed in during his time in the Modern Eastern society. These three virtues Nick embodies are distorted, amplified, and corrupted to become his main character flaws. When Nick first moves to the West Egg, he struggles to find a social group in which he belongs. In fact, the only person Nick new in the city was Daisy, his cousin, therefore Daisy’s husband Tom is his first friend.
It is from this friendship on, that Nick experiences the true reality of the society he has now joined; a society of deceitfulness, selfishness, and immorality. On their first outing together, Tom shows Nick around the town, and Nick is immediately placed in an unwanted situation. Nick is introduced to Myrtle, Tom’s mistress. Tom insists that Nick stay and visit with the two of them, and every time Nick “tried to go [he] became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled [him] back, as if ropes, into [his] chair”(Fitzgerald 31).
It is here, entangled and stuck, that Nick remains for the remainder of the novel. In the society that Nick now belongs to, every good characteristics of a person manifests itself into a tool to either make a person rise above another, or to simply assure social acceptance. Nick, being from the West, was raised with morals and values, unlike his newly found friends in the East. To maintain social acceptance, Nick is forced to keep silent. He is in the center of his cousin’s unfaithful husband and his mistress, as well as being the person to finally allow Daisy and Gatsby to meet again behind Tom’s knowledge.
Nick is in the middle of two adulterers, and he simply does not tell anyone of the things he has witnessed nor does he even leave the scenes where the incidents are taking place. Due to his lack of words, all of a sudden, Nick is no longer the honest man he has always known himself to be. Nick is patient with Gatsby during all of his many conflicting thoughts of Daisy, and even in the end when Gatsby has for sure lost Daisy, Nick stays true to Gatsby and sits by his side and listens.
By being patient, Nick is forced to condone Gatsby’s intentions of stealing another man’s wife, a definite immoral act. Nick is flexible by constantly allowing himself to be controlled by everyone in his life. He is frequently told where he should be, what he should be doing, and how long he should stay. Because of his flexibility along with his quite nature, he is never able to leave an unjust and uncomfortable situation. Even by the end of his time in the Eastern society, Nick does not condone nor agree with the acts he witnessed, but he still watched and became tolerant of the situations.
When a person tolerates and views a wrong being done over and over again and says nothing, he or she, no matter the intentions, is now evolved and apart of the act. Nick finds himself in this situation where society “seduces him and them bowls him over,” leaving him conformed to the immoral and unfamiliar ways of the East (Jonathan). Nick does not intentionally conform to the ways of the East nor does he strive to test his character but if “[the devil] were red with a tail, horns, and cloven hooves, any fool could say no” (Foster).
Fitzgerald depicts a demanding, relentless, and harsh society in The Great Gatsby. The pressure to appear completely intact and in control is essential to survival in this society. In the lives of the East Eggers, everyone must be classy and above the rest of the world. Most of the West Eggers became apart of the wealthy group later and life, meaning they are not exactly of the elite group originally. For this reason, they are forced to conform to the expected rules and mores of the established wealth.
Human nature calls for mistakes to occur and flaws to arise. Due to the strict conditions in this society and known human nature, the people of the West Egg are forced to hide their character flaws and rebellion against the norms. Not only does the society force the members to hide their flaws, but the society also enhances the flaws. The East Eggers are raised to have the mindset of one who is entitled, pampered, and sheltered from reality. Their society then, brings about many character flaws and magnifies those flaws that are already present in the person.
Many of the people living in the West Egg are brought up in more of a well-rounded and moral way, so when they conform to the new ways of the wealthy, their traditional values constantly clash with their new conformities. In both scenarios, social expectations warp the society and cause the members to create new flaws and expand on the ones they already struggle with. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway embody major character flaws that are enhanced and created by the modern society in which they live. Works Cited Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby.
Scribner trade paperback. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print. Foster, Thomas . How to Read Literature Like a Professor. 1st ed. New York : HarperCollins Publishers Inc. , 2003. 98. Print. Heimis, Neil. “Paradox, Ambiguity, and the Challenge to Judgment. ” 58-71. Web. 29 Jan. 2013. . Jonathan, James. “Literary Characters: Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby. ” Helium. N. p. , 12 May 2010. Web. 29 Jan 2013. . Joseph, Teressa. “Gatsby’s Major Flaw. ” 27 May 2009. ENotes, Web. 29 Jan. 2013. . “The Roaring Twenties. ” History. A&E Television Networks. Web. 29 Jan 2013. .