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The Jazz Age is a phrase that captures the heady decadence of 1920s America that is captured in this novel. Let us remember that the novel is set in a historical context that was characterised by hedonism, greed and conspicuous consumption of wealth combined with poverty and want for the majority of American's citizens. In Chapter Three, for example, when Nick first goes to one of Gatbsy's parties, we are treated to a scene of typical jazz age decadence and consumption, consisting of jazz music and dancing combined with horrendous expenditure. It is important, however, to be aware of how Fitzgerald uses his presentation of the jazz age to indicate the way in which the American dream and the pure ideals that lie at the heart of what America claims to be become corrupted. The jazz age is a visible symbol of the way in which the desire for unbridled wealth and pleasure replaced the desire for more noble characteristics of America, such as liberty and happiness.
The jazz age is therefore just one manifestation of such a trend in the novel. When we compare characters such as those who attend Gatsby's parties with characters such as the Wilsons who live in the middle of the valley of ashes, the contrast becomes clear. The Wilsons are not able to participate in the full glory of the jazz age because of their social position and poverty, and this makes the drunken excesses of the upper classes all the more incongruous and insensitive.
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