How is crime in the 1920s reflected in The Great Gatsby?I have read the book and I don't see how crime in the 1920s is reflected in The Great Gatsby.

Asked on by jayno4

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ktmagalia's profile pic

ktmagalia | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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If you haven't picked up elements of criminal behavior, you may want to read the book again more closely.  Meyer Wolfsheim is an obvious player in organized crime, and it is alluded in Fitzgerald's novel that he "fixed" the World Series (alluding to the 1919 infamous world series--see link below). This is a novel taking place during the days of Prohibition, however, it is inferred that Gatsby makes his money through illegal bootlegging. And if that isn't enough to support the criminal behavior in the novel, drunk driving, a hit and run, and murder should top it off.

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teachertaylor | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Crime in the 1920's is not overtly stated in The Great Gatsby, but it is certainly there in the backdrop.  The character Meyer Wolfsheim with whom Gatsby does business is representative of crime.  Although not openly stated, Gatsby's involvement with Wolfsheim in illegal activities is implied later in the novel.  It is likely that Gatsby and Wolfsheim have a hand in the production and sale of alcohol (which at the time was illegal due to Prohibition) and in gambling.  In fact, when Nick meets Wolfsheim, Wolfsheim admits that he was responsible for fixing the World Series.  Gatsby's relationship with Wolfsheim makes Nick and others doubt the honesty in the acquisition of Gatsby's wealth, and Tom later accuses Gatsby of becoming wealthy through criminal business activities.  So although not at the forefront of the story, crime is represented in the novel.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is no question that F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the Roaring 20's in his novel The Great Gatsby, a period of tremendous social and political change.

With the increase in manufacturing in the 1920's, many people came to the cities in order to find work. For the first time, America became much more than an agrarian society. Immigration from Europe increased because there were job openings in industrial factories in the major cities of the North and the Midwest.

This increase in the number of immigrants caused many Americans to object to certain nationalities, such as the former enemies of World War I, the Germans, who frequently drank beer. The "Kaiser brew" became a symbol of what others disliked about the new cities. For many middle-class Americans, Prohibition became a way to exert control of the "unruly" immigrant masses.

The Volstead Act enacted by the federal government closed every tavern, bar and saloon in the United States. After this, it was illegal to sell "intoxicating liquors," but it was not illegal to drink them. Unfortunately, this act led to an increase in crime since the Volstead Act drove the liquor trade underground and invited major criminals such as Al Capone who recognized that there was a very profitable market for this illegal product.

With a new consumer culture, automobiles became popular, and soon one out of five families owned an automobile. Since they. too, owned vehicles, the criminals were able to easily transport illegal items such as liquor.

In Chapter Seven of The Great Gatsby, the reader is given definitive proof of Gatsby's criminal activities and associations. On a particularly steamy day, after driving to New York City, Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Nick, and Jay Gatsby sit in a hotel room in the Astoria, Tom addresses Gatsby,

"I found out what your 'drug stores' were." He turned to us and spoke rapidly. "He and this Wolfschiem bought up a lot of side-street drugstores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That's one of his little stunts."

"What of it?" Gatsby fires back, saying that a friend of Tom's, Walter Chase, was not too proud to come in on the deal. But Tom counters that Walter could have Gatsby arrested for violating betting laws, except for Wolfschiem's having frightened him enough to quiet him. (Ch.7)

Earlier in Chapter Four, Nick has met Meyer Wolfscheim when Gatsby has taken him out to lunch. Afterwards, Nick has asked about the man with the molar cuff links, wondering if he is a dentist.

"Meyer Wolfsheim? No, he's a gambler." Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: "He's the man who fixed the World's Series back in 1919." (Ch.4)
(World Series Fix: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/ws/yr1919ws.shtml )

Hearing this, Nick reflects,

"It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people--with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe." (Ch.4)

Money made through illegal means often accumulates faster than if one is in a legitimate business. Jay Gatsby has wanted to make money quickly because he has yearned for a chance to regain Daisy's love, so he engages in illegal activities that further his goals quickly.

Sources:

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