Alcohol In The Great Gatsby
In The Great Gatsby, how does alcohol influence the characters?
Alcohol is mentioned frequently in the novel, sometimes generally and sometimes in direct reference to the various characters. Gatsby, we learn, did not drink; as a young man sailing with Dan Cody, he had observed the detrimental effects of alcohol and had chosen to avoid them. In another way, however, Gatsby was influenced by alcohol. As a bootlegger during Prohibition during the 1920s, much of Gatsby's fortune came from its illegal sale.
At one significent time in Daisy's life, she became very drunk. The evening before her wedding to Tom Buchanan, Daisy was overcome with despair, still in love with her lieutenant, Jay Gatsby. Jordan Baker found her with "a bottle of sauterne in one hand" and a letter from Gatsby in another. This was, in fact, the first time Daisy had ever tasted alcohol, and she had become "as drunk as a monkey." Under the influence of alcohol, her true feelings poured out; she wanted to cancel her wedding, and she "cried and cried" for Gatsby. When she sobered up, Daisy attended that evening's bridal party and married Tom the following day.
Nick becomes drunk for the second time in his life when he attends the party at Tom and Myrtle's apartment in New York, the day of his thirtieth birthday. Usually a very responsible, conservative young man, Nick wakes up in Pennsylvania Station waiting for the train at 4:00 am, with some of the previous evening a blur in his memory. Recalling the events of the party, Nick comments that "everything that happened has a dim hazy cast over it."
Finally, the negative aspects of Tom Buchanan's personality are accentuated when he is drinking. At the party Nick attended, Tom has been drinking all afternoon and into the evening. He becomes aggressive and belligerent with Myrtle, ultimately breaking her nose during a violent quarrel. Also, Tom has been drinking when he confronts Gatsby in the hotel room in New York; his arrogance, contempt, and hatred for Gatsby are released in a torrent of insults and accusations. He would have attacked him physically had others not intervened.
In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald presents an imperishable portrait of the Jazz Age, an era in which there was a chasm between the perceptions of people and reality. Prohibition was a contributor to this chasm.
With the addition of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1919, the opportunities for the illegal sale of alcohol began, and the profits were huge for those who were involved in such sales. Jay Gatsby is one of those in the Jazz Age (as Fitzgerald himself named the era) who takes advantage of the opportunity to gain sudden wealth as a bootlegger. His parties offer a variety of drinks, as well as food, for his guests. These generous displays of food and drink lure people from different walks of life. Some of the guests lose personal control, such as the driver with Owl Eyes, who veers off the road into a ditch with his coupe.
Many of the careless elite frequently imbibe alcohol, contaminating romance with their insincerity and arrogance. For instance, Tom Buchanan takes down his drink in chapter one "as though it were a drop in the bottom of a glass." He then mocks Jordan Baker in his comment about her "training." Further in the narrative, at Gatsby's party,
The bar is in full swing and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot. (Ch. 3)
There is an environment of insincerity and falseness at the party in New York where pretentious people meet. This environment is duplicated at Gatsby's parties which hosts mostly strangers. They often eat and drink excessively.