How might we read The Great Gatsby as a critique of excessive materialism in America in the 1920s?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Fitzgerald offers a harsh critique of 1920s American society throughout the novel The Great Gatsby by depicting the corruption of the American Dream and portraying the dark side of the Roaring Twenties. America during the early 1920s was a time of economic prosperity when consumerism increased and the entertainment industry flourished. America's younger citizens developed a new set of morals and were less concerned with the traditional values of past generations. Wealth, individualism, expression, and consumption were promoted throughout society, and Fitzgerald portrays these values in a negative light throughout the story.

Wealthy characters like Tom and Daisy are depicted as superficial, selfish individuals who take advantage of others. Tom is enormously wealthy, and he is also depicted as a violent, ignorant man who continually cheats on Daisy. Daisy is depicted as a shallow, materialistic woman who has a terrible marriage and carries on an affair with Gatsby. Fitzgerald also illustrates the lack of morals and excessive materialism during Gatsby's extravagant parties, where guest indulge in illegal alcohol and engage in dangerous behaviors.

Gatsby attains the American Dream through illegal means as a bootlegger working with the mysterious Meyer Wolfsheim. Despite Gatsby's enormous wealth, he is unable to attain Daisy's love, because she values financial security and social status more than she does a healthy, loving relationship. Overall, Fitzgerald portrays the dark, violent, immoral nature of wealthy aristocrats living in New York during the 1920s and illustrates the futility and corruption of the American Dream.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial