Outline historical elements of the "Jazz Age" which were relevant to The Great Gatsby.

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are three major elements of the Jazz Age that are relevant to this novel in my opinion.

  • America is very prosperous during this time.  There are more rich people than ever before.  This probably helps set up the kind of social scene that Gatsby is part of -- people were really living it up.
  • This is the time of Prohibition.  Gatsby has made his money (and very quickly too) bootlegging.
  • This is also the time when cars become much more available to ordinary people.  This is one reason why cars figure so prominently in this book.
dstuva's profile pic

Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The best place in The Great Gatsby to "outline" historical elements of the Jazz Age is probably chapter three, in which the parties in general and one party in particular is detailed.

Gatsby throws the parties hoping that Daisy will happen in to one.  He doesn't drink and most of the time appears to not really be too socially involved in the parties, but virtually everyone else present certainly is.

The lavishness and extravagance of the parties is what we, today, associate with the Jazz Age.  In chapter three, Nick outlines both:

  • People come from every direction and are brought to the house by Gatsby's two motor boats, his Rolls-Royce, and his station wagon.  Some drive themselves, also.
  • Oranges and lemons are shipped in--the lemons for drinks, presumably, and the oranges for freshly-squeezed juice from what today we call a juicer.
  • Caterers "make a Christmas tree of Gatsby's enormous garden."
  • The bar [alcoholic beverages are illegal] is "stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his [Gatsby's] female guests were too young to know one from another."
  • The orchestra [of special note, when considering the novel and the Jazz Age] is "no thin five piece affair but a whole pit full of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos and low and high drums."

Everything about the party is extravagant.  Figuratively, we, today, looking back, could say that this is the party that led to the stock market crash of 1929. 

Of course, a great deal of wealth and extravagance doesn't necessarily lead to an economic crash.  But perhaps another element of the Jazz Age that's detailed in this chapter is relevant to your question, as well. 

Carelessness is prevalent in the party scene:

  • in the long hours spent drinking and dancing and partying in general
  • in the driving and the accident and the onlookers and the hurt driver
  • in those that attend--Nick repeatedly states, though he does not comment or draw attention to it--that the party is attended by mostly men and girls, not women.  And the girls are young.

I'll let you draw conclusions from that fact.

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