What elements of the Fitzgerald's own past are found in The Great Gatsby, and how does Fitzgerald's writing affect the reader's view of it?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While The Great Gatsby is a definitive portrait of what Fitzgerald himself named the Jazz Age, it is also a semi-biographical history of the writer in his age. Like Jay Gatz, Fitzgerald went into the armed services and became an officer. While stationed in Montgomery, Alabama, he met a Southern belle similar to Daisy named Zelda, whom he wished to marry, but she would not accept him until he could afford to support her. So, Fitzgerald wrote his first book, This Side of Paradise, which was a success; he returned for Zelda and was married. However, in The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatz is gone for five years and must try to steal Daisy away from her very wealthy husband; also, his wealth is acquired illegally from bootlegging.

But parallels are certainly apparent as both Gatsby and Fitzgerald embarked upon extravagant lifestyles in the East--In Chapter Six, Gatsby is referred to as Trimalchio, the Roman who gave lavish parties. While living in the East, Fitzgerald was appalled by the materialistic, class-conscious, supercilious wealthy. This perception is depicted with Daisy and Tom Buchanan and their friends, the Sloanes, who ride off quickly so that Gatsby cannot join them. Later, after the frivolous Daisy runs over Myrtle Wilson, Nick observes Daisy and Tom, remarking later that they are "careless people."

About the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald observed, 

It was an age of miracles. It was an age of art. It was an age of excess and it was an age of satire.

Throughout the narrative the excesses of the Buchanans are depicted. In order to convince her to marry him, Tom buys Daisy with a costly pearl necklace, in imitation of Zelda, who was very materialistic. Later in the narrative, Tom and his mistress ride the train to New York where they continue an illicit affair in a hotel room, where Myrtle expresses some jealousy and Tom breaks her nose. Further, Fitzgerald satirizes the culture of wealth and ambition. For instance, when Gatsby shows Daisy his house, he exhibits his custom-made shirts by tossing them to Daisy, who buries her head in them and weeps, saying they are "such beautiful shirts." In Chapter Six, Gatsby gains a reputation for being Trimalchio and hosing extravagant parties where people who love excess attend. Then, Daisy runs over Myrtle Wilson, and the amoral Buchanans plan how to escape any culpability. Finally, the hollow, materialistic American Dream of Jay Gatsby, whose ill-gotten fortune has brought him no happiness, comes to a crashing end as poor George Wilson believes Gatsby has killed Myrtle in a hit-and-run, and shoots Gatsby who lies on a float in his swimming pool. The materialism of the East that Fitzgerald came to know corrupts the area and effects the tragedy of waste of resources and waste of values.

In a repudiation of the area, Nick decides to head home to the Midwest, where "...we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (This is the line that is written on Fitzgerald's grave, as well.)

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The Great Gatsby

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