In The Great Gatsby, how does the era of the setting further enhance Gatsby's tragedy?    Reference here to the Jazz Age and the American 1920s

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A lyrical realist, Fitzgerald evokes in his writing the triviality and moral turpitude of the affluent society of the Jazz Age.  With the pursuit of materialistic goals, there existed in the Roaring Twenties  a hedonism, a "service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty."  And, as part of this tableau, Jay Gatsby's private pursuit of the American Dream becomes hollow and meaningless despite his "extraordinary gift of hope," for he, too, becomes false and vulgar as he perceives Daisy and his life through a green light of illusion.

Believing that material wealth, which is so valued in the era in which he lives, is the path to the attainment of social status and his "grail" of Daisy Buchanan, whose very voice "sounded like money," Gatsby becomes but a caricature of the age, losing his true personality in his social ambition. In fact, he re-creates himself, assuming a new name and background, claiming to having affluent parents and gone to Oxford.  And, with the goal of the acquisition of money, any means is justified; so Gatsby becomes a bootlegger, associated with the underworld.  To create the facade of having some social position and wealth

He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. 

His house in West Egg is modeled after a Hotel de Ville in Normandy, the rooms are in the style of Marie Antoinette; he possesses every color of shirt that can be imagined.  However, this corruption of passion in him effects Gatsby's tragic end. Thus, the story of Gatsby is for Fitzgerald the vehicle of his criticism of a historic attitude as the Jazz Age represents the effeteness of the American Dream while Daisy's voice becomes "a deathless song" much like the Twenties' song, "Three O'Clock in the Morning," and Gatsby realizes "what a grotesque thing a rose is" when there are no true values associated with it. And, so, like Americans of the Jazz Age, Gatsby has wasted his potential on a  “a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing."  The materialism of the Jazz Age is a false value, an illusory American Dream, just as is Gatsby's deceptive dream.

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The Great Gatsby

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