Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes appeared in the mid-1920’s as Americans were beginning to discover “the new woman.” With the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, American women received the right to vote; many people believed that these “new women” were exercising their newly obtained independence in ways that might threaten their long-held roles as wives and mothers. In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Henry Spoffard’s relatives initially are concerned that Lorelei (who bobs her hair, enjoys cocktails in the midst of Prohibition, and is considered a “flapper” by some) might be too nonconformist for their family. As usual, however, Lorelei’s charm triumphs, and Spoffard’s relatives expose themselves as just as fond of drinking and flirtation as anyone else.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes provides both a comparison and a contrast to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, published in the same year. Like Lorelei Lee, Jay Gatsby is a social climber from the Midwest who has changed his name (the narrator discovers that Gatsby, the former James Gatz, was born in North Dakota), revels in his material possessions, and creates a new identity for himself during the Jazz Age. Both novels contain social criticism of how distorted the American Dream had become in the 1920’s. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald presents Gatsby’s story in the form of a classical tragedy. Gatsby is destroyed by a “tragic flaw”; his downfall is the inevitable result of the same desires that led to his rise. Loos, on the other hand, presents the same basic patterns in the form of a comedy. Lorelei Lee triumphs despite, and often because of, her own shallowness and naïveté. In Lorelei, the materialism of the American Dream achieves its most glittering, but also its most hollow, expression.