The influence of the Jazz Age on the ‘Great Gatsby’
Do you remember The Great Gatsby? Whether you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you’ll remember the huge impact that the jazz scene had on its main character, Jay Gatsby. In fact, one could argue that there would be no Great Gatsby without the jazz scene. Read on to learn more about the influence of the Jazz Age on the Great Gatsby.
Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925, Gatsby follows Jay Gatsby’s on his meteoric rise to fame and fortune during the “Roaring Twenties.” Set in New York, Gatsby is the perfect portrait of American life in the Jazz Age. Since the U.S. had an economic boom after World War I, the 1920s were all about showing it off. From flapper skirts to bootleg distilleries, it seemed like nothing was off-limits in Gatsby’s world.
Fitzgerald’s novel addresses many important social issues of the time, including racial tensions, social inequality, and moral etiquette. Not to mention the growing popularity of the jazz scene in Manhattan. Surprisingly, the most prominent characters in the story actually enjoy seeing a good jazz show every now and then.
This is shown when the main characters attend a big ceremony together. As usual, Fitzgerald elegantly describes the scene: “The music had died down as the ceremony began and now a long cheer floated in at the window, followed by intermittent cries of ‘Yea—ea—ea!’ and finally by a burst of jazz as the dancing began.”
Although Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s love interest, is somewhat of a socialite, she couldn’t even keep up with the fast-paced tempo of jazz music. When the lively jazz dancing begins, Daisy can’t seem to rise to the occasion, confessing “‘We’re getting old…If we were young we’d rise and dance.’” But what was the Jazz Age really about?
The Jazz Age
Here’s the deal: the Jazz Age was one of the most culturally defining moments of the 1920s. If you’ve ever heard of legendary jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Count Basie, then you’ll know that their music was born during this transformative period. This was the first time in history that underground jazz music hit the main scene.
Sadly, the Jazz Age was also a period of intense racial segregation due to America’s Jim Crow laws. That meant that African Americans were forced to have different jobs, go to different schools, and live in different neighborhoods than their Caucasian counterparts. Of course, The Great Gatsby touches upon this race-related phenomenon as well, particularly when Gatsby and his friends refuse to interact with African Americans in the novel.
Another scene in Gatsby that touches upon this topic occurs when Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, is flabbergasted when he sees a group of African Americans being chauffeured by a Caucasian driver. Unsurprisingly, Tom is also a huge fan of the book The Rise of the Colored Empires, which is a fictitious text that advocates nationalism.
Why does Fitzgerald include these scenes in the novel? Because they were a pretty accurate depiction of life during the Jazz Age. Even though Fitzgerald doesn’t exactly mention the Jim Crow era in his book, there’s a simple explanation: many of the events that happened during the Jim Crow period were seen as completely normal by the American people at that time.
The great American novel
Known as the “Great American Novel,” The Great Gatsby also discusses several other significant aspects of the Jazz Age, like popular dances, hairstyles, and fashion. For example, the foxtrot was one of the most trendy dances of the time. The proof? Fitzgerald describes a scene at a party, where the narrator, Nick Carraway, watches Gatsby and Daisy dance. About the pair’s moves, Nick reveals, “Daisy and Gatsby danced. I remember being surprised by his graceful, conservative fox-trot—I had never seen him dance before.”
It gets better: The Great Gatsby was all about the cocktails that were popularized during the Jazz Age. Some of the hippest cocktails of the 1920s were called Gin Rickey, Crème de Menthe, and the Manhattan. Fitzgerald hilariously writes about what happens when one of the Gatsby characters has a few too many drinks: “Oh, she’s all right now. When she’s had five or six cocktails she always starts screaming like that. I tell her she ought to leave it alone.”
Remember when alcohol was temporarily banned during the 1920s? That didn’t stop Gatsby and his friends from indulging in the free-flowing beverages that were poured at every gathering during the Jazz Age. In one particularly tense scene of the book, Tom reveals to his wife Daisy that Gatsby’s “new money” literally comes from bootlegging liquor and other criminal acts. What happens next is Jay Gatsby’s ultimate downfall.
After indulging in the excess of the Jazz Age throughout the novel, Gatsby’s act finally comes to an end. When Tom calls Gatsby out for having a fake accent and lying about attending Oxford University, Gatsby’s prompted to admit his love for Daisy in a frenzied confession, which she politely rejects.
At the end of the novel, Gatsby is left alone, desperate, and forlorn, much like the majority of Americans felt when the Great Depression hit. This economic crisis struck in 1930 – just five years after Fitzgerald’s novel was released. Soon after the publication of The Great Gatsby, the world that Fitzgerald painted crumbled. Unfortunately, the Jazz Age ended along with it as well.