Following the First World War, "The Great Gatsby" is a novel exploring the economic boom that America underwent in the 1920s, and how the lives of the upper classes both wilted and flourished underneath it.
Set in Long Island, the book tells the story of a sharp delineation between two regions, and the hopelessly fragmented relationship of the people who live in them: in East Egg, Daisy lives by her brusque husband's old money, wallowing in an extravagant Georgian mansion and living a life of endless and seemingly fruitless leisure. Nick Carraway, a student from Yale and ex-servicemen, is an inhabitant in West Egg - the similarly rich but somewhat classless region in which residents live in garish, French, imitative streets, and in which people travel, uninvited, to attend his neighbor's premium parties.
Gatsby (a man whose background is strangely enigmatic to his acquaintances) seems to be searching amongst all this illusion and pretentious glamor for something, or someone, that with all his heart he desires (having devoted half his life to getting it) but, with all things considered, cannot have.
This is extremely difficult to analyse. When read quickly, the book is seemingly amoral. Nearly every character is, in some variation of the word, an adulterer. However, when the book is studied closely, Fitzgerald uses Nick's extremely abstract narrative to reveal the immorality of the character's actions. One good example that could neatly explain this is when Tom is going to visit his mistress and, on the way, they pass a giant opticians advertisement in which a great pair of spectacles are displayed. When this is skimmed over, it seems meaningless, but when analysed one can decipher that it is as if the eyes are watching, judging and mourning the wrongdoing.
The book almost reads as a parody of the classes, but the narrator of it all is deliberately objective. The irony is one which the reader has to unearth for themselves. Unless this is done, the book is immoral. If the reader looks closely at the storyline, at the lexical choice and at the outcome of the immoral characters, morality is evidently crucial for the author.
There is no underlying spiritual theme that I can decipher. Rumours spreads that Daisy is a Catholic, and that is why she won't divorce, but this is false.
A lot: a character is killed, suicide is mentioned, a man punches his mistress in the face, car accidents occur when characters get drunk and the end of the book is turbulent, graphic and upsetting.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Nearly everyone smokes, and a great proportion of the book is when the characters are drunk. It is set during the Prohibiton, and the book is partly about the rebellion against this when taken to the absolute extreme.
Characters sleep with other characters to whom they are not married. Women are described often by their sexual allure. Many of the men have mistresses and are seemingly shameless about it. There are no sex scenes, but as a reader we know that it is happening nearly incessantly, and usually behind someone's back, whether that be the husband, wife, fiancé or family of the person. Many readers find this light employment of sex extremely upsetting and, although the underlying morals of it are that it is all heart-breaking and ridiculous to dabble so carelessly with romance, there also seems to be a part of the book that excuses it when deep, passionate love is concerned. It is difficult to comprehend and unravel Fitzgerald's opinion of it all - but if, as a reviewer, I may be frank, the primary concern of the novel is sex.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
Only mild swear words are used, like "d*mn", and the conventional taboo language of the 1920s.
As it is so difficult to analyse the morals of the book, it might make more sense to say that many of the characters are shallow, materialistic, often ignorant and the bearers of dangerous ideas, immoral, drunk, and always after something sexual. This is all supposed to be an example of what life was like for bad aristocrats of the 1920s, and how poor the ideals of the people were. Depending on how you look at the book, it is either realistic to the disposition of these people and a revolutionary example of the dangers of an all-excusing, frivolous, careless sort of romance...or it is an unhelpful, irresponsible experiment with human behavior in literature.
The book itself is incredibly written. The descriptions are often likened by critics to surrealist art, emphasizing how fake and untouchable everything was in the time. It is a short novel that might be best read within a group of people, as often the true meanings of it are difficult to decipher individually.