Modernism in Fitzgerald's the Great Gatsby Scott Term Paper

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Modernism in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

Scott Fitzgerald's famous novel, the Great Gatsby, has been identified by the critics as a novel which stands at the boundary between nineteen century fiction and the modernism of the Roaring Twenties. As Arnold Weinstein observes, the Great Gatsby can be inscribed in the tradition of the "great expectations" or "lost illusion" fiction, specific to the Victorian AG (Bloom, 137). In this respect, the book emphasizes the corruption of the American Dream. However, the Great Gatsby is at the same time a profoundly modernist fiction. First of all, Fitzgerald is the inventor of the literary term that will later be used in American Studies: "the Jazz Age"(Breitwieser, 364). Jazz is thus an important modernist fictional leitmotif, which characterizes the American literature in the twenties. Also, the novel is an instance of the modernist obliteration of reality by science, art and history. The rich symbolism and the scientific concerns of Fitzgerald all hint of the modernist eclectic and elitist style of writing. Moreover, the narrative is told from the single and very subjective point-of-view of Nick Carraway, and, as such, it takes an impressionist form, almost devoid of objectivity. Thus, Fitzgerald's novel is modernist from various points-of-view, in style, language, ideas and construction.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Modernism in Fitzgerald's the Great Gatsby Scott Assignment

Thus, in the first place, the construction of the Great Gatsby actually initiates what will be called later "The Jazz Age" in American Literature. The extravagance, the restlessness and opulence of the age also called significantly "The Roaring Twenties," are all reflected in Fitzgerald's novel. The music piece interpreted at Gatsby's party and entitled "The Jazz History of the World," is symbolic. Nick's contention is that the piece is chaotic and sardonic, defying his attempts at finding a single core for it, but at the same time establishing many different themes briefly: "[...] pretty soon you were aware that something was trying to establish itself, to get a foothold, something soft and persistent and profound and next you yourself were trying to help it, struggling, praying for it -- until suddenly it was there, it was established rather scornfully without you and it stayed there seemed to lurk around as with a complete self-sufficiency as if it had been there all the time."(Fitzgerald, 55) the description of the jazz piece is very relevant as it emphasizes the modernist belief in relativity and subjectivism. The "self-sufficiency" of the play is also significant because it hints at the modernist conception about art as a self-sufficient reality.

Also, as Barrett underlines, Fitzgerald's novel is a product of the twentieth century because it obliterates reality under the heap or art and science that fill it: "The Great Gatsby is clearly the product of the twentieth century, in which reality is obfuscated by science, art, and history: quantum physics and cubism rendered absolute time and space obsolete, and assembly-line production replaced a unique product with endless replicas manufactured piecemeal by the ticking of a clock."(Barrett, 540) Tom Buchanan's racist and eugenic theories, the relativity of all real processes, the irreversibility of time and so on, are all instances of the elitist concerns of the book. As Robert Ian Scott points out, the novel is intensely preoccupied with the irreversibility of time, which seems to be a reminiscent of the scientific theories about entropy: "In the Great Gatsby, we see the second laws of thermodynamics made concrete by examples of the corrupting effects of time and wealth, which disorganize and then destroy the ecology, the complexly sensitive sets of relationships on which life and hope depend."(Bloom, 81) the tendency towards corruption and disorganization are clearly hinting at the ecologic theory that modern reality is becoming a "valley of ashes," a residue of civilization that will soon become uninhabitable for man: "This is a valley of ashes -- a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air."(Fitzgerald, 23) as Ian Scott shows (Bloom, 82), Gatsby' perseverance in his dream in spite of reality is in fact an attempt to reverse time and to repeat the past and therefore stop the process towards entropy and decay:" I wouldn't ask too much of her,' I ventured. 'You can't repeat the past.' 'Can't repeat the past?' he cried incredulously. 'Why of course you can!'" (Fitzgerald)

Fitzgerald discusses history also, no less than art and science. The famous symbolism of the island that is made up of two egg-shaped portions of land, an Eastern and a Western one resolves into a theory about the historical struggle between East and West: "Nick rewrites American history, even contemporary history, by locating corruption in the East though it is generally perpetrated by Midwesterners (Tom and Daisy wreak the most havoc in the novel, effectually killing both Myrtle and Gatsby) and finding virtue in the Midwest[...]"(Barrett, 545) Again, Fitzgerald's attempt at re-writing history is typically a modern endeavor at re-ordering reality.

All in all, it is clear that Fitzgerald stands aloof of actual reality, for which he has no consideration.

His intention is not to talk about the real, but about a reality, a superior truth and not a factual, immediate one. The rich symbolism of the text does that very well. As a typical modernist writer, he is primarily preoccupied with the artistic truth about the world, and not with the real one. John Henry Raleigh observed that the author dramatizes the opposition between materialism and idealism which is specific of the American culture: "America had produced an idealism so impalpable that it had lost touch with reality (Gatsby) and a materialism so heavy that it was inhuman (Tom Buchanan)."(Mizener, 101) Thus, the novel seems to be about the "game of belief and illusion"(Bloom, 138), in which Gatsby with his own invented reality persist in his perfect dream in spite of everything. For Gatsby, Daisy is the personification of the Holy Grail. The quest of the Grail adds to the load of cultural allusions specific to modernism, in the book. Hugh Kenner points out that the greatness of Gatsby alludes not only to the American dream, but also to the central theme of the book: the appearance made real: "it is important, in short, that Gatsby shall be Great. It is important because the central myth of the Book has to do with Appearance made Real by sheer will: the oldest American theme of all"(Bloom, 137) Thus, the critics emphasized that Fitzgerald's novel has much more to do with dreaming and illusion than with reality. For the author the supreme power is that of the language and of imagination, which are infinitely more important than factual evidence: "the sovereign power of language and imagination is set over against the paltriness of evidence"(Bloom, 138). In this view, Gatsby is a true "hero of belief," who seeks for the supreme truth of God: "Gatsby is the consummate hero of belief: his belief in Daisy, in the green light, is of such a magnitude as to move worlds."(Bloom, 139) His pining for the green light far-off, or for his Daisy are symbolic of the incorrigible idealism that believes in appearance rather than in fact: "[...] he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock."(Fitzgerald, 8)

The "material without being real" world is in fact what Fitzgerald attempts to deconstruct in his novel. Gatsby is the believer in the world of truth, which for him, as for the author himself is the real one:

He must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid too high a price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about" (Fitzgerald, 169).

Fitzgerald's novel is moreover an extremely subjective one, with only one narrative voice, that of Nick Carraway. Nick's subjectivism is defined by Barrett as a "solipsizing vision" of reality, which passes everything into sensations, impressions and photographic images: "Nick's vision turns inward, like the lens of a pictorialist photographer, for whom the objective always serves the subjective."(Barrett, 542) as in the typical modernist novel, the authorial voice is very strong, and manages to impose a particular artistic view of the world. Everything in the novel is constructed impressionistically, from the characters to the events. Nick seems to see everything behind a glass pane, as when he looks at Myrtle that searches for Tom and Daisy through the window.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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