Question: For a text to be successful, elements of the setting must be recognisable.
F.Scott.Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a very successful book with relatable settings embedded within. The settings are recognisable in the sense that they allow the reader to reflect on characters and the authors purpose. Relatable characters also help to give a novel its success. This can be seen within ‘The Great Gatsby’ where the main characters of Daisy and Tom reflect our society, even today. Fitzgerald’s rich literary style helps to develop his settings and characters.
Fitzgerald wrote his magnum opus during the 1920s - a decade widely known as the ‘roaring twenties’ or the ‘Jazz Age’. This was a period of economic prosperity and extravagance where the upper classes indulged themselves with opulent properties and services. People believed in the American Dream - bettering their lives and achieving their own version of ‘success’. It was this form of ‘success’, however, that proved to be problematic and Fitzgerald intended to highlight this in his text.
The author begins by writing about two prominent settings in his novel. These are East and West Egg which are representative of the wealthy, upper classes of society. East Egg refers to the “old money”, “aristocratic” people of society - that is, people born into wealth that has existed in their family for generations. West Eggers are different. Even though they may live extravagant lives with a continual flow of money from their pockets, West Eggers were not born into wealth. Characters of that society have to work for their wealth and often they have gaudy taste, forming a subtle distinction between themselves and the elegant East Eggers. The protagonist, Jay Gatsby, is a classic West Egger. This can be seen in the quote referring to his house “The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard - it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side spanking new…”. The imagery in this passage indicates the sheer folly of this monstrosity. It is a grandiose dream, mimicking aristocratic, European mansions seen in the metaphorical language used by Fitzgerald. The author writes this sentence to accentuate the insecurities that West Eggers feel, knowing they are not of “old money” society. Therefore they feel the need to display their wealth, appearing to be from the highest echelon of society when in reality they are not. Fitzgerald links the West Eggers to his underlying theme; appearance versus reality.
Jay Gatsby’s excessive parties reveal the insecure natures within the newly rich communities. The parties become ridiculous as a consequence of the lengths Gatsby goes to, to showcase his wealth. This can be seen when Fitzgerald describes the orchestra: ‘“By seven o’clock the orchestra had arrived, no thin five piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and violas and cornets and piccolos and low and high drums…”’. The listing technique used in this passage creates an image that Gatsby’s parties are too extravagant and are bordering chaos - destroying the “old money” appearance he is desperately trying to achieve. Fitzgerald does this deliberately to make a point about society. Today, social media is a tool widely used amongst people to appear a particular way, often mimicking celebrity figures one aspires to be like. West Eggers can be compared to people today as they attempt to mimic those of the desirable East Egg society.
East Egg is the pinnacle of the corrupted version of the American Dream. People strayed away from the idea of bettering their lives with joy to the idea of bettering their lives with happiness. Joy is created through building long lasting relationships and partaking in spiritually restoring activities. Happiness is a fleeting emotion that can only be fulfilled through pleasurable activities such as gaining wealth, attending parties, holidaying and the like. During the 1920s people aspired to achieve this goal of happiness by either maintaining their wealth or attaining wealth, but it only rotted them since such things are short term. It is impossible to be happy forever and Fitzgerald often described the East Eggers as feeling “restless” in his novel due to a spiritual bankruptcy within. Fitzgerald saw the perils of materialism in the 1920s, and this still exists today. He includes his characters of Tom and Daisy Buchanan - two arrogant East Eggers - as a resemblance of people in the upper echelons of society. They are hollow within, frowning upon those of the lower classes - referring to them as “nobodies from nowhere”. Even today, society is riddled with snobs. This familiarity for the reader contributes towards the texts success.
East Eggers is located on the opposite side of West Egg. It is representative of the “old money” society, where wealth has been passed down through generations. Fitzgerald writes “…the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water…”. The adjectives describing this setting depict a tranquil setting with the properties oozing sophistication and beauty. Through this sentence alone, the reader can see that West Egg is nothing like East Egg - its ostentatious, busy displays of wealth contrast the gentle, glittering homes along the East Egg waterfront. Fitzgerald uses a metaphor skillfully comparing the houses along East Egg to palaces. He refers to the residents as royalty, families who have had wealth for generations. The author writes that Tom and Daisy’s house had “…French windows, glowing now with reflected gold…”. Again, he is adding to the idea that the East Eggers are of nobility. This setting is recognisable for the reader as they are reminded that elites will always remain in society as celebrities or aristocracy, with their pockets lined with gold.
The reader is encouraged to reflect on how the elites are viewed in the public eye. Their wealth gives the false appearance that their lives are prefect, lacking nothing. However, Fitzgerald hints that East Egg is filled with people whose lives are not what they appear. The Buchanan’s household seems flawless with their “Georgian mansion…frosted ceiling…wine coloured rug…” and yet there is an element of discord when Fitzgerald writes “…whip and snap of curtains…the groan of a picture on the wall…”. He hints that one may be pursuing wealth and pleasure but their lack of joy causes their souls to become hollow. Fitzgerald often refers to the “hollowness of the upper classes” within his novel, indicating that East Eggers are dissatisfied with their lives - money cannot buy joy. In todays society, this can be seen amongst celebrities. Their extravagant perfect homes give the appearance that they lack nothing, with desirable lives that many envy. But, behind closed doors conflict and discord reign with a hollowness that is formed from the pursuit of wealth.
In conclusion, I agree mostly with the statement “for a text to be successful, elements of the setting must be recognisable”. This is because the West and East Egg settings allow the reader to reflect upon people and societies today. However, recognisable characters such as Tom and Daisy are also needed to give the text its success. This is because humans understand the nature of a character from their own life experiences, allowing them to connect and relate to various personalities.