Themes

 People are constantly immigrating into the United States for a chance to pursue the American Dream.  In The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, and The Love of the Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald discusses the topic of the American Dream, but not in the way one would imagine it.  Fitzgerald incorporates three main themes into his books: the failure of the American Dream, commentary on social structures, and conflicts within relationships.  While Americans are searching for their American Dream, he is writing about the darker side of our society.

 One of Fitzgerald’s main ideas that he carries throughout these three novels is the idea of the failure of the American Dream.  In The Great Gatsby, the valley of ashes represents the decay of social and moral values; for example, Tom Buchanan has an affair with Myrtle Wilson in the valley of ashes.  He admits that “once in a while [he] go[es] off on a spree and makes a fool of [himself], but [he] always comes back” (132).  Tom finds no problem in having a mistress, but he becomes violently angry when he suspects Daisy of having an affair with Jay Gatsby, showing that he has no social or moral values.  Fitzgerald also depicts this theme of the decline of the American Dream by the characters’ unrestrained desire for money.  Before the war, Gatsby was a nobody from North Dakota.  After meeting Daisy, who is a woman of old money, he joins the mafia and participates in illegal activities to build his wealth in order to impress Daisy.  Gatsby’s uncontrollable lust for wealth causes his ultimate demise in the end.  Fitzgerald also discusses the failure of the American Dream through Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise.  He spends his adolescent years in boarding school and attends Princeton hoping that “his nearest approach to success [is] through conformity” (110).  He joins football and other clubs, conforming to what others around him consider to be popular.  Amory starts to work for an advertising company, a normal job, so that he could earn money during his relationship with Rosalind to prove that he was worthy to marry her.  However, have the exact same lifestyle as everyone else doesn’t satisfy Amory.  With the help of his discussions about conformity with Burne Holiday, Amory realizes that the only way he will find success is by becoming his own person.  Not only do Jay Gatsby and Amory Blaine suffer from their failure in pursuit of the American Dream, so does Monroe Stahr in The Love of the Last Tycoon.  Stahr is a workaholic who can “work all through the night on a single picture” (37).  His health is failing, his house is unfinished, and his one love runs away to get married.  It is not until the end of this novel that he realizes that he has spends his whole life working, trying to make vast amounts of money (like Gatsby), only to find that it doesn’t mean anything.  These three men work hard in their lives chasing the American Dream, but ultimately, none of them are able to achieve their goal. 

 

It is not just the American Dream that motivates people in society, it is also their social status.  One of Fitzgerald’s main themes is his disgust with social classes, especially the upper class.  In The Great Gatsby, both Gatsby and Nick Carraway live in West Egg which the part of town for people with new money whereas East Egg is the people with old money.  West Egg is “the less fashionable” compared to “the white palaces of fashionable East Egg” (5).  Gatsby throws flamboyant parties to try and get Daisy’s attention.  As a result, the people who live in West Egg are seen as vulgar, gaudy, and ostentatious.  Tom Buchanan vows to always live in the East because he would “be a God Damned fool to live anywhere else” (10) seeing as how the people of East Egg are viewed as elegant, graceful, tasteful, and subtle.  Using these two locations as examples, Fitzgerald shows his disdain of social classes and especially the attitudes of those in the elite class.  Amory Blaine also finds himself in conflict with social classes in This Side of Paradise because he can fall into two categories.  “Amory resent[s] social barriers as artificial distinctions made by the strong to bolster up their weak retainers and keep out the almost strong” (49-50).  Amory’s family has plenty of money.  However, like Gatsby, even though he has money, is not considered part of the elite class, although he wishes to be.  Amory idolizes Dick Humbird who “seemed to be an external example of what the upper class tries to be” (87).  Social classes are something that Amory struggles with because he dislikes them, but only because he is not in the upper class.  The issue of social statuses is also raised in The Love of the Last Tycoon.  However, the main focus of Fitzgerald’s commentary is on Hollywood.  He writes that “Hollywood is a perfectly zoned city so you know exactly what kind of people economically live in each section from executives and directors, through technicians in their bungalows right down to extras” (69-70).  In Hollywood, what people do as a job defines them, so each person is separated into social classes; Cecelia Brady comments that they “don’t go for strangers in Hollywood…unless they’re a celebrity” (11).  In these three novels, F. Scott Fitzgerald shows his dislike for social classes and the labels that society gives people.

 Another theme that Fitzgerald focuses on in his literary works is the fragility of relationships.  In The Great Gatsby, Daisy breaks Gatsby’s heart because she married Tom Buchanan instead of him.  Even though she promises Gatsby that she would wait for him until after the war, those are just words, and she marries Tom because of his tangible money.  Tom’s relationship with Myrtle is also abruptly shattered when Myrtle is hit by a car and killed; Fitzgerald wrote about this betrayal because his wife, Zelda, had had an affair which infuriated Fitzgerald.  Amory Blaine also goes through a similar experience in This Side of Paradise.  Amory and Rosalind Connage were passionately in love, until she decides to marry Dawson Ryder.  After her decision, “Rosalind feels that she has lost something, she knows not what” (214).  Fitzgerald ends their relationship to make the point that their love was too perfect that it couldn’t last which reflects that nature of Fitzgerald’s relationship to his own wife.  Cecelia Brady also had relationship problems in The Love of the Last Tycoon.  Cecelia likes Monroe Stahr and wants to pursue a deeper relationship; however, he is infatuated with Kathleen Moore, a woman who looks like his former wife.  Cecelia becomes jealous when “to her surprise, [Stahr] was talking to [Kathleen]” (72).  Cecelia is jealous because she feels that Kathleen is below her in society and that “the rich could only be happy alone together” (72).  Many of the relationships in Fitzgerald’s books reflect the one he had with his wife Zelda, and the problems that they encountered.

 The themes that F. Scott Fitzgerald incorporates into his novels are often similar to events in his life.  His father’s furniture business had failed. The Fitzgerald’s lived in a modest home and mingled with people in the upper class which only made F. Scott Fitzgerald feel like an outsider.  When he met Zelda, the two couldn’t be happier, but their relationship turned sour when alcohol was introduced.  Fitzgerald incorporates these experiences into his writing to give the reader an insight into how he viewed the world. 

 

 

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