The Great Gatsby

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The Roaring Twenties Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Roaring Twenties Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) Theme Icon
Past and Future Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Great Gatsby, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Roaring Twenties Theme Icon

F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the term "Jazz Age" to describe the decade of decadence and prosperity that America enjoyed in the 1920s, which was also known as the Roaring Twenties. After World War I ended in 1918, the United States and much of the rest of the world experienced an enormous economic expansion. The surging economy turned the 1920s into a time of easy money, hard drinking (despite the Prohibition amendment to the Constitution), and lavish parties. Though the 1920s were a time of great optimism, Fitzgerald portrays the much bleaker side of the revelry by focusing on its indulgence, hypocrisy, shallow recklessness, and its perilous—even fatal—consequences.

The Roaring Twenties ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Roaring Twenties appears in each chapter of The Great Gatsby. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Roaring Twenties Quotes in The Great Gatsby

Below you will find the important quotes in The Great Gatsby related to the theme of The Roaring Twenties.
Chapter 1 Quotes
"And I hope she'll be a fool — that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
Related Characters: Daisy Buchanan (speaker), Pammy Buchanan
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Daisy reflects while Nick visits her on her relatively despondent state of mind. As an example, she tells the story of her daughter’s birth, during which she exclaimed this disconcerting wish for the child.

This passage gives excellent insight into Daisy’s character and relationship with Tom. Her desperation at the moment of her daughter's birth was partly caused by his absence—which is characteristic of his generally selfish and neglectful nature. Yet Daisy’s hope for her daughter is, intriguingly, not that she has a supportive husband or can take care of herself. Rather, she wishes her to be a “fool”: someone who is too simple or ignorant to correctly perceive what is happening around them. The implication, here, is that Daisy wishes she herself could be a fool, for it would allow her to enjoy the luxuries of Tom’s life without being aware of his unfaithful behavior or the hollowness behind the extravagance.

Fitzgerald thus presents Daisy as not only confined by Tom but also by her own conceptions of what it means to be a woman and a wife. She is, rather ironically, herself a fool for not having realized how narrowly she defines a good female identity. The passage shows how Fitzgerald perceived gender roles to have functioned in the American twenties: men, in his account, saw themselves as bread-winners expected to be chasing the American Dream, while women like Daisy and her daughter were told to be no more than “a beautiful little fool.”

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Chapter 6 Quotes
The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

As Nick recounts Gatsby’s backstory, he offers both factual information and this more abstract description. He notes how artificially Gatsby has created his personality and identity, but also seems to respect the commitment he shows to that artifice.

To better articulate the fraudulence of Gatsby’s identity, Nick employs several sets of symbols. First he describes him as a “Platonic conception of himself,” implying that Gatsby projected an ideal (“Platonic”) way his life could exist and then avidly pursued that end. Next, Nick swaps in monotheistic religion for Plato’s Greek philosophy, likening Gatsby to a self-imagined Jesus pursuing a holy end (going about "His Father's business"). Recall that Gatsby seeks a green light that lies across the water, implying that he must walk over that water like Jesus to achieve his goal. Yet for all this spiritual talk the goal is still a “vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty”: it may be meaningful, enormous, and even aesthetically pleasing, but it is fundamentally empty.

These descriptions might seem to belittle Gatsby for entirely lacking substance, but the weight of references to Plato and God also grant him a sense of import. Nick’s tone simultaneously chastises Gatsby for conforming to the childish inventions of a “seventeen year old boy” and respects him for being “faithful to the end.” In contrast to other characters who seem to change from moment-to-moment, there is something worthy in Gatsby’s single-minded pursuit of perfecting an identity. Fitzgerald thus offers both a critical and a sympathetic eye toward the social-climbing and avarice seen in Gatsby and his twenties society. He simultaneously praises commitment and mocks cheap deception.

Chapter 8 Quotes
"They're a rotten crowd," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."
I've always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we'd been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

As Nick leaves Gatsby’s house in what will be their last interaction, he yells back this redeeming comment. Though the amount of sincerity from both characters remains unclear, they do establish at least an apparent connection.

Nick’s reflection on the nature of the compliment reiterates his ambivalence toward Gatsby. He entirely disapproves of the man’s actions, finding them superficial, decadent, and morally questionable. Yet he also sees in them something that raises Gatsby above the “rotten crowd,” likely due to the way he has intensely pursued his narrative of self-creation, and thus in a way remained true to himself. Nick notably does not consider the comment to have been a flippant one, but rather observes how it has stood the test of time. A level of skepticism should be reserved, however, when Gatsby’s smile is taken into account, for we were told explicitly before how the smile creates the semblance of “ecstatic cahoots” as opposed to an actual connection. The hypothetical “as if we’d been” corroborates that interpretation and leaves Nick’s perception of Gatsby unclear until the end.

Still, Nick’s comment on the “rotten crowd” has broken with his earlier promise to be empathetic toward all. He is not judgmental, here, of those without advantages, but rather those with advantages. Indeed, he is the most empathetic to those without means, secondly empathetic to Gatsby’s new money, and least empathetic to Tom and his old money crowd. Fitzgerald thus shows how Nick’s sensibilities have developed from the novel’s opening pages—no longer seeking to treat all men equally but rather judging those who have behaved poorly given their social circumstances.

Chapter 9 Quotes
That's my Middle West . . . the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark. . . . I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all—Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.
Related Characters: Nick Carraway (speaker), Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, Tom Buchanan, Jordan Baker
Related Symbols: East and West
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

After Gatsby’s funeral, Nick adopts this broader perspective on the events that have transpired in the novel. He observes that all of the characters were coastal transplants who hoped and failed to pursue an American Dream on the East Coast.

Nick offers, here, an interesting case of re-narrativizing his life: with this added realization of the characters’ common heritage, he can reinterpret the tale as “a story of the West.” Thus their actions and flaws become less characteristic of individual choices and more of the social types they represent. That they “possessed some deficiency” renders the plot of the novel fatalistic and pre-determined based on social constraints, while the “common” oddly binds together these Westerners even as the novel’s plot has tended to highlight their differences.

The passage also speaks to a sociological shift taking place in the twenties: Whereas before the West was seen as a frontier of opportunity, at this time, a financial boom caused migration patterns to shift back eastward. Yet if the the western American Dream brought one into regions of relatively greater freedom and opportunity, those who moved east were confronting the rigid social systems epitomized by East Egg. Thus Fitzgerald has used these characters as a way to make sense of a broader pattern of movement, in which even those who were seen as wildly successful in the roaring twenties could not conform their identities fully to the nature of the older East Coast.