The Great Gatsby, Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is now considered as one of the major literary works ever, but as many other art creations, it didn’t bring its creator enough financial compensation to fulfill his (and especially his wife’s needs). The parallels between Jay Gatsby and Scott Fitzgerald are obvious and everybody who intends to read the book should take a few minutes (or hours, Fitzgerald’s biography is extremely diverse and interesting, after all) to learn about the writer’s life too.
Comparison of both – the book and the biography – will definitely add another dimension to the story which inspired whole generations of writers and other artists and is already adapted to not one or two but five motion pictures, including blockbusters movies with Robert Redford (1974) and Leo DiCaprio (2013) in title roles. We won’t recap the story because it’s available in the book (and the movies, of course). Instead of that, we’ll try to focus on a few important characteristics by which this book is distinguished from other, less important novels.
The Great Gatsby was a Kind of Autobiography
While every literary work possesses certain biographical elements, The Great Gatsby bursts with them. Characters in the novel are clearly shaped by real people from Fitzgerald’s life. Himself is present in both major male characters – as a dreamer in Jay Gatsby and a pragmatist in Nick Carraway. Fitzgerald was born in a relatively poor family. His father worked hard to provide a suitable standard of living to his family, including the education of his son Francis Scott. As an employee he was always vulnerable, the family experienced loss of his job, they were forced to move to other places, where he could provide a living, and so on.
Fitzgerald learned the hard facts of life at relatively early age. First of all, he learned about the importance of money. The ugly truth about the closed doors for those who don’t have it enough. The other ugly truth about never having it enough. And after a while the ultimate truth about two worlds of riches: the ones, who earned the money by working and the ones who got it by the only noble way – thanks to inheritance.
Ginevra King was his first love. Her parents told him that poor boys can’t even think of marrying rich girls and his first dream was broken. Ginevra inspired Isabelle in This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald’s first novel and biggest success in his lifetime. But before he wrote it, he felt in love with another girl from the upper class. Zelda Sayre was a daughter of a highly respectable lawyer from Alabama, with successful newspaper editors and several senators in the family. Zelda was the sixth child, extremely spoiled and nonstop seeking for attention. She was also talented in different artistic areas, including writing, but never got a chance to express her talents in times when girls, especially Southern, were expected only to look pretty and gracious, with their mouths shut, if possible.
Zelda never followed the rules and her family provided enough safety for her to give her an opportunity of breaking many social rules. She was drinking, smoking, partying all nights and is definitely one of the first flapper girls, if not the first one. Liberal times of so-called Roaring Twenties were perfect for her and Scott found great compensation in her company. They soon got engaged, but after a while, she broke off the engagement, because she couldn’t believe he was able to support her. Her family, being of a different religion, with different moral norms, and not impressed with his drinking habits, was not supportive of their relationship either.
Well, in 1920, his first novel, the already mentioned This Side of Paradise (one of the characters – Rosalinda – was made after Zelda), was published and became an instant success. Scott and Zelda married and without a hesitation went on a binge, what very soon led both into debts and not so much later into health problems as well. Fitzgerald’s second novel was a moderate success. For the living, they needed a more constant stream of money. He wrote many short stories for different magazines, what was definitely a helpful exercise, but also caused a delay in writing more demanding novels, where his artistic talents were more evident. Zelda and Scott indulged in alcohol, had affairs with other couples on the side, and quickly lost the sense with reality. The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, was not very successful. In many ways, it is similar to This Side of Paradise, but much more mature and sophisticated.
Check for yourself, a whole book is available here:
It was the ultimate expression of Fitzgerald’s already ripped talent, but the readers weren’t ready for the historical context of the plot while they were still part of the very same history. Only a few readers were ready to understand the message. The party of the 1920s had to end. And it ended with a bang. A sensible man and a great artist like F. Scott Fitzgerald undoubtedly was expected and predicted that. In the meantime, Zelda developed serious mental issues, which were ultimately diagnosed as a schizophrenia (it is believed it was actually a bipolar disorder) and medical bills started to pile up.
Not a Great Success at All
Today it is hard to believe how The Great Gatsby wasn’t able to compensate rising expenses of the Fitzgeralds. But it looks people needed to experience what was already described in the novel and only then reflect it to fully grasp the importance of this book. Major characters, like Jay, Nick and Daisy were crafted after real people, mirroring Scott and Zelda with their hopes and fears. Numerous examples of polarity (rich – poor, old money – new money, real – fake, legal – prohibited, …) just add to probably the main attraction of the novel – the background. The jazz era is era of careless partying, creation of amazing buildings, time of important shifts in society (women got voting power, many self-made men rose from poverty to riches, …), new scientific discoveries created hundreds of unbelievable opportunities, new materials made all the regular stuff so accessible to the masses, marketing started to move from simple advertising of products to creating the need for them, … And stock exchange was full of bulls, of course.
This feeling, no matter on how shaky foundations was built, is still so appealing, it inspires artists, business people and just about everybody else all over the world. We have to admit, the 1920s was the era of important achievements and just the fact how art finally managed to blend with everyday items is enough to tip one’s hat to it. It was a time where unlimited dreaming was allowed and it is no wonder how popular is still the era, which is not necessary correctly often interchangeably called The Roaring Twenties, Time of the Great Gatsby or simply Art Deco. It is one of the most popular themes for wedding, as we can see below:
It is a time of dreamers, who really don’t care about the consequences of their possible mistakes. Just like Zelda Fitzgerald said when she was still surnamed Sayre: “Let’s think only of today, and not worry about tomorrow.”
While this quote doesn’t sound very responsible, we have to give the credit where it’s due. This world was made and shaped after dreamers. Sure they made mistakes, but what is the other option? Without dreamers where would we be?
(first image is used as fair use for education purposes only, all others are in public domain)