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Brianna Briones
English 3 Honors
13 May 2015
The Dark Side of the 1920s
In many ways, the 1920s is a decade dominated by optimism and looked
upon as a prosperous time period. Despite our modern worlds positive
perspective of the time, the 1920s still had its dark side as there was the Lost
Generation and the grief that came along with post-WWI. Francis Scott Fitzgerald
is an influential writer of this era and portrays the Lost Generation through many
of his works. In Fitzgeralds novel, The Great Gatsby, he conveys the idea of the
Lost Generation through characterization. The Lost Generation is distinct in The
Great Gatsby, symbolized by Nick Carraway, Myrtle Wilson, Tom & Daisy
Buchanan, and lastly Gatsby himself, all by their dialogue, lifestyle, and conduct.
Nick Carraway, the narrator in The Great Gatsby is the first example that
the author uses to represent the Lost Generation. During the 1920s, recreational
drinking, partying, and the thrill of rebellion were all commonplace. In chapter
two, Nick claims that he has only been drunk twice in his life, but we know that
this is a lie as he can only remember bits and pieces of the entire story from his
perspective, and not even in chronological order. In the following chapter at
Gatsbys party, he says I was on my way to get roaring drunk (Fitzgerald 42). He
says this so casually in the midst of a party that we can infer that this is normal

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behavior for Nick -- and he is most likely an alcoholic. One probable cause was
that after the soldiers came home from fighting in WWI, the American
government ignored many of its servicemen. This resulted in the veterans and
the rest of their generation to become quickly disillusioned with government.
This Lost Generation became doubtful and untrusting of all authority, especially
since at the same time their parents were pushing for Prohibition. The skepticism
in the youth resulted in them living more recklessly. Also, after the war, the Lost
Generation started exploring its own set of values, ones that clearly went against
what their elders had already established (Jill Jaracz). Though he is caught up in
the glamorous lifestyle of Gatsby for the majority of the story, Nick realizes in the
end the futility of the values and goals that the Lost Generation had been
glorifying, and he moves back to the midwest. As a writer of the era, living a
rough life, and experiencing much loss, drinking excessively connects directly to
the Lost Generation. At one point in his life, Fitzgerald too was an alcoholic.
Although Nicks drinking throughout the novel is not seen as a major issue or as
extreme as Fitzgerald, alcoholism still reflects a prominent component of the Lost
With her strive for personal pleasure and abandoning of traditional values,
Myrtle Wilson is another prime example used to depict the moral decay of the
Lost Generation. Many people of the Lost Generation lost sight of morality as
respect and social values went downhill as a whole. Myrtle is cheating on her
husband, George, with Tom. As Toms mistress, Myrtle fancies his wealth and

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prestige over her marital vows with George. She cheats mainly because Tom is
wealthy and she likes how he spends money on her. He buys her things that
George cant afford, like a puppy and pearl necklace, for example. But above all,
she is unfaithful to her husband because shes a self-centered and vain
individual. Like much of her generation, she lived in the moment, rebelled
against the principles of her elders, and did not care about the consequences of
her actions. We know that Myrtle lost purpose of her own life and drifted from
George as a result when she says, All I kept thinking about, over and over, was
You cant live forever; you cant live forever (36). She lived in the moment and
was driven by the desire to have a good time since tomorrow isnt a promise. This
type of mindset was adopted during the 1920s post WWI because of the hundreds
of thousands of Americans whom left for war and never returned home. The Lost
Generation was left seeking hedonism over ideology. Myrtle only cared about her
own satisfaction, seeking debauchery over decency. She lived toxic lifestyle,
eventually leading to her own destruction.
Tom Buchanan, like Myrtle, only cares about his own gratification. It is
exemplified by the fact that he is married to his faithful wife, Daisy, yet still
cheats on her. Having a negative outlook on life in addition to being selfish and
only caring about personal happiness or gain can take a toll on the human mind
and can tear them apart. While Nick and Jordan are over for dinner one night,
Tom says, Civilizations going to pieces...Ive gotten to be a terrible pessimist
about things. (13). Tom has no hope for the future and a gloomy perspective of

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society. Post WWI, immigrants poured into the U.S. with the goal of starting a
better life, and with the competition for jobs and ever-increasing class
distinction, the members of the Lost Generation became independent and selfsufficient, not looking to their elders for guidance (Jill Jaracz). WWI also left
people feeling cynical about humanity's prospects (Jill Jaracz). People of the
Lost Generation felt hopeless toward the future, and shared this same cynical
ethos that Tom illustrates. Toms way of coping with these dark feelings is to be
extremely selfish. Hes angered by Daisys desire for Gatsby, yet feels nothing is
wrong with committing a long-term affair with Myrtle. Daisy briefly drifted from
Toms grasp because of her past love for Gatsby and his recently acquired wealth,
but ultimately she chooses Tom over Gatsby because of the life theyve already
built together as a married couple. Tom was only able to thrive in his selfishness
and never lose anything important to him because his great deal of wealth was
there to protect him.
Moreover, Toms wife, Daisy also portrays someone of the Lost Generation.
Indecisive and selfish, Daisy appears charming on the outside. At one time, Daisy
was in love with Gatsby and wanted to be with him. After he left for war and
years went by, Daisy married Tom because of his wealth, and is stuck in the
destiny she chose for herself. When Nick and Daisy chat about how Daisy has
been after the wedding, she replies, Well, Ive had a very bad time, Nick, and
Im pretty cynical about everything. (17). Daisy is married to a man who is
cheating on her, and well aware of the fact. Though shes barely content in her

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marriage, she chooses to stay with Tom rather than leaving him for Gatsby
because of the life that theyve already built together. They have many memories
together, a child, and are living very comfortably with Toms wealth. Even after
Gatsby took the blame for the death of Myrtle, and soon after was killed, Daisy
didnt object to him taking her blame and further didnt even attend his funeral.
Daisy isnt willing to abandon the life shes been living, her family and her
sophisticated lifestyle for her lost love, Gatsby.
Finally, Jay Gatsby is the most significant symbol used to represent the Lost
Generation -- the quest of pleasure through greed and the false expectations it
can implement. Gatsby grew up poor, but climbed his way up in hierarchy,
eventually becoming one of the richest people of West Egg (new money). He is
mentioned early on in the story by Jordan Baker while she is at the Buchanans,
and again by Catherine in Toms apartment. Both times, he is brought up because
of the parties that he hosted. The main reason Gatsby has became so famous in
Long Island is because of the elaborate parties he throws every weekend. Even
Nick, as his neighbor, writes On weekends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus,
bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past
midnight.. (39). This is all that Gatsby is known for: hosting huge, chaotic
parties. As mentioned before, this type of lifestyle was typical for someone of the
Lost Generation. The youth lived recklessly, took chances and lived for the now.
Gatsby didnt host these parties solely for the purpose of having a good time, to
socialize and party though, but rather as an attempt of attracting Daisys attention

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and further, the possibility of her showing up. Gatsby had a poor background,
and since rich girls dont marry poor boys, he took great measures to attract her
attention and win her over; he was determined to become rich so he could win
her over. He eventually became rich, but by illegal means -- bootlegging. He
thought that material wealth was enough to win her back. You cant repeat the
past [Nick tells Gatsby] Cant repeat the past? Why of course you can!...Im
going to fix everything just the way it was before [Gatsby replied] (111). Gatsby
did not see any of Daisys flaws; he was blinded by passion and idealized her love.
He kept living with the thought that things could go back to the way that they
used to be. Ultimately, time beat him and he never was never able to achieve
dreams of being with Daisy. While Gatsby was away at war, Daisy got married to
Tom and had a child, she started a life without him. Though time went on and
Daisy was living her life, Gatsby remained obsessed with fantasy of having her.
He dies wealthy, miserable and alone.
Fitzgerald establishes the Lost Generation in The Great Gatsby, all made
clear through his characters and their personalities. Fitzgerald is a distinguished
writer and is able to characterize the Lost Generation by rebellion, immorality,
greed, and debauchery. Even though the 1920s is considered a thriving era, its
evident that hopelessness and grief were still dynamic aspects lingering in every
corner of society.