The Great Gatsby is a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald about the American Dream, The Roaring ’20s, and social class in Long Island during The Jazz Age. The story follows wealthy Jay Gatsby as he tries to win over Daisy Buchanan.
The Dustbowl of The Great Depression, in reference to The Great Gatsby, was used by Fitzgerald as an analogy to the destruction of dreams. The symbolism exists within The Great Gatsby because it is a reflection on The Great Gatsby.
The destructions starts when Myrtle says, “I can’t stand the beating that thing [the steering wheel] gives my hands.” (Fitzgerald pg1) This represents how America’s greed during The Roaring Twenties (and The Great Gatsby) led to the eventual destruction of their own wealth and The Great Depression began.
People were buying cars like crazy which lead to over production. Eventually there was less demand for cars because everyone already had one and they no longer needed to buy more. The economy fell with the production of cars. The dustbowl is another representation of The Great Gatsby because it shows how The Roaring Twenties led to The Great Depression which was similar to Jay Gatsby’s life leading up to his death.
The symbolism also appears when Nick is driving through New York on his way home from East Egg after visiting Daisy Buchanan and Tom Buchanan at their house. It is about 4 o’clock in the morning so there isn’t anyone out besides Nick driving, “I turned west at Thirty-second street” (Fitzgerald pg16) “. . .trees that were bare even in summer.”(Fitzgerald pg17). The reason he heads west is because The Roaring Twenties was a westward movement. The Great Gatsby is when cities with factories were in The Midwest and The Dustbowl is when the factory farms were established in The West. The trees being “bare even in summer” also represents The Dust Bowl because of how bare they look during mid-summer.
The symbolism appears at the end of The Great Gatsby when Nick sees Tom Buchanan outside standing next to his car looking towards The Buchanans’ house, “I had dropped Daisy off [at her house] about a block from her own door.”(Fitzgerald pg178) In this quote, Tom is seeing Daisy’s lifeless body after she killed herself by overdosing on drugs. The reason Nick dropped Daisy off a block away from her house is because she was never going to be allowed back in The Buchanans’ house again. The loss of The Great Gatsby represented The Dustbowl because America saw the destruction of The Roaring Twenties and The Great Depression which is similar to the loss of dreams that come with The Dustbowl after The Great Gatsby ends.
The final use of dust symbolism appears when Tom is talking about his affair with Myrtle Wilson and he says, “I had picked up a paper and folded it so that the story was on top.” (Fitzgerald pg64) This relates to The Dustbowl because Tom’s infidelity led him to another woman through an affair, which The Dustbowl represents in The Great Gatsby because The Roaring Twenties led to The Great Depression.
The symbol is used when Tom talks about his affair because it shows how The Dustbowl started when The Roaring Twenties ended. To start the destruction of Daisy’s lifestyle, she had to be unfaithful to her husband, Tom by having an affair with Gatsby. The symbolism also exists in Nick’s quote because this happened just after the stock market crash. When the stock market crashes America would lose all of their money and have to deal with The Dustbowl for eight years during The Great Depression.
The novel can be used to teach students about The Great Depression or The Roaring ’20s. The historical context of The Great Gatsby can be interlinked with Dust Bowl in The West, which occurred during The Great Depression. The novel itself is set in 1922, when The Prohibition outlawed alcohol, and The Jazz Age was at its prime.
The Roaring ’20s were a time of prosperity and excess for rich Americans living on Long Island in New York. Jay Gatsby is a character who represents this age of excess since he throws wild parties every weekend while wearing white suits. During that time period alcohol was illegal in most parts of the country, but many wealthy people obtained it illegally to party with friends at their homes or the homes of others.
Although not directly referenced, there are hints that Tom, Daisy, and Jordan (Jordan Baker) were The Flappers during The Jazz Age. The Flapper was a teenager or young woman who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz music, and smoked cigarettes in public places. The women in The Roaring ’20s represented “rebellion” since they had so many freedoms with voting rights and sexuality that women in The Great Depression didn’t have.
One of the reasons why The Great Gatsby is considered to be an excellent novel is because it can be interlinked with different chapters of history students are learning about at school. Students can use parts of the novel when discussing or writing about The Great Depression or The Roaring ’20s, just like when people in The Great Gatsby use The Civil War and The First World War when talking about The Roaring ’20s. The novel can be used to teach students how The Jazz Age was the bridge between The 19th Century and The 20th century, which is why many things in The Great Gatsby do not make sense unless readers know what happened before or after this time period.
Themes in the novel that could correlate with The Great Depression:
– Poverty and Wealth (Jay Gatsby lives in poverty while surrounded by extreme wealth)
– People living beyond their means (Tom Buchanan spends his days playing polo, but he has no money to pay for it; Nick Carraway does not work; Gatsby lives in the “Valley of The Ashes” which is an industrial place where people work)
– The American Dream (Jay Gatsby was born into poverty, but during The Roaring ’20s he came across a lot of wealthy people who made him believe that The American Dream was real, not just something that belonged to rich white men)
– The class system (The Great Gatsby is narrated by Nick Carraway, but Nick never talks about his own social class. He occasionally mentions Daisy’s social class because she grew up with money.)
– The idea of The Other (Nick constantly compares characters’ appearances to cars)
– Relationship between ethnicity and wealth (“Gatz”, or Jay Gatsby, has an extreme fascination with The Buchanans because Daisy spent her days in The East Egg while Tom grew up in The West)
– The idea of keeping up appearances while hiding a different reality (Tom and Daisy Buchanan appear to be a perfect couple, but they are both unfaithful towards one another; Gatsby appears to have everything, which is why Nick moves next door, but Gatsby’s money comes from illegal business practices)
– The idea that the past determines every aspect of someone’s future (Nick Carraway moved from The Midwest to New York during The Roaring ’20s. Therefore he had completely different experiences than his cousin Daisy who was born into wealth.)
Themes in the novel that could correlate with The Jazz Age:
– The idea that The American Dream is a real possibility if someone works hard enough (Gatsby believes The American Dream is something he can have, not just a dream Americans have.)
– The use of alcohol as a coping mechanism for problems (Nick drinks whenever there is something wrong, such as when people are talking about Gatsby’s death)
– People living for the moment since they never know what will happen next (The Great Gatsby is narrated from Nick Carraway’s point of view. Therefore, readers do not know what will happen to any of the characters until they read about it in the following chapter/section.)
– The that everyone has a secret life (Gatsby appears to be The American Dream on the outside, but he is The Derelict with criminal ties on the inside) – The idea of The Roaring ’20s as The Golden Age (The Great Gatsby takes place during The Roaring ’20s. Therefore, every time characters mention The First World War or The Civil War they are reminded of an older time period when there were no problems.)