Understanding the Great Gatsby: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

By Dalton Gross; MaryJean Gross | Go to book overview

3
Why Be Honest! The Scandals of the 1920s

The Great Gatsby is a book about disillusionment with the American dream of success as that dream is misunderstood by Jay Gatsby, who sees no difference between his success as a criminal and legitimate forms of achievement. Fitzgerald emphasizes this theme by alluding to corruption in professional sports and to underworld figures for whom many Americans were coming to have a misplaced admiration.

The American tendency not to respect the law, magnified many times over by Prohibition, made folk heroes of gangsters like Dutch Schultz and of nightclub hostesses like Texas Guinan. The mystery and glamor surrounding Gatsby and the hysterical wildness of his parties are a reflection of the underworld where these figures flourished. Gatsby's disillusionment and his fate show Fitzgerald's own disillusioned appraisal of that world.

Several events that affected Fitzgerald and the American public are discussed in this chapter, including the exposure of political corruption in the Harding administration and the shock the country felt when it learned of corruption in its most cherished sport, major league baseball. We will also look at some of the activities of organized crime.

Although organized crime--gambling, for instance--existed long before Gatsby's time, criminal activity increased greatly during

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