The Great Gatsby and the Jazz Age

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Overview

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby” portrays Americans and their lives from various angles. It goes full circle when Nick, one of the main characters, moves closer to New York City where he becomes a spectator of love affairs, lavish lifestyles, and inevitable lies. All of this is always accompanied by musical instruments that are most often used in jazz. Through “The Great Gatsby”, Fitzgerald has been linked to jazz. He is also believed to have coined the famous term “Jazz Age“.

“Jazz Age”

Within the novel, Fitzgerald uses the word “jazz” only a few times, which puts him in a tough spot. In the 1920s, jazz has been linked to the African Americans, since the roots of jazz come from the African slaves. By invoking the term “jazz”, Fitzgerald involuntarily provoked the idea of blackness in his novel. Yet, the usage of jazz in the novel is complicated as Fitzgerald was trying to showcase the changes that society was going through at that time. Jazz appears to play in the background almost all the time in the novel – especially when Gatsby throws luxurious parties to impress the love of his life. The music symbolized freedom, change in society, female roles in families and the public, and the view of African Americans.

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Jazz Age

Jazz in the American culture in the 1900s was seen as divisive from the beginning. It was one of the most prominent musical forms in the 1920s, it was also in one way or another connected to assumptions about blackness. Even though Fitzgerald was criticizing the ideology of white Americans, he could not avoid mentioning African Americans in a way that looked as if he was portraying them through racial caricatures. His intentions were simply to showcase jazz as a new musical style with all its freedom, complexity, melodies, and how different it was to everything else previously depicted in the American culture. The idea was that jazz was rejected as a piece of “proper” music, even though it was never intended to be one. It was music that both rich and poor could, theoretically, dance to and enjoy it.

Fitzgerald frequently refers to horns and saxophones, the instruments of the genre, carrying them through the whole novel and creating the jazzy atmosphere of the story. By embracing a new musical genre that brought change to the music arena, Fitzgerald managed to accept the “Jazz Age” and reject the racist comments about the origins of jazz. Despite the fact that in the 1920s, jazz was at the peak of its fame, the author of “The Great Gatsby” still failed to see black people in the same way as he saw fellow Americans and Europeans. In the novel, jazz was used as powerful support of the failed love story, and brought to life a coined term “Jazz Age”. Fitzgerald might have failed to address the race issues in the novel, however, he did his best in portraying the main changes in the 1920s by including one of the most prominent musical genres that have changed the American culture.