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Satire in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:02 What Is Satire?
  • 1:13 A Life of Privilege
  • 2:12 Materialism
  • 3:25 New Money vs Old Money
  • 3:45 Racial Superiority
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

What is satire? How do authors use it? Why do authors use it? How does F. Scott Fitzgerald incorporate satire into his novel ''The Great Gatsby''? This lesson seeks to answer all of these questions.

What Is Satire?

Have you ever met a person who was very sarcastic and exaggerated everything? Nearly everything they say is meant to mock or criticize or tease. Even though this person can be exhausting to be around, you may find that what they have to say has a little kernel of truth behind it. The points they exaggerate and emphasize start to stick in your mind; they point out things to you that you wouldn't have noticed on your own.

Authors often do the same thing in their writing. In literature, this is referred to as satire. Authors use satire to bring the reader's attention to different aspects of society through deliberate exaggeration and criticism, highlighting the ridiculousness of things that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Many people who read The Great Gatsby are unaware that it's filled with satire. F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel emphasizes the various problems that emerged during the Roaring Twenties. Post-World War I, the 1920s was considered a decade of excess. Americans wanted to put the war behind them and went out of their way to enjoy themselves. Meanwhile, changing social norms, Prohibition, and the rise of 'new money' flavored the decade.

A Life of Privilege

Throughout the novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald satirizes the Leisure Class, America's social elite who had more money than they knew what to do with. Characters like Tom and Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker represent the flaws with the excessively privileged. Because they have so much money, they behave without consequences. The rules simply don't apply to them; after all, they can buy themselves out of trouble.

They also believe that their money makes them superior to people who have less. This is evidenced by the Buchanan's treatment of the Wilsons. Tom looks down his nose at George Wilson; he's a lowly mechanic just struggling to get by. Although George's wife, Myrtle, is Tom's mistress, she's also expendable. Even when Daisy kills Myrtle with Gatsby's car (by accident!), she seemingly feels no remorse. Equally, Tom isn't too affected by the event either. In fact, the couple simply picks up and moves somewhere else to avoid the problem.

Materialism

After World War I, American consumerism was on the rise. New technologies and products made the American way of life easier. Beyond the simple convenience of modernity, many Americans fell victim to the evils of materialism, the idea that owning things is more important than anything else (even spirituality and morality).

F. Scott Fitzgerald emphasizes this point through Gatsby's parties. Hundreds of uninvited guests flock to Gatsby's home every weekend to enjoy these massive shindigs. They drink and eat to excess and enjoy all of the amenities that Gatsby has to offer, despite the fact that the majority of them have never even met their host.

Gatsby's parties, and his life in general, represent an even deeper issue. Everything that Gatsby has done and achieved was to whisk Daisy away from her husband Tom. When Gatsby and Daisy first met, he was convinced that he was not good enough for her. He didn't have the money or status that a person of her breeding should be with. As a result, Gatsby's singular focus is to make a fortune and buy all sorts of fancy things to impress Daisy. For Gatsby, material possessions equate to love and the only way Daisy could possibly love him is if he buys her things.

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