What if anything can Gatsby say about modern society?
It’s a question that’s been going through my mind as I’ve been reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby. It’s very natural to take a novel, and whatever its themes are, and apply it to the times we live in, but in the case of a novel like Gatsby, that is almost a hundred years old, it is different, making it even more challenging and perhaps more alluring.
Gatsby is set in the early twenties. It is that quintessential romantic period of America and of the world. When the “great war” had ended. But also the great panic. That was pre-war. So there is much anticipation in it, it’s filled with this energy. And it is the early scene of New York City, it isn’t a tribute really to the affluent, (and I don’t agree with the premise of the film) though it sets these scenes in great detail. That is really only a part of it. It captures instead (for us, if we imagine living then) a notion of the future. That notion of post great war America, like a cosmic object, can be seen from anywhere. In any town. The romantic notions are that lunar dust that is glistening on its surface, they inhabit that lattice of great romantic optimism. Gatsby..embodied this.
What is most striking is how these characters view the world and how different it is now.
..At the parties, they are engaged in conversation, watching each other, or looking off into the night. We don’t imagine anyone is checking their phone. So one of the striking differences I see is fundamentally at the social level, and how technology is really now a molder of what have become our current social values. Technology was not, a central force guiding social organization in that time of Gatsby. It was more a pervasive sense of social order, gained from direct human interaction. You fell behind, not because of a lack of techno savviness, but because of manners, forgetting someone’s name, leaving them unattended.
Is there some value in comparing the economics, of living in Gatsby’s world vs. the modern times? It can if we take a more aggressive view of Gatsby as not just a book, but an alternative society with which to compare to the present one.
Such an exploration seems justified, if the risk of going down this path is to essentially create a society that lives through its machines. And is less and less aware of its surroundings based on primary experience.