The Great Gatsby is too serious to be called a Satirical Novel
The Great Gatsby is too serious to be called a Satirical Novel. With reference to appropriately selected parts of the novel, and relevant external contextual information on the nature of the Satirical Novel, give your response to the above view.
The Great Gatsby is a multi-faceted novel that deals with many dark and distressing aspects of life, and therefore it is too serious to be called a Satirical Novel. Satire can be defined as, “the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices.” In examining why The Great Gatsby is too serious to be called satire we could consider how it would be better described using more serious genres such as modernism and tragedy.
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Although it is undeniable that The Great Gatsby contains humour, it lacks the corrective quality that satirical humour has. Satire assumes a moral framework of right actions and values which it uses to criticise others who do not live up this framework, however a satirical novel is not completely hopeless and presents a redeemable society and characters. This redemption is not evident in The Great Gatsby, because you could argue that the society that Fitzgerald presents is totally irredeemable, especially if we consider how the novel reflects the general disillusionment of society. This would be more fitting with a Modernist novel than a satirical novel. Modernist novels have an interest in serious themes of loss, disillusionment and social alienation.
Fitzgerald was writing in the aftermath of the First World War and was part of the ‘lost generation.’ Both Gatsby and Nick too part in the First World War, and Gatsby says, “Then came the war, old sport. It was a great relief, and I tried very hard to die.” Society was coming to terms with the true destructive nature of humanity and this cynicism is evident in Fitzgerald’s writing, proving that the novel is too serious to be called a Satirical Novel.
It would be more fitting to describe The Great Gatsby as using gallows humour rather than satire. This is a form of humour that jokes about death and mortality, which is demonstrated when a partygoer flippantly remarks that Gatsby, “killed a man once.” This form of humour is far too serious in tone for The Great Gatsby to be called a satirical novel.
Further support for the proposition that The Great Gatsby is too serious to be considered a satirical novel can be found we consider how dark the plot becomes at the culmination of the novel. The first half of the novel may be satirical, but the denouement is undeniably tragic and lacks the light-heartedness that satiric comedy requires. Because it is so serious it would be better defined as a Tragic Novel than a Satirical Novel. A Tragic Novel can be defined as one which, “treats in a serious and dignified style the sorrowful or terrible events encountered or caused by a heroic individual.” This is evidenced when Nick writes about Gatsby’s death: “It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson’s body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete.” The use of a word as strong as holocaust suggests that the novel was meant to be taken as a tragedy. In light of this, it perplexes me that anyone could claim The Great Gatsby is a satirical novel.
On the other hand, those that oppose my view claim that the novel contains elements of exaggeration and mockery which are typical of the satirical novel. Just because the novel is serious does not mean that it cannot be satirical, after all the very purpose of satire is to combine comic means with a serious purpose. There may be some merit to this opinion, especially when we consider Fitzgerald’s characterisation.
Satirical characterisation often involves exaggeration, caricature or stock types for the purposes of highlighting vice and folly, rather than presenting complex, rounded individual characters. We see this evidenced throughout the text. Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald satirises 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. In satirical style Fitzgerald presents the reader with a cast of characters that represent everything he hated about his culture, and this sentiment is expressed with the final description of Tom and Daisy as, “careless people,” who, “…smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money.” To quote Laura Turner, “In the novel, Fitzgerald uses satire to emphasize the superficial qualities of his characters.” This would suggest that the novel may not be too serious to be called a Satirical Novel after all.
The claim that The Great Gatsby is too serious to be considered a satirical novel could be contested when we consider how Fitzgerald mock 1920s society as a whole. Fitzgerald uses satire to offer social criticism by highlighting the many vices and follies of 1920s society. For example, he uses the iconic image of, “the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg,” to mock the materialism of the 1920s. Towards the culmination of the novel George mistakes the advertisement for the eyes of God, which suggests that Fitzgerald was accusing his society of viewing wealth and materialism like a new religion. Fitzgerald writes about events and characters that are inherently immoral, yet does it in such a way that it comes across as humorous.
The characters casually joke about excessive drinking, cheating and affairs. Whenever Tom receives a call from his mistress at the dinner table, Jordan makes a sarcastic joke instead of being outraged: “Tom has got women in New York; she might have the decency not to telephone at dinner time.” All these instances are key examples of how Fitzgerald uses mockery in a satirical way, suggesting that the novel is not too serious to be called a Satirical Novel.
Furthermore, Gatsby’s parties are another way in which Fitzgerald uses satire to mock the people of the 1920s. The notion of a party is one in which the guests arrive to honour a particular individual. It is communal, in its nature, and is meant to be one of the purest expressions of joy at the collective notion of being. Fitzgerald satirizes this in order to make a larger point in his work. At one point there is a list of people attending the parties, using descriptions such as, “G. Earl Muldoon, brother to that Muldoon who afterward strangled his wife,” and, “Henry L. Palmetto, who killed himself by jumping in front of a subway train in Times Square.” The people at Gatsby’s parties are not immediately known to him. They are hangers- on, individuals who arrive at his party to stay until they are kicked out onto the next party. The most communal of experiences actually ends up becoming one of the most alienating. This could be considered a satirical mocking of the shallowness of 1920s relationships, suggesting that the novel is not too serious to be considered satire.
For Fitzgerald, his use of satirizing Gatsby’s party is meant to make a larger statement about the time period of the 1920s. This was not a time period where individuals withdrew to revel in the joy of other people’s company. Rather, individuals used this excuse to withdraw further into themselves without any real reflection or introspection about the nature of their own identity. The level of mockery evident in Fitzgerald’s description of the parties suggests that The Great Gatsby is not too serious to be considered a satirical novel.
To conclude, although it is true that The Great Gatsby contains elements of satire, it is far too serious in other regards to be called a Satirical Novel. It is impossible to fit The Great Gatsby to any singular genre because it contains elements of so many different genres. The opposing arguments have some merit but ultimately they fail to realise the true implications and context of The Great Gatsby.