The Impact of the Social Context in Great Gatsby and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s Sonnets

The context of both the Great Gatsby (GG) and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s (EBB) sonnets has shaped many of the attitudes and values explored throughout the texts. Both texts take into account the social contexts of the time and the personal context of each author. An author’s personal context can shape many of the values displayed throughout a text.

The values portrayed are often the values of the author themselves. This is clearly demonstrated in both EBB sonnets and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s GG. There are parallels between Fitzgerald and the characters in GG. For example, Fitzgerald originates from the mid-west of America as did Gatsby and Nick Carraway. Fitzgerald lived an extremely lavish lifestyle after he made his money, as did Gatsby. The importance of money at that time is depicted in Fitzgerald’s own life, where his wife set a condition that she wouldn’t marry him until he had made his money. This is also portrayed in GG through Daisy’s and Gatsby’s relationship when Gatsby says to Tom Buchanan “Your wife doesn’t love you, she only married you because I was poor”.

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In GG both Daisy and Tom Buchanan have affairs. It was also reported that Fitzgerald’s own wife was known to have had an affair. Overall the personal context of Fitzgerald’s life is shown throughout the text and explored thoroughly through the characters of the GG. EBB was born in 1806, during the Victorian era. She was brought up in a fairly wealthy family and was well educated. This was unlike the norm of the period where women had not yet earned the right to an education. Her level of education is portrayed clearly through her references of Theocritus’s writing in her first sonnet.

At first when Robert Browning shows a love interest for EBB she doesn’t believe that she is worthy of such love and uses the simile “more like an out of tune / Worn viol”. The pronunciation of “viol” further restates her feeling of her unworthiness, as “vile” means unpleasant. EBB is taken from a dull and sickly lifestyle, into one of excitement and love. In Sonnet 21 she says “Say over again, and yet once over again, /that thou dost love me”. The repetition of “over again” shows her excitement of this real love. Asking for reassurance also gives an indication of her unsureness of herself.

EBB’s personality and her context, shapes her view and attitude towards such things of love, uncertainty and education. Values of each era shape the values within each text. The Great Gatsby (GG) is set in the 1920’s, a post war, hedonistic period of obsession of wealth and the decay of social and moral values. The 1920’s were known as a period where relationships and marriages were founded upon superficial qualities such as beauty and wealth. This is depicted in the GG where lavish parties are thrown by Gatsby. There is also a remark in the novel which indicates this materialism, where Gatsby talks about Daisy “Her voice is full of money”.

The characters go out of their way to show their idolisation for money. “I have never seen such beautiful shirts before”. This comment shows Daisy’s attraction to what money can buy rather than personality. “The eyes of T. J. Eckleberg are blue and gigantic”. The eyes of are meant to represent god. The lack of a religious role in the text may emphasise that religious values were in decay. The lack of a religious focus in that era instated in the quote “On Sunday morning as church bells rang in the villages alongshore, the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby’s house”.

The routine of going to church on Sunday had started to lose its place to parties and other leisurely activities. With reference to EBB, the important values of the time were courtly love and religion. The Victorian period was a time of courtly love. Love was superficial and was seen as a must from an economic perspective. EBB rejects the idea of courtly love and shows that for Robert to love her it must be “for love’s sake”. The repetition of the word “love” in many of her sonnets further emphasises EBB’s need for real and eternal love.

EBB love is different to that of the time. Open displays of love were frowned upon and relationships were stiff and formal. Religion also plays an important part in EBB sonnets; this was also the case in the Victorian era. “As if god’s future thundered on my past” (Sonnet 28). The imagery shows the importance of god’s opinion of her past. The impact of the social context in which both authors were exposed and their personal experiences are evident, and these have shaped many of the values explored throughout the GG and EBB sonnets.

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The Impact of the Social Context in Great Gatsby and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s Sonnets. (2019, May 01). Retrieved from