Why the Great Gatsby is Set During Prohibition
In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, every character except Gatsby himself, is shown drinking or getting drunk at one time or another. These drunken fits even push the story forwards at times. So why is it that Fitzgerald set the story right in the middle of prohibition when alcohol was banned? Why would place so much focus on a taboo topic at the time?
Really, it is quite simple. It is because Gatsby needed the prohibition to get back with Daisy. Without Prohibition, Gatsby would have been unable to reconnect with the love of his life.
Now many people may argue that Fitzgerald was just writing in the present, as The Great Gatsby was written during prohibition. But Fitzgerald has written many novels throughout the prohibition era, and none of them highlight the prohibition like The Great Gatsby does. His other novels could take place in different time periods and nothing would appear different, but for The Great Gatsby prohibition is necessary.
A main point of emphasis in the novel is Gatsby's extravagant parties that he throws in an attempt to attract and woo Daisy to get her to love him again. One very specific point about Gatsby's parties is the amount and variety of alcohol that he produces for his guests.
During prohibition, a speakeasy was a club or location that would serve and at times may have even produced illegal alcohol. Now it is obvious that Gatsby does not produce any liquor at his mansion, but it is true that he does serve it, in fact, he serves a lot of it.
Now, why would Gatsby, a man who has promised to never touch alcohol again, decide that the focal point of his parties would be alcohol?
This answer is two-fold.
- He wants a lot of people to come to his parties
- He wants to recreate what the world was like before he went off to war, before he had to leave Daisy behind and before she married Tom.
The Size of Gatsby's Parties
One thing that Fitzgerald points out immediately is the sheer size of Gatsby's parties. Hundreds upon hundreds of wealthy individuals come to his parties to see the spectacle that Gatsby has created. But this makes me wonder, how did his parties get to become so famous.
To me it's pretty obvious, it's the alcohol. Gatsby started out as an unknown wealthy man with the goal of getting Daisy to notice his parties from across the lake. So in order to make a splash and impression, Gatsby provided the wealthy something they couldn't get anywhere else. Throughout the novel, we even see wealthy women are in the awe and exotic liquors that Gatsby provides for his guests.
The guests come, get drunk, and create a commotion for Daisy to see from across the lake. That is exactly what Gatsby wants from his parties and big, loud siren for Daisy to see and want.
Before the Prohibition
The U.S., and therefore Gatsby, joined the first world war in mid-1917, and prohibition was not enacted until 1920. Therefore Gatsby and Daisy's relationship started long before prohibition did.
The two dig differences between Gatsby and Daisy's first and second romances are prohibition and the first world war. Gatsby removes the aura of the war by rarely mentioning it to the people around him. Although he is a decorated war hero, he never speaks of his service unless someone else mentions it, and he is always quick to change the topic. When people ask him about his service he almost acts as if it never happened. This is because he wishes it didn't. He wishes that he was never called away and that he would have stayed with Daisy forever.
Gatsby then completes the change by getting rid of prohibition on his property. People drink and party, much like Gatsby and Daisy used to do. Gatsby wants Daisy to come to his house and be reminded of the good 'ole days, and fall in love with him again.
F. Scott Fitzgerald didn't set The Great Gatsby in the prohibition era because he wanted to, he set it there because he had to. The setting was an integral part the Daisy and Gatsby's love story. Without it, there is no Jay Gatsby and there is no Daisy Buchanan. The era of prohibition gives Gatsby the perfect way to get back Daisy, and without it, the story could have never progressed.
© 2020 Joey Dykes