The Roaring Twenties - 1920
Welcome to the Twenties. A decade flamboyantly characterised by dramatic political and social change. Hems became shorter, Jazz became popular and the burgeoning consumer economy allowed for widespread participation.
Perhaps the most quintessential piece of literature critiquing the 1920 era is Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925).
Embed video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rARN6agiW7o
The exuberant demonstrations of wealth and performances of greed prompt the audience to consider - have we been here before?
The Valley of Ashes
“This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of house and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 26).”
The Valley of Ashes metaphorically depicts the moral decay rampant in 1920, American society. Advancements in industrialisation, machinery and technology, when put to corrupt use, can reduce society to dejection. Fitzgerald uses this to illustrate the failure of the American Dream.
As every generation passes, the pile of ashes grows hence, further distorting the American Dream. The Valley of Ashes represents the hollowness which results from the pursuit of material wealth.
Fitzgerald expresses moral inadequacy such as self-centredness and indolence to reflect how society has become condemned as the Valley of Ashes.
Eyes of God
“God sees everything”, repeated Wilson (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 170).”
Fitzgerald metaphorically discusses the presence of God in the 1920s society through the eyes of Doctor T.J Eckleburg. Doctor T.J. Eckleburg is a static image painted on a billboard overlooking the Valley of Ashes. These gigantic faded-blue-eyes are described to stare emptily upon passers-by while keeping vigil.
Fitzgerald, suggests that God was staring down and critical of America as a moral wasteland. Wilson is the only character to realise that, God sees everything. Not only does God observe society’s moral trajectory, but also the secret hearts of men.
Fitzgerald expresses that the people of America have sacrificed their moral values to achieve the American Dream. However, we are rudely awakened to the fact that the eyes of God see everything.
The Roaring Twenties - 2020
“The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; His eyes examine them (Psalm 11, verse 4).”
As the new decade dawned, we reflected upon the strange growing sense of déjà vu. Questioning, have we been here before?
A quick examination of the social and political climate reveals that we are living in a decade not so different from that of our 1920 counterparts. More so now than ever, we live in a society riddled with materialism, self-indulgence and entitlement.
In Psalm 10, verse 11, it is written that the wicked arrogantly proclaim that God will never notice our sin, He covers His face and never sees. However, the Psalmist responds wisely noting that God sees all. Not only the avert actions of society, but the thought process of individuals buried deep within their inner being.
Not only does 2020 potentially risk repeating the same mistakes as 1920, but now the American Dream is no longer exclusively American. The American Dream promised us freedom and independence. Yet, in exchange we received social isolation and debt.
Nevertheless, we have continued to chase after the futility of the American Dream. Intentionally ignorant about the consequence of our actions.
The staggering increase in poverty, mental illness and environmental impacts – our Valley of Ashes. Our consequence for prioritising things over people and greed over generosity.
As we enter into the new decade we begin to address our Valley of Ashes. Slowly, but surely may we learn to reprioritise people over things. Please do not allow our roaring twenties to become a wasteland for the soul.
Fitzgerald, F. S. (1925). New York City, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Jessica is enjoys spending time in nature and reading a good book. Writing is her way of communicating with God, expressing creativity and processing ideas. You can view her previous articles at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jessica-knell.html