(1896 - 1940), American

F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age

F. Scott Fitzgerald is remembered for his novels, like The Great Gatsby, his short stories, like “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and for his chaotic lifestyle and marriage. His life and works are commonly associated with a period of time in the United States known as the “Jazz Age.”

In fact, Fitzgerald popularized the term himself and is often credited with creating it. He embodied the period through his writing and how he lived alongside his wife Zelda and after they separated. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age


What Was the Jazz Age? 

“The Jazz Age” is a term used to describe the 1920s in the United States. The term predates Fitzgerald’s writing but his use of it, especially in his collection Tales of the Jazz Age, published in 1922, brought it into common use. It was a period in which jazz music and styles gained popularity throughout the United States in the wake of the First World War. Radio spread the genre throughout the country and the youth often turned to it as a means of rebellion against previous generations who viewed its influence as morally corrupting. 

The period also saw the development of film, telephones, and other electrical appliances. The economy boomed, new styles of clothing and speech flourished, advertising peaked, and women gained the right to vote. The world was changing for the better in many ways, but there was still darkness if one was willing to see it. All of these aspects can be found within Fitzgerald’s novels as characters deal with racism, sexism, new economic realities, the post-WWI cultural overhaul, and prohibition. 

Jazz Music and Prohibition

Originating in Black communities in New Orleans, jazz music had its roots in blues and ragtime. By the 1920s, it was considered one of the major musical forms enjoyed by men and women from all walks of life. 

Prohibition was an integral part of the Jazz Age. Put into place in 1920, the probation of the sale of alcohol resulted in a new underground criminal enterprise—bootlegging. Throughout the 1920s, the law was widely disregarded, and liquor was fairly easy to come by. People, just as Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, made their fortunes off the bootlegging business. Throughout the novel, characters party, drink, and openly flaunt the prohibition laws. 

Jazz music and prohibition came together in the form of speakeasies or illegal bars where people could drink, relax and enjoy jazz music. These establishments were owned by organized crime groups and evoked a countercultural community. Men and women were equally drawn to these establishments, as were the jazz musicians who were hired to play in them. 

While reading Fitzgerald’s novels, it’s clear that alcohol and music played an important role in crafting the culture the characters interact with. This is certainly true for The Great Gatsby but it can also be seen in his collection Tales from the Jazz Age. In this collection of short stories, the author describes the ways that characters dealt with the Post-WWI world. Many stories focus on young people, such as “May Day,” which depicts a party in New York. The characters in this short story start an anti-Bolshevik demonstration that leads to an attack on a newspaper office.

The same can be said of Fitzgerald’s best-known short story, “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” In this short story, the author follows John T. Unger, a teenager who boards at a school near Boston and travels to Montana for summer vacation with a wealthy classmate. The latter’s father is the “richest man in the world,” and owns a diamond the size of the “Ritz-Carlton Hotel.” 

Wealth, Sex, and Race 

The emphasis on wealth throughout Fitzgerald’s novels is another element of the Jazz Age that’s important to address. This period in American history saw an increase in wealth across almost all social demographics. The post-WWI industry and the stock market boomed. Many of those who were living on the edge before the War now had money to spare and were willing to spend it. Luxurious homes, clothing, parties, and cars were an important part of the Jazz Age, as seen throughout Fitzgerald’s works. But, not all Americans had the same experience. 

This period was also marked by racist attitudes and Jim Crow-era laws restricting what Black Americans could and could not do. Even though white men and women enjoyed the newly popular jazz music, those who created it were still not openly accepted in society. One of Fitzgerald’s characters in The Great Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, embodies these attitudes. He even cites The Rise of the Colored Empires, a fictionalized version of an authentic book about white supremacy. 

Also alluded to throughout Fitzgerald’s books is the suffragette movement. This movement saw women striking out against sexist laws and acquiring the right to vote. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution passed during this period, and women started playing a larger role in society. But, that didn’t mean that women were immediately on equal footing with men. The sexist attitudes toward women are demonstrated through Tom’s control over Daisy in The Great Gatsby and how the male characters regard Jordan’s character.

FAQs 

What was important about the Jazz Age? 

The Jazz Age was important due to the economic, social, and political changes the period inspired. Women gained the right to vote, jazz music spread across the country, prohibition made bootlegging an incredibly profitable industry, and the broader American culture was diversified. 

How did jazz impact the 1920s? 

Jazz-influenced art, fashion, and more. It brought African American music into the public spotlight and diversified mainstream culture. Jazz music was liberating for those performing it and those listening to it. It symbolized the changes the United States went through in the 1920s.

Why is it called the Jazz Age? 

The Jazz Age gets its name from the popularity of the musical style during the period. Through speakeasies and the radio, the genre spread across the United States. It was different than every other genre of music and appealed to American’s Post-WWI sensibilities.

Why was the Jazz Age important in The Great Gatsby? 

In The Great Gatsby, the Jazz Age is integral to the plot. Throughout the novel, readers can see evidence of the “roaring twenties.” New cars, money, morals, and styles exemplified the period. Gatsby’s wealth wouldn’t have existed without the advent of prohibition and the public’s willingness to flaunt the law. 

What is another name for the Jazz Age? 

Another name commonly used to refer to the Jazz Age is the Roaring Twenties, sometimes stylized as the Roarin’ 20s’. 

About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.

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