Historical Context

The Great Gatsby is set in New York in the summer of 1922. Throughout the text, Fitzgerald makes references to popular culture of time. In order to fully experience the story and social commentary provided by Gatsby, students should have a working knowledge of the time period and its trends.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1920s World History
These websites provide useful summaries of national and world events in the 1920s.  Readers can use them to provide context for the events and attitudes portrayed in The Great Gatsby.
    1920-1929 World History - this website provides a quick, informative timeline of the 1920s, with a focus on world events. It is a good resource
        to help students place the story of Gatsby in context with various other novels they may have read or events they may have studied in history         class.
    * 1922 in the United States - this Wikipedia page provides a list of significant events, organized chronologically.  This timeline can be helpful in
        understanding what was happening in the United States at the same time as Gatsby's story.
    * Cultural Context of The Great Gatsby - this powerpoint presentation, developed by a high school English teacher, provides valuable insights             into the cultural context of World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age, gambling, the Prohibition, and more.  It also includes book                 reviews of Gatsby by decade.  The reviews demonstrate that the book did not achieve great popularity during Fitzgerald's life, but then began
         to achieve critical acclaim in the 1940s and 1950s.
 
 
Arnold Rothstein
In 1919, the Chicago White Sox faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.  Arnold Rothstein, a well-known New York gangster, worked with eight members of the White Sox to "fix" the World Series--in exchange for losing the Series, Rothstein would provide the gambling connections to make the players rich.  In The Great Gatsby, the character of Meyer Wolfsheim is based on Arnold Rothstein.  Therefore, knowing some of the basic history and rumors about Rothstein can greatly enrich your reading of Meyr Wolfsheim.
    * What's in a Name? - This website, developed by Crime Library in conjunction with Time Warner, provides a detailed history of Rothstein's life
        and activities.  The first page includes some interesting little-known facts about Rothstein, and the subsequent links give great detail on his
        many questionable interactions.  The "Organzing Crime" page is particularly informative.
    * Jewish Virtual Library - this website also gives a biography of Rothstein, including further details about his history with gambling and liquor
        smuggling
    * An Arnold Rothstein Chronology - this detailed timeline provides an extremely detailed chronology of Rothstein's life, beginning with his birth
        in 1882) and continuing past his death (in 1929) to the settlement of his estate (in 1938).  The sidebar on this page also includes links to many
        other useful pages on Rothstein.
 
 
 
Automobiles of the 1920s
Automobile production and sales increased greatly in the 1920s.  Cars became a social symbol, and they changed the way people viewed the possibilities of time, work, and leisure.  Automobiles also play a significant role in The Great Gatsby, from George Wilson's interest in Tom Buchanan's vehicle to the tragic event which occurs while Daisy is driving Gatsby's car.  Here, you can learn more about cars of the time:
    * The Rise of Automobiles - this website features an article (originally written by Tim Samuel), which explains the social significance of cars in
        the 1920s.
    * Cars of the Twenties - this website includes photos of popular cards manufactured in the 1920s.
    * Gatsby Coachworks - a modern company named Gatsby Coachworks creates "custom handcrafted automobile" reproductions of 1920s cars. 
        The white and gold car featured on this page is the type Jay Gatsby drove.
 
 
Edith Cummings
 Edith Cummings was a famous female golfer in the 1920s. She was the first golfer to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, and she was Fitzgerald's inspiration for the character of Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby. Useful websites for further research include:
    * The Famous 1923 Photograph - this article from the USGA describe's Cummings' role in both society and her sport, as well as giving                         information about other famous female golfers of the time
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Prohibition
The Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution forbade the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol.  This was known as the Prohibition.  This amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919.  However, citizens found all sorts of creative ways to avoid the ban, and alcohol sales and consumption were still very much part of American society.  Those who illegally produced alcohol were known as "bootleggers," and homemade alcohol was called "moonshine."  Illegal bars were known as "speakeasies."  In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby's elaborate parties and the characters' trips to New York clearly demonstrate the prevalence of alcohol use, in spite of the Prohibition.
    * The 18th Amendment - this website provides the full text of the Eighteenth Amendment.  Here, students can examine the specific language of             the amendment.
    * Speakeasies and Prohibition - this website, created by a high school English teacher, consists of pictures of various speakeasies and police
        raids in the 1920s.
 
 
The Roaring Twenties
In the aftermath of World War I, a feeling of restlessness spread through the United States.  After experiencing the turbulence of war, young adults rebelled against traditional values and responsibilities.  Society became more hedonistic as people searched for escape and carefree pleasure.  Jazz music became extremely popular, and both automobiles and motion pictures became much more accessible to the general population.  Women started to redefine their societal role, and bootlegging and speakeasies became popular due to the Prohibition.  For a general overview of this confluence of cultural events, here are some websites with good summaries:
     * The Roaring Twenties outline - this website was developed by a U.S. History teacher.  It features an outline of information on the major trends
        of the 1920s, including postwar American attitudes (disillusionment, fear of Bolshevism, fear of foreigners, and rise of the Ku Klux Klan),
        movements of the 1920s (Prohibition, modernism, prosperity and consumerism), and the Republican government.
    * The Roaring Twenties game - this website features a game that allows students to pick a character (male or female) and then move around a
        game board to explore a variety of social situations in the 1920s.  It provides a fun way for students to visualize the era more clearly.
 
 
Rudolph Valentino
Valentino, otherewise known as the "Latin Lover," was a very successful and talented actor. He was a sex symbol of the 1920s and an early pop icon. Useful websites for further research include:
    * Falcon Lair - named for Valentino's home during his life, this "Rudolph Valentino homepage" includes numerous photographs, a timeline of                 Valentino's life, details on his filmography, and more
    * Biography for Rudolph Valentino - this IMDb profile for Valentino includes a biography and trivia about his life, works, and pop culture                         references
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sacco and Vanzetti Trial
In 1921, Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were found guilty of a robbery and double murder. They were sentenced to death. Because the men were known anarchists, many people believe that they did not receive a fair trial. Even today, their case is still considered to be one of the most controversial in all of American history. Useful websites for further research include:
    * What Does the Evidence Say? - a summary of the events, the outcome, and ongoing interest in the case
    * The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti - this article was published in Atlantic magazine in 1927 and gives excellent historical perspective on the
        case, including transcripted sections of the actual trial
 
 
Slang of the 1920s
Gatsby was the big cheese of Fitzgerald's novel.  He carried a torch for Daisy and eventually became her fall guy.  And let's not forget the cheaters belonging to T.J. Eckleburg!  Don't understand what all that means?  Check out these links to learn more about the slang and expressions that were popular in the 1920s!
    * Twenties Slang - this website, developed by an English teacher, provides a glossary of some of the most popular slang terms of the 1920s
    * Potpourri - this website offers another glossary, far more extensive than the first.  It also allows users to search for terms through an
        alphabetized index.
    * How to Sound Like the Bee's Knees - this article, published in the Atlantic Wire in 2012, celebrates the opening of a prohibition-themed
        museum exhibit and all the great terms that go along with it
 
 
Teapot Dome Scandal
During President Warren G. Harding's administration, the federal government leased Navy petroleum reserves to private oil companies for huge profits. In today's world, political scandals seem like nothing new, but in the 1920s, this was considered to be the "greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics." Useful websites for further research include: 
    * Warren Harding: Teapot Dome - a basic summary of the scandal   
    * Senate Investigates the "Teapot Dome" Scandal - this summary comes straight from the United States Senate and explains the scandal's
        polical and legal context
 
 
Women's Suffrage
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920, and reads, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."  This amendment gave women the right to vote in the United States for the first time.  This success came 41 years after Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton originally drafted and introduced the amendment.  In the 1920s, women had just achieved a new sense of equality and were learning to socially asser themselves in new ways.
    * Out of Subjugation Into Freedom - this primary source is an article published in The Woman Citizen in 1920, shortly after the ratification of the
        Nineteenth Amendment.  It includes a map of suffrage in the United States prior to 1920.  Students will likely be surprised to see how many
        states completely denied women the right to vote before the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment.
    * Constitution of the United States - here, students can read the Constitution for themselves to view the original language and context of the
        Nineteenth Amendment.
    * The Women's Party Campaign for Equal Rights, 1922 - this primary document, originally published in the Christian Science Monitor in 1922,
        explains that while suffrage was a step forward, women were still not viewed as equal to men. Modern students may well be surprised to read
        about the long and arduous struggle that women endured before achieving equal rights.
 
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