Ethan Frome And The Great Gatsby: The Progression Of Lust And Desire In Early Twentieth Century American Literature

1514 words - 6 pages

Ethan Frome and The Great Gatsby: The Progression of Lust and Desire in Early Twentieth Century American LiteratureIntroductionThough the twentieth century can hardly lay an original claim to the use of lust and desire as major themes in literature-these are major driving forces behind human attitudes and behaviors, after all, and this has been reflected in art and literature since man first painted on cave walls-these topics did develop a certain unique flatness and unsatisfactory quality in the modern period. The impossibility of a sated desire and the disappointment of lustful longing achieved became the common ultimate development of many works and in a curiously cynical way, without the grandeur of earlier tragedies with a similar message. This was especially true of certain American novelists writing at the turn of the century.Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald, though separated by a decade or two in their prominence, were two such authors. Desire can be seen in both of their works as a destructive force, which is a common element in many literary periods and genres, but it is also seen as somewhat base and meaningless; though the pursuit of desire is full of passion and meaning in the moment, it is ultimately entirely pointless and bereft of purpose. Both authors put forth this bleak view of desire in a way that manages to remain free from cynicism, and instead is enormously human and touching. Rather than laughing at or commenting on this supreme foible of the human condition, these authors expose this foible as a compassionate commentary on the senseless tragedy and pain that pursuits as meaningless as those of sexual lust specifically and desire in general bring to humanity.F. Scott Fitzgerald is unquestionably best known for his novel The Great Gatsby. This work defines the Jazz Age of the nineteen-twenties in America, which was typified by easy money and lax morals. This world provides the perfect setting for Fitzgerald's tale of love, greed, and corruption-and most of all, about the vain pursuit of desire. In Edith Wharton's far bleaker tale, which was written in 1911 but set in the late nineteenth century in a small and wilderness-bound faming community in New England. Though without the glitz and overt greed, Ethan Frome also can be read as an exposition of both the potency and the pointlessness of desire. These works are very different in their style, their characterizations, and in many of the conclusions they seem to draw regarding human nature, and yet they both lead to a similar view of desire as essentially empty and fruitless.The Great GatsbyNick Carraway, the naive and innocent narrator of The Great Gatsby (who is both less naïve and less innocent by the novel's close), experiences firsthand how empty desire is, and how foolish the pursuit of it can make a human being. Jay Gatsby, who comes form humble origins, has his heart set on the upper class Daisy, the extent of whose snobbery Gatsby cannot truly fathom until...

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