The Great Gatsby Essay, Research Paper
One of the themes that Fitzgerald develops is the contrast between the East and West, embodied both as East and West Egg, and in the characters of Daisy Buchanan and Jordon Baker. The contrast of east and west was made unequivocal when New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley extolled his New England readers to “Go West, Young Man, and Grow up with the Nation.” The promise of open land, the absence of government interference, gold rush fever, and the connection of east and west by the railroad resulted in a romanticized version of the West where the hard-working, pioneer-spirited, independent-minded citizens roamed freely on the range. However, by the 1920’s, Fitzgerald believed that “the frontier had been corrupted ” and “the center of gravity in the United States had shifted from west to east.” (Lahan 123). Midwesterner Nick Caraway is unable to locate the morality he seeks in either the east or west because both have become corrupt. However, the west continues to embody a pioneer spirit of independence, adventure, and romance.
As binary oppositions, both east and west represent romantic conceptions of independence, adventure, excitement, charm, pleasure, and the break down of social barriers that exclude people from success on the basis of social etiquette. The east also embodies an element of irresponsibility, a corruption of morals that originally constructed a Puritan New England. A sense of the inconsequence of one’s behavior permeates the east that Nick inhabits. By contrast, the west continues to hold the possibility of finding a balance between excessive personal charm and responsible social behavior.
Daisy Buchanan, who lives in East Egg, represents the East. Jordon Baker, who is visiting East Egg, represents the possibilities of the West. A driving question for Nick is whether an individual can maintain the charm of the east and spirit of the west without succumbing to the moral corruption that conflates free spirit with charm and dismisses the notion altogether that one is accountable to others for one’s actions.
The character of Jordon Baker provided Fitzgerald with someone in whom Nick could explore this contrast between east and west. Jordon is the personification of the new woman in the Jazz age. Single, athletic, outspoken, fashionable, daring, –she might appear to Nick as the lass in the famous advertisement for the Jordon Automobile, from which her name was taken. “Somewhere West of Laramie,” Ned Jordan’s 173-word advertisement that established the dominant trend in the 1920’s world of advertising for using psychological appeals to sell cars, connected the Jordan automobile with freedom, excitement, and romantic adventure. The ad described the Jordan car as built “for the lass whose face is brown with the sun when the day is done of revel and romp and race. She loves the cross of the wild and the tame.” The Jordon was a vehicle that savored “laughter and lilt and light–a hint of old loves. . .yet a graceful thing for the sweep o’ the Avenue.” It represented the “land of the real living with the spirit of the lass who rides, lean and rangy, into the red horizon of a Wyoming twilight.” Although Jordan Baker did most of her riding on golf courses or in convertibles with green leather seats, she, like the Jordon automobile represents the spirit of the west. Nick’s initial relationship with Jordon allows him to view her this way and to hold onto the hope that Jordon will not become corrupted in the same way that Daisy has.
Jordon Baker’s character may also derive from a famous entertainer of the Jazz Age, whose initials, J.B., and last name, Jordon shares. Josephine Baker, who once said, “I’m not immoral, I’m only natural,” was one of the most famous dancers of the 1920’s as well as one its most prominent of free-spirited women, women such as Clara Bow, Mae West, and Isadora Duncan. Josephine Baker was black, beautiful, sensual and outspoken. “At La Revue N`egre in Paris she performed the ‘Danse du Sauvage’ in which she wore feathers as a pert flirtatious tail, and wiggled with glee. She traipsed through the Parisian boulevards with her pet cheetah, Chiquita, and often they would go to movies together, especially jungle movies. ”
“She said she had thousands of lovers and seemed to delight in greeting people in the nude perched on her bath or ensconced seductively in her bed. She had a marble swimming pool in the middle of one of her apartments, and she always had mirrored ceilings put in. She fraternized with Colette and Jean Cocteau, and partied with the Prince of Wales at a bar owned by the mafia. She was capricious and infuriating, and she would nod her head and agree, “I was a coquette.” (Baker)
Similar to the Jordan car that conveys the spirit of freedom, romance, and excitment, Josephine Baker embodied the free spirit that expressed sensual excitement and personal pleasure. In France, where her esteem was highest, she could do no wrong. Her excesses were considered a part of her charm, not a corrupting effect of her success. Jordon Baker represents these same qualities. Whether she will remain uncorrupted is the question that Nick asks, and eventually answers.
“Josephine Baker.” FLAMING YOUTH PAGE. http://www.fadmag.com/items/flmingy/flmgytH3.htm april 6, 1998
Lehan, Richard. Twayne’s Masterwork Studies: The Great Gatsby: The Limits of Wonder. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.