In America, The government has passed many laws that have been beneficial, but others not so much. At the start of the 1920s, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, which banned all manufacturing, distribution, and selling of alcoholic beverages (“Prohibition and Problems”). The crime rates soon began to multiply due to the American craving of liquor. In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Prohibition had a huge impact on the culture and on many of the characters’ lives. Fitzgerald examines the backlash of prohibition on the economy and the social classes of the united states in order to foster the greatest of the characters in The Great Gatsby while also including their downfalls.
The thought of prohibition came into question before the nineteen hundreds. In the early years of the 19th century, a religious revival rushed through the states and pushed for alcohol to be banned. They saw alcohol, and the events that came with, as “corrupt and ungodly.” Many states passed state prohibition laws before the civil war took place. “By the turn of the century, temperance societies were a common fixture in communities across the United States” (“Prohibition”). Many of these temperance groups wanted the “demon drunk” lifestyle of many americans to be stopped (“Prohibition and Problems”). Women that made up these groups sought to ban alcohol because it was ruining marriages and families. With the “new woman” era the 1920s brought, Women thought they were unstoppable and were not afraid to voice their opinions about alcohol (“The Roaring Twenties”). By 1917, the outraged had received their peace. President Woodrow Wilson and Congress passed The 18th Amendment banning all manufacturing, distribution, and selling of alcohol beverages. In 1919, Congress passed guidelines for the national prohibition act, which became known as the Volstead Act (“Prohibition”).
However, like Mark Thornton stated, “Prohibition made alcohol illegal, but it did not eliminate it.” When the Prohibition Act was passed, the demand for alcohol increased. People began to become sneaky and found new ways to find and hide their alcohol. This new era turned everyday law-abiding citizens into criminals due to the natural American crave for liquor. It was now easier to break the law and crime rates multiplied. Court systems and Prisons began to become overflowed due to the increase in crime of people with alcohol. The 1920s was a time of great change in America: a change of social classes, lifestyle of women, moral values, laws, and drinking habits. Those that wanted to continue drinking during the Prohibition era did. The illegal selling and distributing of alcohol, bootlegging, continued throughout the era. The help of speakeasies, nightclubs that sold alcohol, and smuggling liquor across states kept the drunken America alive (“Prohibition”).
Fitzgerald took this to his advantage by turning his character Jay Gatz into the beloved and famous Jay Gatsby. Gatsby was so in love with spoiled, money-hungry Daisy that he would do anything to receive her love in return. He jumped on the illegal bandwagon of selling booze to receive his new wealth so that Daisy might come back to him. By what Gatsby did not know was there was a difference “old money” and “new money.” Old money being acquired wealth from previous generations, while new money was recently earned through, what many would call, risky business. Many of the “new money” members was involved with some type of organized crime since so much wealth was earned in such little time. Gatsby even once tries to lure Nick into the pool of making money through his “business.” “Well, this would interest you. It wouldn’t take up much of your time and you might pick up a nice bit of money. It happens to be a rather confidential sort of thing” (Fitzgerald 83). Along with the bootlegging and speakeasies, Gatsby also established drug stores to join the doctors of prescribing “medical liquor” (Thornton). Doctors began to focus on beer’s “relaxing qualities and nutritional value” (Gage). However, Alcohol being used as medicine was not new. Many Americans stated alcohol as “medications that could cure colds, fevers, snakebites, frosted toes, and broken legs, and as relaxants that would relieve depression, reduce tension, and enable hardworking laborers to enjoy a moment of happy frivolous camaraderie” (Rorabaugh qtd. in Gage).
Gatsby’s new found wealth was instituted in his lavish, extravagant parties. The parties included dancing, music, endless supply of food, and, most famously, a place to drink. The parties themselves were like speakeasies that Gatsby put on. The attendees had found a place where they could indulge themselves with as much alcohol that pleased their needs. Prohibition is sometimes forgotten about in the story due to the excessive amounts of alcohol. Avey voiced the ultimate question, “How could he afford his lavish parties with bottomless cocktails to spare?” It was hinted throughout the book that Gatsby was involved in some type of illegal crime to acquire his new wealth and uphold his new social standards. During one of his parties, some young women were overheard having a gossiping seccion about their host. “‘He’s a bootlegger,’ said the young ladies, moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers. ‘One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to Von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil. Reach me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass'” (Fitzgerald 61). Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, also voiced his suspicions in a heated argument (Avey). “I found out what your ‘drug stores’ were. He turned to us and spoke rapidly. He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drugstores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger for the first time I saw him, and I wasn’t far wrong” (Fitzgerald 133). Everyone knew of Gatsby, but nobody never knew the real history behind the famous character. Although with Gatsby’s mysterious side, He was still famous throughout all of New York. He had social tides to continue his doings without getting caught. His business partner, Meyer Wolfsheim, was clearly displayed with association to gangs and organized crime. With all of the talk of illegal activity in the novel, the law was rarely seen. Many of the law during that time was incorporated into the scandals.
With all of his wealth and social praise, Gatsby hoped Daisy would be informed and would run back to him. Daisy was impressed with all of the things Gatsby had now, but she could not leave Tom and their daughter. She was also struck with guilt since Gatsby went through such trouble in order to gain her love. Gatsby had to realize that Daisy not only loved money, but she loved the normal, wealthy lifestyle. Gatsby had “new money” and lived his life off of materialist approval of wealth. Daisy, on the other hand, was used to “old money” and could not find it in herself to step down to the lower way of life. She believed that people with new acquired wealth came from sketchy backgrounds and could lose their money within a second. Prohibition helped Gatsby achieved the American dream of working hard to get to the top. Gatsby’s dream, however, was to achieve the love and affection of his Daisy and was, sadly, not fulfilled. He went through the extremes of dealing with organized crime and risking his life to end up with nothing in the end. Prohibition had little direct effects on the characters other than Gatsby. However, By having an impact on Gatsby life, Alcohol being illegal changed all of the characters lives. Without the Prohibition Act, Gatsby might not have gained his new wealth and The Great Gatsby would be nonexistent. This new crime upheld Gatsby to be “great.” Furthermore, Without the greatest of Gatsby, the story would crumble to pieces and be left bland.