Throughout ‘The Great Gatsby’, F. Scott Fitzgerald arguably presents marriage as counterproductive and disadvantageous, often hindered by the characters’ own selfish desires. Critics, such as Perrett in ‘America in the Twenties’, describe the 1920s as a time where writers “steadily derided marriage as an outmoded institution, something the modern world could well do without” and this would certainly seem to ring true of Fitzgerald’s novel. The relationships can be shown to be corrupted by materialistic longing whilst many produce conflict and violence.
Similarly, Richard Yates’ ‘Revolutionary Road’, set in the 1950s where marriage is considered idyllic and the expected status-quo, shows the flaws and underlying issues that occur whilst characters strive for the perfect family unit. Both novels show characters attempting to create the illusion of perfection, where the shattering of the image creates dramatic scenes in both texts. In both these time periods, advertising had caused people to aspire to achieve an ideal and marriage is viewed as the benchmark of the times, yet the novels suggest this doesn’t ultimately end in happiness.
Although there are aspects of unconditional love within the marriages, the novels present marriage as an institution where the collision of individual needs and outmoded ideals make it dysfunctional. Marriages in ‘The Great Gatsby’ are linked with materialistic desires. It is evident that Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s marriage is largely based on these aspirations. Daisy is described by Nick as having “an excitement in her voice that men who cared for her found difficult to forget” and by Fitzgerald presenting her as a beautiful trophy that men aspire to win, Tom also becomes an object of admiration.
Tom, coming from an upper class family with “old money”, provides Daisy with security and stability. Nick describes their home as being “even more elaborate than I expected” with “French windows” which were “glowing now with reflected gold”, displaying Tom’s wealth and lifestyle he provides Daisy with. Fitzgerald describing gold as ‘reflected’ could symbolise the Tom’s materialistic arrogance is shown when he states that Daisy isn’t leaving him for Gatsby, stating “certainly not for a common swindler like you”. Tom’s assertive use of language shows his absolute belief in his position.
Gatsby also reveals Daisy’s ulterior motive for marriage, when explaining to Tom that Daisy “only married you because I was poor”. The fragile materialism on which their union is based leads to infidelity and betrayal, and while the marriage survives in superficial terms, it is ultimately unstable. Ironically, the object of Tom’s extra-marital lust, Myrtle Wilson is also a character whose happiness is compromised by selfish desires. It is said that she “can’t stand” Wilson, and that when discovering he “borrowed somebody’s best suit” for their wedding, she “lay down and cried.
” This implies her hatred for him is based on her belief that he is socially inferior to other men, underlying society’s belief that wealth and status are a desirable basis for a union. This also rings true of the 1950s view on marriage, where although the ‘ideal’ is more concrete, it is no less difficult to gain. In ‘Revolutionary Road’, Shep and Milly Campbell represent the typical, mundane couple that the Wheelers seem to despise. Their use of their “The Campbells” signpost portrays them as the perfect family unit, where in 1950s America this is ‘ideal’.
They can arguably be said to have materialistic aspirations when Shep consoles himself when thinking that Milly “could dress nearly as well as April Wheeler. ” Implying that image and appearance are a key positive to their marriage, Yates uses these desires to display the underlying issues and exploits the stereotype in order to make the ideal 50s marriage seem almost laughable. Milly also reveals her materialistic values when she admits “the first rude surprise was that his mother’s money was gone” symbolises her dismay at their inevitable status is society with a lack of money.
Fitzgerald further seems to criticise marriage by suggesting that the frustrations engendered by relationships based on these fragile ideals can be a source of potential violence. He establishes this early in the novel by implying marital violence. “Two wives were dragged kicking and screaming” from Gatsby’s party, and the violent image portrayed by ‘kicking’ and ‘dragged’ foreshadow the ultimate end of two of the married characters. Violence is also shown when Tom “breaks Myrtle’s nose with his open hand. ” This is triggered when Myrtle is disrespectful of Tom’s wife, Daisy, incidenting marriage as the cause of violence.
Tom and Gatsby begin to treat Daisy as a possession in Chapter 6, with Tom declaring that Daisy is “not leaving me” and “she loves me. ” Daisy and Gatsby’s marital affair is the trigger point of the argument, Gatsby disagreeing with Tom saying “she never loved you” and “she’s leaving you. ” The use of pronouns here display the men’s assertiveness, whilst contrasting Tom’s use of “me” with Gatsby’s use of “you” allows Tom to remain as the dominant character. Neither grants Daisy a decision or opinion on the matter, dehumanising her. By the close of the novel, three deaths linked to marital disputes have occurred.
Violence within marriage is also a theme in ‘Revolutionary Road’, where Yates’ writes that Frank “swung out one trembling fist for a backhanded blow to her head”. ‘fist’ ‘backhanded’ and ‘blow’ all create images of controlling and domestic violence being portrayed towards April here. The alliteration used in ‘backhanded blow’ emphasise these violent intentions. However, Yates describes Frank’s hand as ‘trembling’, suggesting a guilt within him and it is clear Frank is aware his actions are wrong. Yates displaying Frank’s consciousness could link to the male author and viewpoint of the novel, to soften the image of a violent husband.
The dysfunctionality of their marriage is presented through these violent actions and implied domestic violence. Fitzgerald openly makes his point over marriages being dysfunctional when specific characters or scenes shatter the illusion with which the characters surround themselves. Fitzgerald writes that the “butler came back and murmured something close to Tom’s ear” which is later explained to the reader and to Nick when Jordan admits “Tom’s got some woman in New York”. This is juxtaposed with a description of “the last sunshine fell”. Using ‘last’ and ‘fell’ could symbolise the breaking of Tom and Daisy’s marriage.
Throughout Fitzgerald’s description of their dinner, references to romantic objects and feelings are broken. Daisy “snapped out candles with her two fingers”, her knuckle “was black and blue”, she had an “expression of unthoughtful sadness” and “each light deserted her. ” Fitzgerald uses these saddening descriptions to portray Daisy as an unhappy and abandoned wife, with ‘deserted’ ‘black and blue’ ‘sadness’ and ‘snapped’ producing images of this to the reader. The use of ‘unthoughtful’ displays Daisy’s sadness as a constant state, suggesting she has become so used to her situation that she no longer questions it.
Fitzgerald also uses the argument between Tom and Gatsby, situated at the Plaza, to display the underlying dysfunctionalities of their marriage. Tom argues “what kind of row are you trying to cause in my house anyhow? ” Fitzgerald uses this to shatter the illusion of the happy marriage: “They were out in the open”. Surprisingly, as the novel is from a male’s perspective and has a male author, Fitzgerald writes sympathetically when describing Daisy’s unhappy state. However, as Carraway is an unmarried man, his reliability can be questioned.
‘Revolutionary Road’, from a married male’s perspective, writes unsympathetically towards the breakdown of marriages at some places within the novel. When describing Frank thinking about having an affair with Maureen, he says “the difference was this time it had no sooner occurred to him than he thought, why not? ” Yates uses Frank’s uncertainty at questioning ‘why not’ to display the foundations of their marriage are beginning to crumble, when he actually considers infidelity. Yates’ also uses this when he writes that Frank “had never seen such a stare of pitying boredom in her eyes” when Frank describes the evening through his thoughts.
This is a turning point of the novel, where the ‘pitying boredom’ of his wife’s eye trigger Frank into infidelity. Mr. and Mrs. Howard Givings are also portrayed as a ‘perfect’ married couple, dealing with issues of their son and supporting each other. This image of their relationship is broken however when Yates’ writes that “she went on talking and talking… she’d never guessed he’d turned his hearing aid off for the night. ” Despite the dysfunctional and outmoded aspects of marriage portrayed so clearly throughout the novel, some readers have suggested that Fitzgerald introduces examples of unconditional and lasting love.
After Myrtle is killed, people comfort Wilson but it is said he “neither heard nor saw” and that “he gave out incessantly his high, horrible call: ‘oh, my ga-od! ’” Wilson is described later in the novel as a man “deranged by grief”. His love for her allows him to be ‘deranged’ when he ‘neither heard nor saw’ his comforters. The use of the horrible call ‘ga-od’ can be likened to that of an animal or wolf, helping mirror a society that sees real emotion as unwanted and improper. ‘Deranged’ implies a negative viewpoint on Wilson’s grief, suggesting the higher classes of society simply do not comprehend this depth of emotion.
This differs however, when Fitzgerald also shows unconditional aspects to the Buchanan’s marriage. Tom asks Daisy “Not that day I carried you down from the Punch Bowl to keep your shoes dry? ” displaying the deep connections and experiences they have shared. Fitzgerald describes his voice as having a “husky tenderness” displaying the care and love he feels for her. The view of the Buchanan’s after Myrtle’s death is described with “an unmistakable air of natural intimacy” and that “they weren’t unhappy. ”
This ‘natural intimacy’ displays their marriage as a long-standing bond between them, and perhaps the unconditional love shared shows through their ability to remain strong as a couple after infidelity. In a similar way, when faced with April’s death, Frank’s unconditional love for her shines through. Yates writes that “he remained stubbornly on his feet, silent and expressionless”, showing the state of shock and grief after he loses his wife. Later in the novel, Frank is described as “a man running down these streets in desperate grief.
” Franks ‘desperate’ nature shown here displays his adoration for April, and is an anomaly to the way the relationship is shown through the rest of the novel. Frank also displays his need for April’s affection when he questions “don’t you see I want you to care? ” after admitting his infidelity. Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ and Yates’ ‘Revolutionary Road’ both present marriage as outmoded and dysfunctional. ‘The Great Gatsby’, set in American 1920’s where marriage was slowly being viewed as anachronistic, displays couples resorting to infidelity and violence as the fragility on which their union is based becomes clear.
1950s America, where the perfect family life was idyllic, finds the Wheelers struggling to keep their marriage together. In both novels, the couples find themselves grasping onto anything that makes them feel alive, contrasting from the permanent state of discontent numbness the marriages are presented as. The characters strive to portray the perfect image, yet incidents and actions present through the novels shatter the false portrayal of these ‘happy marriages’.
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