For me, this book is the perfect example of the pressures that people face with meeting the expectations of society, even if it is contrary to their own well being. There seems to be a mindset in western culture in which people seem to think they are above a certain station in life. It is the basis for our so called “class” system in which we measure the success of a man by his economic status.
In the story the main character puts himself and his love interest through hell, in the expectation of receiving a vast inheritance. The couple put on airs and attempt to fit in with a perceived social class, which slowly degrades as time goes on. In the end, they receive the inheritance and retire in luxury, but by this time, they have lost everything about themselves in an effort to appear at a certain economic station.
During the story, they fake their way through the flapper lifestyle and slowly alienate themselves from friends and family as their economic circumstances decline. Anthony Patch feels he can only “work” in a socially approved manner and engages himself in efforts which are totally unsuited for him, but are considered “gentlemanly pursuits.”
The book tackles a very serious issue in modern life, where people are pretending to be something they are not in an effort to fit into the preconceived notions of others and society at large. This can be seen from the poorest classes all the way to the very wealthiest. No one is immune from this and it is the anxiety that is at the root of modern advertising.
I thought the book was Fitzgerald’s best and far better than the Great Gatsby, which is by far his most popular. It addresses the very root of our social notions of acceptance and self image and the hollow lie that lies beneath it. It is an excellent introspective character study against the backdrop of social engineering. It is well worth checking out for a greater understanding of the human social condition.
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