Compulsive concern overethnic difference has always been a blended part of American culture; however,at points in the history of the United States of America this concern reachedits peak. The 1920s was a period in the history of the nation during which theconcern over ethnic difference heightened in an intensive, yet explicit way.The 1920s was the peak of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). This phase in history was accountablefor the emergence of many thinkers such as Madison Grant, who is responsiblefor one of the most famous works in scientific-racism,and -also- had a crucial role in crafting strong immigration restrictions and anti-miscegenation laws withinAmerica.
Additionally, the rise of other racial theorist isseen within this time such as Lothrop Stoddard, famously known for The Rising Tide of Color AgainstWhite World-Supremacy, in which Stoddard describes the perils of “coloured people,” and theirimmigration to the United States. In this stage of time, with such thinkers andwriters (Grant and Stoddard) gaining influence, concern over ethnic differencebecame evident on the surface of daily life. Although the prejudice of the1920s is not remembered by most today, it had an important part in setting thetone of this book, The Great Gatsby.
F. Scott Fitzgerald –theauthor of The Great Gatsby- is known as one of the most influential writers ofthe 1920s due to his penetrating literary accounts of life in the 1920s withinAmerica. In this masterpiece, by Fitzgerald, an awareness about ethnicdifferences and distinctions constitutes a significant component of the book.Throughout The Great Gatsby, marginalization of “nonNordic” ethnic groups playsa key role throughout the text, which helps relate this book to the 1920s, andprovide us with a better understanding of that time period. Throughout the book,ethnic minorities are not only marginalized, but they are also looked down upon,and by being belittled, the author marginalizes them as the story continues.Usually within the text, Tom Buchanan puts forth dull proclamations aboutethnic affiliations.
Early within the story, as Nick Carraway is visiting theBuchanan’s –in East Egg- he is surprised to hear Tom Buchanan express hisworries about the “‘The Rise of Colored Empires'” (14) which is a pseudonym forStoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color Against WhiteWorld-Supremacy. Tom’s pessimism during dinner is used byFitzgerald to reveal concerns of the 1920s, and how many believe that”civilization is going to pieces” because of advancement and independence of peoplefrom other ethnicities. This statement by Tom demonstrates the paradigm of the time, and marginalizationalong-with the dejection of minor ethnic groups within the book. Although throughout the book there are not too manymentions of ethnically diverse characters, when they are referred to, they aresignificantly disdained and mocked no matter what social class they occupy. The first reference to African-Americans inthis book was when Nick, accompanied by Gatsby, was crossing “Blackwell’s Island”(72) and a particularly rare incident occurs, which he recalls years later whenhe is reflecting back on the events of the story. He recalls, “…alimousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modishNegroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballsrolled toward us in haughty rivalry” (72). Although this was an odd scene inthe era, this occurrence displays the marginalization of the ethnicallydistinct crowd.
Nick demonstrates the perspective of white Americans on thepeople of “colour” because Nick laughs as the “Negros” display an effort to competeagainst Nick and Gatsby since these people were considered inferior, despitetheir social class. Nonetheless, the discrimination and disrespect continues,as Nick meets Wolfsheim, Gatsby’s Jewish associate, he expresses his immediatedislike by introducing Gatsby’s “friend” in a very negative manner, “a small,flat-nosed Jew” (73). As the story continues, Nick constantly refers back to anold stereotype, and mocks Wolfsheim’s “expressive nose” (74). Later, he mocksWolfsheim’s accent (“”Oggsford”” (76)), and does not omit it from his memorythroughout writing The Great Gatsby because it was so infrequent for itstime. Nick’s encounters with such ethnologically different characters alongwith his views and memories on these individuals, clarifies the hegemony of the1920s, and the marginalization plus the put down of the ethnically unalikesocieties within The Great Gatsby, too the decade. Wellalong the book, as Tom confronts Gatsby at the Plaza Hotel, he illustrates theway of thinking of conservative Americans of the 1920s. At the hotel, Tomattempts to attack Gatsby with the basis of social class by stating “Mr. Nobodyfrom Nowhere” (137); however, because his argument is not adequate to expoundhis disgust about the situation –in between Gatsby and Daisy- Tom usesinvidious ethnicity in his advantage, a device to humiliate and degrade hisrival.
Tom quickly escalates the situation by converting his attack into aracial one. Tom heightens his argument by connecting Gatsby to miscegenation,”… next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between blackand white” (137). This attempt, by Tom Buchanan, to lower Daisy’s understandingof Gatsby by playing upon an American fear, illustrates how marginal theAfrican-Americans were viewed as, by demonstrating the strangeness ofinterracial marriages within the text, also links this book to the principlesof the1920s. To wrap up, it can be seen that throughout the1920s, even with concern over ethnic differences, ethnic minorities werebelittled and marginalized, which is done so too within the text since thisbook –The Great Gatsby- reflects that era, and ethnic concerns andracism were an important part in setting the tone of the decade. In this workof literary art, although concerns overethnic differences and the marginalization of “nonNordic” ethnic is seenthroughout this book, Fitzgerald possessed no significant notions on thematter, rather this is the reflection of the society of the 1920s.