One of my favourite books of all-time is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It is an undisputable book placed in the American literary canon for its overlying message of the decline of the “American dream” of rising from rags to riches. However, although it is now highly regarded, can the text be considered a “timeless” American classic? What about adaptations that have stemmed from the text, such as the 1974 Great Gatsby movie and the Ralph Lauren Spring 2012 collection? For my paper, I will be explaining that Fitzgerald’s interpretation of the “American dream” is dated by examining how his text and its adaptations, the 1974 movie and Ralph Lauren’s collection, are dependent on the time period and social context they were produced in.
Right now, The Great Gatsby is considered a “classic” for our era because we relate with the rise and fall of the “American dream” concept. It has been published three times and has sold an average of 50,000 copies a year (Arthur Mizener). However, when the book was first published in 1925, the book simply did not sell. Despite the letters of praise from T. S. Eliot and Edith Wharton, Fitzgerald still did not receive much public recognition; even months after the publication date, the book’s sale was still short of 20,000 (Mizener). The text was not to blame though. The public opinion of Fizgerald’s work barely scratched the text’s surface because back in the 1920’s, they were not into close, analytic reading. The book did not start to excel until the 1940’s and 1950’s after a new type of formalist literary criticism emerged called New Criticism. This new type of criticism is “characterized by close textual analysis” (Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray). After the book’s popularity spark, in 1944, many reviewers such as Malcolm Cowley wrote articles praising Fitzgerald’s work. Now, about 68 years later, the values of The Great Gatsby have been established and easily recognizable.
For the 1974 The Great Gatsby movie, the predicted success of the movie can be viewed through the similarities of the social context of the 1920’s and the social context of the 1970’s. In a study conducted by Irene Taviss Thomson entitled “The Transformation of the Social Bond,” Thomson describes the similarities between the two differing periods. She states that in both eras, there is “a withdrawal from public life after a period of social activism; high divorce rates; feminism; new religious movements; and flourishing popular psychologies– popularizations of Freud in the 1920’s, the various therapies of the Human Potential movement in the 1970’s” (Irene Taviss Thomson).
However, although there were plenty of similarities between the two eras, ultimately, the movie failed to appeal to the 1970’s audience. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie only received a 38% on the “Tomatometer” and a 4.8/10 average rating (Rotten Tomatoes). Most of the reviews discussed how the movie was “too similar to the text” and therefore, did not relate with its audience (Rotten Tomatoes). To refer back to Thomson’s study, it could be because the concept of individualism changed between the decades. The 1920’s was primarily an era where people were lashing out against a restrictive government (for example, against prohibition). She explains how in the 1920’s, the concept of individualism was “primarily a matter of self-expression and the absence of self-control,” while in the 1970’s, “society had lost its constraining power and individualism became a matter of self-absorption and the quest for self-development” (Thomson). This would explain why the critics of the 1970’s were very harsh against the movie. Although the physical statistics between the two different eras, like the number of religious movements and the divorce rates, are similar, the public mentality is not, which caused the movie’s close interpretation to do poorly.
Although the text and the movie both failed to succeed during their time periods, the Ralph Lauren Spring 2012 did not. This is ironic since clothing is more dated than books or movies. The Ralph Lauren Spring 2012 collection is an example of an adaptation from Fitzgerald’s text that has succeed in capturing the essence of the 1920’s era as well as catering to the modern needs of our decade. Back in 1974, Ralph Lauren helped create some of the costumes seen in the 1974 movie and 40 years later, Lauren created a “homage to the world he helped create so indelibly all those years ago” (Mark Holgate). Looking at the clothes themselves, Lauren created feathered slips, charmeuse wide pants, and long, lean gowns that stayed true to Fitzgerald’s description of the clothes worn by Daisy and Jordan. However, the reason for his success as opposed to the text and the movie is that he also tailored the clothing to the needs of people of this time period. The gowns he created were in romantic pale shade of cream, ivory, and gleaming white, which were a breathe of fresh air when compared to the heavy, neon-bright colours that were all over the other New York runways. Lauren also created a cross-body purse to look like a 1920’s fringed silk shawl and most importantly, created masculine double-breasted jackets for women to continue the androgynous trend we have been seeing on the runways for the past few years.
This key concept of the androgynous look is what made Lauren’s collection a successful adaptation of The Great Gatsby. The 1920’s were when women started to become a more prominent force in society. They gained the right to vote, and they were taking over their families’ duties because their husbands, fathers, and brothers were overseas for the war. Because of this, women’s fashion started to gear away from the structured, tight fitting clothing thanks to the infamous Coco Chanel. Chanel changed the 1920’s fashion when she decided to design clothing that women wanted to wear as opposed to clothing they were forced to wear. She shorted the length of skirts to above the ankles to “downplay the role of superiority between men and women” and created a new style of women’s dress that gave women “a visual fantasy of liberation” (Christina George). The mindset and needs of the women in the 1920’s and the women of our decade are similar because the women then and now are becoming increasing independent financially and socially from men and need to establish a sense of equality between the two genders through clothing. This is why The Great Gatsby fashion from the 1920’s could easily transcend into our time period now. Women are becoming as prominent in the workforce as men, financially supporting themselves, and even raising children by themselves.
Also, our society now is very parallel to our society back in the 1920’s. In the 1920’s, there was an over looming economic unrest, which caused people to crave luxury and frivolousness. Our society right now is going through a miniature depression in our economy, which is causing people to rebel and riot. With the recent Occupy movements, everyone is complaining that they can not find a job out of college while others are living exuberant lifestyles on Wall Street. These Occupy protesters are protesting because they feel entitled to have some of their wealth, which is why the luxurious styles of the 1920’s is making a big comeback into today’s fashion world.
After the runway show, fashion authorities such as Vogue, Elle, and Women’s Wear Daily all praised Lauren’s collection. Fashionalogie wrote, “In short, it was what a modern-day Daisy Buchanon would wear to a garden party” (Christina Perez). Lauren’s modernized interpretation of The Great Gatsby depicts how an adaptation of a work must be conscious of both the original text’s as well as the current time’s time period and social context.
Although The Great Gatsby is now deemed as a “classic” in our time, we must be conscious that that has not always been the case. Fitzgerald’s message of the American dream is dated as well as the medians his message is portrayed through. While shifting through medians, a different layer of context is added, which adds more complexity to the work. Nothing can be taken out of context and if so, then the representation will never truly be understood. That being said, I believe everything, whether it is a book, a movie, or a fashion trend, is fixed in a certain time period, and the concept of “timelessness” is merely an illusion.
Holgate, Mark. “Ralph Lauren Spring 2012 RTW.” Rev. of Ralph Lauren Spring 2012 Collection. Vogue. Vogue. Web. 2 May 2012. <http://www.vogue.com/collections/spring-2012-rtw/ralph-lauren/review/>.
Minzener, Arthur. “Gatsby, 35 Years Later.” Rev. of The Great Gatsby. New York Times 24 Apr. 1960, Books sec. New York Times. Web. 1 May 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com /books/00/12/24/specials/fitzgerald-gatsby60.html>.
Murfin, Ross C., and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009. Print.
Perez, Christina. “Ralph Lauren Spring 2012.” Rev. of Ralph Lauren Spring 2012 Collection. Fashionologie. Fashionologie. 15 Sept. 2011. Web. 2 May 2012. <http://www.fashionologie.com/Ralph-Lauren-Spring-2012-19087780>.
“The Great Gatsby (1974).” Rotten Tomatoes. Web. 02 May 2012. <http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1008799-great_gatsby/>.
Thomson, Irene T. “The Transformation of the Social Bond: Images of Individualism in the 1920s Versus the 1970s.” Social Forces 67.4 (1989): 651-71. JSTOR. Web. 2 May 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2579705uid=3739936&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=56134004953>.