Love in Different Eras

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Age of Innocence are two very complicated love stories that have withstood the test of time and still capture the attention of many readers. Jay Gatsby and Newland Archer seem to be caught up in relationships that are not destined to work out. This similar tug and pull that surrounds the men and the women they love could inspire readers to find Gatsby and Archer to be similar. The dynamics of these relationships are much more complicated than what initially meets the eye. The two, male characters from both texts may, at first glance, seem similar in the fact that the experienced similar heartbreaks; however, because of the different eras that they loved in, their experiences with love are ultimately not the same.

The Great Gatsby is set in the 20s, whereas The Age of Innocence is based in the 1870s; therefore, the lifestyles are incomparable. Timing is crucial to almost every story. For example, the two men in these texts are products of their time and with that comes expectations that cannot be easily denied. Jay Gatsby’s luxurious lifestyle allows him more freedom than the strict New York lifestyle, yet both men desired married women. Gatsby’s wild and lavish parties are embraced, whereas Ellen, in The Age of Innocence, is considered wildly unsuitable for wanting a divorce. In fact, in the text, divorce is described as “distasteful”, “unpleasant”, and “scandalous” (Wharton 50).  In comparison, the family and friends of Gatsby agree to aid in Daisy’s infidelity, “the added pressures and expectations of society add another layer of complexity that does not necessarily ail Jay Gatsby.

Another major difference between Gatsby and Archer are their attitudes towards other men and their perceptions. Overall, most would consider the 1870s to be a more conservative era than what is described at Gatsby’s parties. Studies have showed that “most cultures have recognized the existence of passionate love...different eras have held very different attitudes towards it” (Baumeister 407). Therefore, the men react differently when others express affection for the women they love. Archer, for example, is irritated and unnerved by the Beaufort's affections; “the idea of Beaufort gnawed him” (Wharton 89). Archer cannot shake the feelings of uncertainty when other men give Ellen too much attention. This plays into the rumors that surround her, which make Archer uncomfortable.

In comparison, Gatsby seems to thrive on the attention that Daisy demands. The constant possibility that Gatsby could lose Daisy to another man at any moment is what drives him. Renouncing the love of her husband Tom is the only thing that will satisfy Gatsby, “He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: “I never loved you.” After she had obliterated four years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken” (Fitzgerald 123). Gatsby wants what is impractical, he wants to prove that he has won Daisy and stands above all of the other men that desire her.

Throughout the novel, Gatsby and Archer undergo some transformative changes. The characters that exist at the beginning of the novel are long gone by the end. Archer gains knowledge and sees a world bigger than the one he is living in. This ultimately alters Archer’s character and the decisions he makes; “still, change was change, and differences were differences, and much as he felt himself drawn toward his future daughter-in-law, it was tempting to seize this last chance of being alone with his boy” (Wharton 176).  Archer’s transformation is confirmed when he decides not to see Ellen after many years had passed, “Archer did not accompany his son to Versailles. He preferred to spend the afternoon in solitary roamings through Paris. He had to deal all at once with the packed regrets and stifled memories of an inarticulate lifetime” (Wharton 238). Archer has become more regretful and sombre by the end of the novel.

Jay Gatsby’s transformation occurs in a way that is almost opposite to Archer’s. Archer discovers love and as he experiences it he transforms. It becomes clear that his former life is unfulfilled now. Gatsby, on the other hand, transforms in order to gain Daisy’s love and approval. Gatsby leaves with little to nothing but returns a rich man with connections, lavish guests, and parties to throw (Fitzgerald 39). As he climbs the ranks in society, Gatsby leaves his old self behind and takes on a new persona, which conflicts with his past and ultimately does not earn the approval of Daisy and the rest of society. Both transformations seem sad and somewhat unsuccessful.

A White Heron, by Sarah Orne Jewett, leads readers to similar conclusions. Sylvia, Gatsby, and Archer are alike because they alter themselves in order to find love. For example, Sylvia pushes aside her dislikes, “Sylvia would have liked him vastly better without his gun; she could not understand why he killed the very birds he seemed to like so much. But as the day waned, Sylvia still watched the young man with loving admiration” (Jewett 3). This is an example of how expectations change with the times, yet there are still similarities when it comes to experiences of love. Sylvia decides to protect the bird that would win her love and allows him to go free (Jewett 7). This decision is representative of her own experience with love and how a transformation of some sort is inevitable.

These two texts encourage readers to understand the role that society’s expectations play and how love can lead to a transformation of character. Ultimately, Gatsby and Archer have similar experiences with love but the many differences because they are from two separate eras.

Works Cited

Baumeister, Roy F. Social Psychology and Human Nature: Brief. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2014. Print.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Great Britain: Heinemann, 1987. Print.

Jewett, Sarah Orne. A White Heron. Boulder, CO: Universtiy Libraries, 2009. Print.

Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.