1 (Wulick, 2016)2(Liebman, 1996) Both Fitzgerald and Frost attempt to make sense of therapidly changing world of 20th century America by presenting a general changein morals as societal expectations became more relaxed.
Both writers presentreligion as one of the key aspects of society which was deteriorating. It canbe argued that Fitzgerald portrays his disapproval of the increasing number ofpeople abandoning their religious values in 1920s America as the characters whoreject religion were engaged in immoral behaviour. It is possible thatFitzgerald constructed the characters in this way to insinuate to the readerthat those that believe in God are not led astray by temptation or participatein illegal affairs. This idea is illuminated through the character of GeorgeWilson who is the only character who refers to God in his dialogue: ‘God seeseverything’. Unlike Tom, who has disregarded his religious beliefs, Wilsonremains faithful in his relationship and obeys the rules of the Prohibition,suggesting his faith is preserving his morality. Wilson’s reference to God’somniscience is specifically in relation to the eyes of T.J Eckleburg.
Dr AnnaWulick argues ‘the eyes stare at the devastation that heedless capitalism hascreated’1.Thissymbol is generally associated as representing the eyes of God – they arejudging those who have abandoned spiritual and traditional values of hardworking Americans in favour of wealth. This was common in 1920s America aspeople blindly began following the ‘American Dream’ and speculating stocks andshares on the market in the pursuit of wealth. The setting is also significantin relation to the eyes as they are positioned on a billboard in the ‘Valley ofAshes’; this could reflect how the growth of commercialism is destructive asthe location is described as ‘grotesque’.
It is possible that Fitzgerald may bedemonstrating his frustration at God as throughout the novel God does notintervene in the rapidly dilapidating world he oversees. This can be shownthrough the character of Wilson: Fitzgerald presents him as the only characterwho seems to care for the morality taught by religion, however God does notsave him from descending into evil when he shoots Gatsby at the end of thenovel. While Fitzgerald presents a society which has generally abandoned allreligious beliefs, Frost presents one which was beginning to question it. In ‘Design’, Frost portrays his changing thoughtprocess by originally suggesting that a superior force has ‘steered’ the moth,to then using the conjunction ‘if’ to question whether this superior forceactually exists.
This demonstrates how societal expectations were rapidlychanging as traditional beliefs which previously had been generally accepted,such as Aquinas’ theory that nature must be directed by an intelligent being, werebeginning to be questioned. Both writers challenge the idea that God is abenevolent deity; while Fitzgerald depicts God as unwilling to interfere in thedeterioration of 1920s American society, Frost questions why God would design’darkness’ in the way that creatures are able to take the life of another.Frost is more critical of God in his poem ‘Not All There’ in ‘Ten Mills’, as hestates that God ‘wasn’t there’ when he was confronted about the ‘world’sdespair’. This is perhaps in line with Fitzgerald’s viewpoint that God ischoosing not to interfere and help those in need, therefore challenging thepreviously commonly accepted belief that God is benevolent. The reference tothe ‘world’s despair’ could be relating to the rapid degradation of society aspeople began to explore hedonism through their descent into immoral avocationssuch as drinking alcohol and the rise of the so-called flapper girls due totheir rejection of religion. According to Liebman, ‘Frost proffered religiousaffirmations only equivocally or ironically’2. It can be agreed that Frost presents anequivocal view of God in ‘Design’ due to him raising questions over theexistence of a superior force that would allow the creatures he made to causeharm to each other.
Additionally, the title of the poem ‘Design’ is ironic asthe poem progressively erodes Aquinas’s traditionally accepted theory that theuniverse can only be explained by the product of God’s intelligence. However,it can be argued that this is not always the case as Frost’s opinion of God isneither ‘equivocal’ or ‘ironic’ in ‘Not All There’ as he directly addresses thefact that God may not exist, both through the title of the poem and thestatement ‘God wasn’t there’. It is possible that Frost’s personal lifeinfluenced the frank and honest tone of ‘Not All There’ as the loss of hisparents and three of his children may have led to him to feel as though therewas no benevolent deity protecting them at all.
Overall, Fitzgerald depicts theviewpoint that the loss of importance of religion in society is leading to themoral destruction of the world, while Frost emulates a tone of despair as hehimself, unlike Fitzgerald, is beginning to question the strength of his faith,perhaps due to bereavement.