1 (Wulick, 2016)

(Liebman, 1996)

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Both Fitzgerald and Frost attempt to make sense of the
rapidly changing world of 20th century America by presenting a general change
in morals as societal expectations became more relaxed. Both writers present
religion as one of the key aspects of society which was deteriorating. It can
be argued that Fitzgerald portrays his disapproval of the increasing number of
people abandoning their religious values in 1920s America as the characters who
reject religion were engaged in immoral behaviour. It is possible that
Fitzgerald constructed the characters in this way to insinuate to the reader
that those that believe in God are not led astray by temptation or participate
in illegal affairs. This idea is illuminated through the character of George
Wilson who is the only character who refers to God in his dialogue: ‘God sees
everything’. Unlike Tom, who has disregarded his religious beliefs, Wilson
remains faithful in his relationship and obeys the rules of the Prohibition,
suggesting his faith is preserving his morality. Wilson’s reference to God’s
omniscience is specifically in relation to the eyes of T.J Eckleburg. Dr Anna
Wulick argues ‘the eyes stare at the devastation that heedless capitalism has
symbol is generally associated as representing the eyes of God – they are
judging those who have abandoned spiritual and traditional values of hard
working Americans in favour of wealth. This was common in 1920s America as
people blindly began following the ‘American Dream’ and speculating stocks and
shares on the market in the pursuit of wealth. The setting is also significant
in relation to the eyes as they are positioned on a billboard in the ‘Valley of
Ashes’; this could reflect how the growth of commercialism is destructive as
the location is described as ‘grotesque’. It is possible that Fitzgerald may be
demonstrating his frustration at God as throughout the novel God does not
intervene in the rapidly dilapidating world he oversees. This can be shown
through the character of Wilson: Fitzgerald presents him as the only character
who seems to care for the morality taught by religion, however God does not
save him from descending into evil when he shoots Gatsby at the end of the
novel. While Fitzgerald presents a society which has generally abandoned all
religious beliefs, Frost presents one which was beginning to question it. In ‘Design’, Frost portrays his changing thought
process by originally suggesting that a superior force has ‘steered’ the moth,
to then using the conjunction ‘if’ to question whether this superior force
actually exists. This demonstrates how societal expectations were rapidly
changing as traditional beliefs which previously had been generally accepted,
such as Aquinas’ theory that nature must be directed by an intelligent being, were
beginning to be questioned. Both writers challenge the idea that God is a
benevolent deity; while Fitzgerald depicts God as unwilling to interfere in the
deterioration 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 he
states that God ‘wasn’t there’ when he was confronted about the ‘world’s
despair’. This is perhaps in line with Fitzgerald’s viewpoint that God is
choosing not to interfere and help those in need, therefore challenging the
previously commonly accepted belief that God is benevolent. The reference to
the ‘world’s despair’ could be relating to the rapid degradation of society as
people began to explore hedonism through their descent into immoral avocations
such as drinking alcohol and the rise of the so-called flapper girls due to
their rejection of religion. According to Liebman, ‘Frost proffered religious
affirmations only equivocally or ironically’2.  It can be agreed that Frost presents an
equivocal view of God in ‘Design’ due to him raising questions over the
existence of a superior force that would allow the creatures he made to cause
harm to each other. Additionally, the title of the poem ‘Design’ is ironic as
the poem progressively erodes Aquinas’s traditionally accepted theory that the
universe 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 is
neither ‘equivocal’ or ‘ironic’ in ‘Not All There’ as he directly addresses the
fact that God may not exist, both through the title of the poem and the
statement ‘God wasn’t there’. It is possible that Frost’s personal life
influenced the frank and honest tone of ‘Not All There’ as the loss of his
parents and three of his children may have led to him to feel as though there
was no benevolent deity protecting them at all. Overall, Fitzgerald depicts the
viewpoint that the loss of importance of religion in society is leading to the
moral destruction of the world, while Frost emulates a tone of despair as he
himself, unlike Fitzgerald, is beginning to question the strength of his faith,
perhaps due to bereavement.