Ethan Frome and The Great Gatsby: The Progression of Lust and Desire in Early Twentieth Century American Literature
Though the twentieth century can hardly lay an original claim to the use of lust and desire as major themes in literature-these are major driving forces behind human attitudes and behaviors, after all, and this has been reflected in art and literature since man first painted on cave walls-these topics did develop a certain unique flatness and unsatisfactory quality in the modern period. The impossibility of a sated desire and the disappointment of lustful longing achieved became the common ultimate development of many works and in a curiously cynical way, without the grandeur of earlier tragedies with a similar message. This was especially true of certain American novelists writing at the turn of the century.
Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald, though separated by a decade or two in their prominence, were two such authors.
Desire can be seen in both of their works as a destructive force, which is a common element in many literary periods and genres, but it is also seen as somewhat base and meaningless; though the pursuit of desire is full of passion and meaning in the moment, it is ultimately entirely pointless and bereft of purpose. Both authors put forth this bleak view of desire in a way that manages to remain free from cynicism, and instead is enormously human and touching. Rather than laughing at or commenting on this supreme foible of the human condition, these authors expose this foible as a compassionate commentary on the senseless tragedy and pain that pursuits as meaningless as those of sexual lust specifically and desire in general bring to humanity.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is unquestionably best known for his novel The Great Gatsby. This work...