Assessment two. Love, hope and morality are ongoing and developing universal concepts that have the ability to imprison or liberate individuals. The interpretation and perceived value of experience of these concepts is dependent on the values and events of the time. Without a greater knowledge of the past, present and wider world, we often accept the two dimensional thoughts and perspectives of the time we inhabit. We can only fully reveal the value of experiences by comparing their differences. ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning are a series of Petrarchan sonnets conveying love hope and morality.
Composed in 1845 to 1846 England and published in 1850, the contextual integrity of the sonnets reflect the traditional values of courtly love at the time but also societal change and the modernisation that the industrial revolution brought with it. This was the time of the Victorian era, a time of ongoing societal evolution. Published in 1925 American, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ is set in 1922, a time period commonly referred to as the ‘the Roaring twenties’ or the ‘jazz age’.
This period in American history reflects the extremities of both romanticism and materialism, as well as a time of prosperity and the classic ‘American dream’ due to the conclusion of world war one. Love, hope and morality are reflected through the naivety of the time. Although a time of great societal change, 1840’s England still held traditional values that are often associated with this period as being prudish, old fashioned and repressed. Elizabeth Barrett Browning pushed the boundaries of her time as it was previously unheard of that females would write about idealised love.
With the increase of feminism Barrett Browning gained her popularity. The sonnets show her journey of accepting the love she has received. She states in sonnet thirteen “I cannot teach my hand to hold my spirits so far from myself—me– that I should bring the proof of love hid in me out of reach. ” This is a rejection of conventional views of a women’s devotion to her lover. She refuses to put her love into words for the easing of his mind and chooses what will benefit herself. Previous to this quote a caesura is used to highlight its intensity and depth, it’s not that she desires not to fathom her feelings into words, it is that she cannot.
She does not see her love as quantifiable. With Brownings support of feminism she rejects the traditional connotations of courtly love. This is conveyed through her sonnets as she hopes for a love deeper than the superficial partnerships based on mutual social class that surrounded her. Sonnet 14 reflects this with the repetition of ‘love’. She does not want to be wooed, she wants to be loved “nought except for loves sake only. ” The mocking and condescending tone used shows emerging feminism of the time, she will not be held victim to the power of a man. These views highlight the ongoing theme of hope throughout the sonnets.
With the industrial revolution came a modernised view of wealth. Big money moved from farming into factories and the manufacturing of goods. Materialism was evolving. Sonnet 43 titled “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” shows the perfect love between Browning and her lover paradoxically living in an imperfect world. When in the earlier sonnets she could not fathom into words her feelings for her lover, browning rejoices in saying “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach… I love thee freely… purely… with a passion. ” She almost personifies her love giving it three dimensions.
The anaphora of ‘I love thee’ implies that her love is never ending and can be listed in an infinite number of ways. She supports this with the quote “I shall but love thee better after death. ” She doesn’t love him for his wealth or material possessions; she loves him for loves sake. This is once again an example of how Elizabeth Barratt Browning challenges her society of the time as a gesture of morality; she rejects the views of the greater population that attraction should be towards money and possessions rather than the content of the individual’s character.
While Elizabeth Barrett Browning continuously challenged the views and perspectives of her society, the characters portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ are the defined to ridiculous extents by the world around them rather than who they are. Comparatively to the strive for feminist rights in the Victorian era, the 1920’s shows women as possessions; ‘trophy wives’. The American Dream of the time was the ‘self-made man’, a man who had built himself up to success and wealth, his life would be topped off with a beautiful wife and they would embrace their money together.
Fitzgerald portrays Gatsby as the delineation of the American dream. He had everything; a beautiful house, stores of money and within his grasp was the beautiful Daisy Buchanan. Rather than loving Daisy for who she is, he loves the idea of her. He describes her voice as being “full of money”, what all Americans of the time wanted. Where Browning refused to believe that love was two dimensional, Fitzgerald describes his characters falling for the superficial nature of others rather than who they are.
This is further defined through the way Tom Buchanan refers to his mistress as ‘my girl’, this generalised name symbolises affection but also implies that she is one of Toms many possessions. The differences between these two texts reveal more than their vague similarities about their common content area of love. Romanticism was an intricate part of the American dream during the 1920’s. Fitzgerald describes over the top gestures of love throughout his novel and they are seen as ordinary.
The romanticism, or idealised love, shown in the book indicates the acceptance of views at the time, a lack of morals in regards to marriage and an ongoing sense of hope in regards to desirable partners. The most obvious example of this is Gatsby’s ongoing quest to win Daisy over. He doesn’t care that she is married with a family; he has built his life on the basis of impressing her and will stop at nothing to do so. Conversely Tom also shows his love for Myrtle through his money; they have a retreat in New York together and he buys her a puppy.
Romanticism for males was about impressing their female counterparts with their riches, for the females it was about accepting that they were there as an accessory, to look pretty. The quote “for a moment the last sunshine fell with a romantic affection upon her glowing face” represents the externalised values of romance as seen by Tom. Although he has a mistress he is still drawn to Daisies beauty. The characters quests for what they see as ‘idealised love’ throughout the novel presents an ongoing juxtaposition of hope and morality. Unlike Browning, they do not hope to be loved “naught but for loves sake. Similar to the industrial revolution, post WW1 America was a time that valued material possessions. Social structure was defined by who you were, where you came from and how much money you had on show. Browning describes a journey of unmeasurable love through her ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ where the purity of love prevails over all else. This reflects the composer’s views of morality. Contrastingly the immorality of superficial relationships in ‘The Great Gatsby’ show just how accepting the characters are of the time they are living in. Where Browning challenges the views of her society, Daisy and Tom Buchannan do the opposite.
After Daisy hits and kills Myrtle Wilson, Gatsby takes the fall for her with an extreme gesture of his devotion. Daisy shows just how grateful she is for this gesture by never talking to Gatsby again. No matter how immoral it may be, Daisy and Tom willingly let Gatsby take the fall without thinking twice, this symbolises just how much materialism has shaped who they are as individuals. The pair retreat into the safety of their riches rejecting all else; the love Gatsby has for Daisy, the crime she has committed and even the loss Tom feels for Myrtle.
Where Browning measured her love as reaching the depths of her soul, Fitzgerald portrays love to be immorally measured by the size of your wallet. Through challenging the values, ideas and perspectives of her time, Browning’s experience of the basic human qualities love, hope and morality are highly enriching. The enrichment of these common themes is only revealed when the differences between Browning’s ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ and Fitzgeralds ‘The Great Gatsby’ are compared. These differences reveal that whereas some individuals are trapped by the time they are living in, others are liberated.