Examine the View That Love is presented as something that is forbidden
“Atonement” by Ian McEwan and “The Great Gatsby” by F.Scott Fitzgerald both portray social class as being a big factor in the societies they were set in. “Atonement” is set through the 1930-40s where women were adjusting to having more power, for instance in work environments women were being brought in as substitutes for the men away fighting. Social divide meant that those with money could pay for the best education for both their female and male children. In Cecilia’s case, this means an education at Cambridge, however no degree as women were still seen to be the weaker sex. “The Great Gatsby” however was set in the 1920s, as women had just earned the vote and had begun to explore their freedom with sexuality, e.g. flapper dresses, and fame, for instance Jordan Baker being a famous golfer. Women however were definitely seen as the weaker sex, and would be in far more trouble for adultery than men.
Fitzgerald writes Daisy as being “descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch” implying that money and status is of great importance to her, and so the social divide of the nouveau riche from the old money is a running theme. This “old money” trait is shown by Nick knowing this link to rather rich people in his family history. Gatsby however, was a “penniless young man” when he first met Daisy, showing that due to the time period he had to hide who he was in order to be with Daisy, showing the forbidden nature of their relationship. This is shown by the quote “the invisible cloak of his uniform might slip from his shoulders” as the metaphor indicates that he knows the situation is wrong and he is paranoid and anxious that they will know who he is. This shows he knows their relationship is forbidden in societies eyes even as they first met. This social divide is also present in the relationship of Robbie and Cecilia, as Robbie was “the cleaning lady’s son”. This quote shows he is seen as of less importance as he is not being referred to as his own person but in a way that suggests he is lesser due to his mother’s income. The relationship between Cecilia and Robbie would have been disapproved by society, as they saw Cecilia as Robbie’s “Mother’s employer’s daughter” implying that he was not a friend or anything more of hers as he could not be.
McEwan writes Briony as being a large factor in Robbie and Cecilia’s relationship being forbidden as she was in love with Robbie and was the reason behind him being sent to prison and ultimately being sent to war. Briony sees love as a fairytale, “she herself had written a tale in which a humble woodcutter saved a princess from drowning”. This implies her overwhelming urge to relate Robbie and Cecilia’s situation to herself and has a rather selfish attitude to the situation. This is mirrored further in the novel as Robbie recalls her asking “If I fell in the river, would you save me?” This suggests that Briony sees herself as the princess and wants Robbie to be her hero, showing she sees everything as being related to stories or literature. This fairytale theme is common in most literature, and so the idea that Briony has of love can be shown throughout literature as being an influence in her behaviour, showing McEwan may have a disinterest or disapproval for the way love has been portrayed in past novels, as this idea of love is shown as a weakness in Briony and leads to her atonement in the future. Gatsby, however is too focused on the past to see the present, giving an idealistic view of life in a sinful situation saying “can’t repeat the past? … Why of course you can!” indicating that he is oblivious to the forbidden nature of their relationship or a least denying its inevitable bad ending. Fitzgerald writes Gatsby as choosing to be focused on the past, caught in the ghost of what Daisy used to be, remembering “he took Daisy one still October night” and “how surprised I was to find out I loved her” showing he is caught in the past and forgets to see how class forbid them then and marriage forbids them now. Gatsby’s naivety furthers to obsession and so leads to consequence.
Fitzgerald writes Gatsby’s death in a poetic and romantic style, described as “a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of transit, a thin red circle in the water”. This imagery is delicate, words like “tracing” and “thin” acting as a gentle death. Fitzgerald is trying to portray the idea that love will kill you softly in the end, and so is forbidden, as the delicate imagery suggests that love whilst kind and gentle is also deadly. As he died in the water, it also mirrors him looking across the lake at Daisy’s home, implying that he was finally consumed by the length of water between them and it cannot ever just be ‘water under the bridge’ with them. Fitzgerald uses the last sentence, “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” to further the idea that Gatsby could never escape his roots in society and so was doomed from the beginning, despite being a dreamer, would never fully accomplish what he wanted due to his past always being there. In “Atonement”, the consequence is both protagonists die separately. McEwan uses literature references to show the forbidden nature of Robbie and Cecilia’s relationship, using the “characters as code” as Robbie was diagnosed as “morbidly over-sexed” indicating they never would’ve believed someone of the lower classes innocence over an upper class child’s word. This shows the hypocrisy of the time, and also the nature of their relationship being looked down on by society. As they use characters as code, they are hiding their feelings from the world as they have to, to keep the love alive. This consequently leads to the decision Robbie makes to join the army in an attempt to be free and be with Cecilia, however their relationship was doomed from the beginning as society looked down on the class difference and Robbie’s alleged sexual tendencies. McEwan writes the deaths in Briony’s confessions at the end of the novel in a ‘matter of fact’ language, “Robbie Turner died of septicaemia” and “Cecilia was killed in September of the same year”, this straightforward language suggests McEwan is trying to imply that love was there, but in the end they die, and as the relationship was forbidden there was no happy ending for them truly. As this is the last chapter in the novel it shows the struggle for the relationship to survive, but could never truly due to society and Briony.
In conclusion, both novels portray love as being forbidden and deadly, coming at the price of lives, as “The Great Gatsby” shows more of a romantic and poetic justice death, “Atonement” portrays straightforward and harsh, emphasising the struggle and cruelty that love is put through. Both novels show that forbidden love leads to devastating consequences and so should be avoided, but also society’s attitude should evolve to be more accepting of love otherwise death comes to those who least deserved it.