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Chasing the Green Light The Tragedy of Jay Gatsby.

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1 Chasing the Green Light The Tragedy of Jay Gatsby

2 Gatsby: Tragic Hero Tragic Hero: a character who makes an error that leads to his downfall o Almost always a respectable person o Downfall evokes audience’s pity o Tragic flaw (i.e., fatal error) is also hero’s greatest virtue JOURNAL 6B: What is Gatsby’s tragic flaw? Defend your opinion.

3 Gatz vs. Gatsby Nick Carraway’s paradoxical judgment of Gatsby: o Gatsby = object of Nick’s “unaffected scorn” (Ch. 1); epitome of all that is vile about mankind o However, Gatsby is “exempt” from Nick’s repulsion of mankind; the one man absolved of human depravity o Gatsby the Creation = repulsive o Gatz the Man = “gorgeous” o Inventor OK, Invention NOT OK

4 Gatsby’s Tragic Flaw Gatsby’s virtues (according to Nick): o his “extraordinary gift for hope” o his “romantic readiness” o his “heightened sensitivity to the promises of life” Gatsby is a dreamer o He dreams big – REALLY BIG!!! o Ambition is respectable, but can also lead to disaster (e.g., Frankenstein monster) Gatsby supplants reality with fantasy, believes he can bend the world to his will

5 Gatsby Goes Wrong Gatsby’s dream is pure (i.e., love), but the method of acquiring it is fundamentally flawed (i.e., lying) o Gatsby = avatar for pursuit of happiness (fundamental component of American ethos) o Hope for happiness is “gorgeous” (i.e., spectacular, beautiful) Gatsby’s dream = LOVE o Love is based on the natural, yet delicate chemistry of two souls o Thus, recreating a love based on false identities is unnatural, and therefore doomed to failure o Happiness for Gatsby in 1922, therefore, is illusory James Gatz invents Jay Gatsby to obtain Daisy o New Money (Gatsby) imitating Old Money (Buchanans)

6 Buchanans: Avatars of Old Money TOM Immoral Violent Hedonistic Domineering Careless Insatiable DAISY Immoral Passive Lackadaisical Delicate Careless Insatiable

7 From Gatz to Gatsby Gatsby = Avatar of New Money Gatsby (West Egg) imitates the opulent, extravagant lifestyle of Old Money world (East Egg) to succeed FATAL ERROR: Old Money world is corrupted by wealth, where money trumps morals o Material replaces the soul o Emerson: physical property vs. living property Gatsby imitates the Buchanans, who are the soulless, careless products of human depravity

8 Questions to consider Nick: “Gatsby turned out all right at the end” (Ch. 1) What does Nick mean by “all right”? o All right: (adj.) satisfactory, acceptable, unhurt, unscathed Is Gatsby’s death acceptable? Does Nick approve of the timeliness/nature of Gatsby’s death? Does Nick think Gatsby’s end was justified or appropriate? Did Gatsby somehow escape a worse fate?

9 Open your books to the last pages of Ch. 9

10 Ch. 9 Nick’s Epilogue SCENE: Nick watches Gatsby’s mansion, ruminating on its former inhabitant Gatsby’s West Egg mansion = “incoherent failure of a house” o Symbol of James Gatz’s failed dream o Gatsby = James Gatz’s “Platonic conception of himself” (Ch. 5)  Plantonic: (adj.) existing as an idea only; nonexistent Nick erases an “obscene word” from a white step on Gatsby’s house o Nick wants to preserve the dream, keep it pure o But the difference between what we want and what is is where Gatsby failed. Will Nick make the same fatal error?

11 Nick’s Epilogue (cont.) SCENE: Nick sprawls out on the sandy beach and observes Long Island for what it truly is, stripped of its “inessential houses” o Long Island becomes the “fresh, green breast of the new world” that “flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes”  Dutch sailors = early European explorers of America o Nick envisions the forest – whose trees are now “vanished” – that “pandered in whispers” (i.e., subconsciously, but efficaciously) to “the last and greatest of all human dreams” What does Nick mean by this “last and greatest of all human dreams”?

12 The Last and Greatest of all Human Dreams America: The New World A green untamed wilderness A place of promise Grounds for a new beginning (rebirth) Realm of opportunity Region for redemption Where dreams are born, take shape, and come true The Dutch Sailors Pilgrims Odyssean adventurers Refugees Dreamers Old World Gatsbys

13 Birth of a Dream Those Dutch sailors, for a “transitory enchanted moment…must have held their breath” as they stared at this wide open new “continent” (i.e., America) o “transitory” = temporary o “enchanted” = spellbinding; intoxicating o “held their breath” = excitement, awe in the presence of such vast potential Like Gatsby eyeing Dan Cody for the first time from the shores of Lake Superior.

14 America: Land of Opportunity North America (“the continent”) as a physical entity is geographically, perceptibly equal in grandeur and immensity to the human “capacity to wonder” o “capacity to wonder” = ability to imagine a better, more palatable reality for oneself N. America = land of fresh beginnings, second chances, opportunity, resurrection, redemption, etc… o …a place where dreams are forged and mapped out But do these dreams ever come true?

15 The Green Light Green Light = “the orgastic future that…recedes before us…” o i.e., A gradually but relentlessly dying dream The green light “eluded us then, but that’s no matter” o i.e., It doesn’t matter if the dream is dying or unobtainable, because… “…tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning—” Why does Nick stop himself before the climax of this sentence?

16 Death of a Dream Nick’s unfinished sentence represents an aborted thought, a syntactical metaphor for the terminated dream The reality for Nick (and us) is too awful, too horrifying, too soul-crushing to contemplate, to acknowledge, to admit o Reality = The dream is unobtainable (“[Gatsby] did not know that [his dream] was already behind him”) o There really is no hope, nothing worthy to aspire to – especially if mimicking the voracious Tom Buchanan or obtaining the soulless Daisy Fay is the object of your dream

17 But we still dream… Ignoring the reality that “you can’t repeat the past” (Ch. 6), we still beat on “against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” o “against the current” = in opposition to the tide of time  The juggernaut of reality will ALWAYS burst the bubble of fantasy (i.e., our dreams, our hopes) o “into the past” =  The paradise of youthful innocence (e.g., Garden of Eden)  A world of possibility and potential  The ignorant bliss of hope

18 Retreat to the West So Nick Carraway returns to Minnesota (the West), for it is in the West where dreams exist, where he no longer needs:  “privileged glimpses into the human heart” (Ch. 1)  encounters with “the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men” (Ch. 1) Nick returns to the West to avoid the fate of Gatsby o West = New World = Illusion of a New Beginning = America for the Dutch sailors (Eden) o East = Europe = Banishment from Eden = the inescapable ghosts of our past (original sin) But this globe (Earth) is a finite sphere, and a retreat west – into the “vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic roll on under the night” (Ch. 9) – will eventually bring us back to where we started

19 The American Dream We can’t escape the past, We can’t change where we came from, We can’t change what we are… …but we can always dream we can.


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