Symbol and Image Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins commissioned full color illustrated dust jacket seven months in advance of completed manuscript (Scribner 196) Francis Cugat is the artist that composed the image—had designed posters and movie sets in New York before he became a Hollywood art designer Most celebrated and “widely disseminated” jacket art in twentieth-century American literature (196) Art Deco movement Image precedes novel; Fitzgerald said he wrote the image into the book “Cugat’s rendition is not illustrative, but symbolic, even ironic: the sad, hypnotic, heavily outlined eyes of a woman beam like headlights through a cobalt night sky. Their irises are transfigured into reclining female nudes. From one of the eyes streams a green luminescent tear; brightly rouged lips complete the sensual triangle. Below, on earth, colored carnival lights blaze before a metropolitan skyline” (197).
Ekphrasis? Charles Scribner III writes, “there can be no mistaking of Cugat’s seductive visage for the grotesque, bespectacled eyes of the optician’s billboard” (Scribner 197). Allegations image precedes description of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s image: “each is explicitly abstracted from a face, in each case with the nose ‘edited out’” (200). Setting in novel—Coney Island, “circus” of Gatsby’s home, car
The Great American Novel “An author ought to write for the youth of his generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward” (Fitzgerald qtd. in Bruccoli ix). Mixed reviews of novel when published Follows success of This Side of Paradise (1920) Novel is a commercial disappointment—Fitzgerald hoped for a sale of 75,000 copies but first printing sold 20,870 copies at $2.00; a second printing of 3,000 copies were put through but the sales never caught up with the volume (Scribner 203) At Fitzgerald’s death fifteen years later, unsold copies remained in a Scribner warehouse (203) Novel did not go out of print; it stopped selling (203) Fitzgerald blamed failure on the title, lack of an important woman character he felt was central to the tradition at the time (203)
The Great American Novel Revival of novel and Fitzgerald’s career after his death Posthumous publication of his unfinished novel The Last Tycoon in 1941, inclusion of The Great Gatsby along with short stories Reprint of The Great Gatsby in 1946 led to widespread success, including a “number of serious evaluations of Fitzgerald’s work” in the 1950s, canonization of text, inclusion on syllabi, consideration as “classic” Scribner Library series of best-selling classics in paperback, given label “SL 1” (205)
Metafiction and Self-Reflection Nick Carraway as narrator, author “Reading over what I have written so far, I see I have given the impression that the events of three nights several weeks apart were all that absorbed me. On the contrary they were merely casual events in a crowded summer, and, until much later, they absorbed me infinitely less than my personal affairs” (55-56). “He told me all this very much later, but I’ve put it down here with the idea of exploding those first wild rumors about his antecedents, which weren’t even faintly true. Moreover he told it to me at a time of confusion, when I had reached the point in believing everything and nothing about him. So I take advantage of this short halt, while Gatsby, so to speak, caught his breath, to clear this set of misconceptions away” (101).
Writing as Revision Charles Scribner, III, the “Publisher’s Afterword”: Fitzgerald confessed to editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribner that he wanted to break new ground in fiction in 1922 (195): “I want to write something new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple + intricately patterned” (Bruccoli vii) Turned away from Gatsby to write short stories to recoup from financial losses, returns to novel in 1924 In a letter to Fitzgerald, Perkins writes, “I would know Tom Buchanan if I met him on the street and would avoid him—Gatsby is somewhat vague. The reader’s eyes can never quite focus upon him, his outlines are dim. Now everything about Gatsby is more or less a mystery i.e. more or less vague, and this may be somewhat of an artistic intention, but I think it is mistaken. Couldn’t he be physically described as distinctly as the others, and couldn’t you add one or two characteristics like the use of that phrase ‘old sport,’—not verbal, but physical ones, perhaps.” (200)
Tom vs. Jay “Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body—he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body” (11). “We all turned and looked around for Gatsby. It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who had found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world” (44). Stories about Gatsby: German spy, in American army, killed a man, bootlegger
Dream and Reality For Kenneth Eble, The Great Gatsby depicts the “central contrasts between the ideal and the real” in its “juxtapositions of beauty and squalor, peace and violence, vitality and decay” (94) “He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was” (110). “the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out to the substantiality of a man” (101)
Dream and Reality “By the end of the novel, Gatsby and what he stands for reach proportions of mythic profundity” (Lewis 43). Nick: “‘You can’t repeat the past’” Gatsby: “‘Can’t repeat the past?... Why of course you can!’” (110). Novel obsessed with time (Big Ben anyone?) 450 time words, 87 appearances of the word time (Bruccoli xv): Buchanan lawn “jumping over sundials”; timetable Nick writes guest list on; Gatsby knocks over a clock; Klipspringer’s song on piano— “In between time…” “If Gatsby himself is presented as curiously ‘unreal,’ the connection between Daisy and Gatsby—the unobtainable and the insubstantial—is destined to founder in a world as insistently material as the one Fitzgerald details for us” (Lewis 49).
Daisy as Ideal “‘She’s got an indiscreet voice.... It’s full of—’” (120). “Her voice is full of money” “That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it.... High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl....” (127). Epigraph “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (17).
The Death Drive, literally Accident with Owl Eyes, “shorn wheel” (55) “A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds and by more cheerful carriages for friends.... I was glad that the sight of Gatsby’s splendid car was included in their somber holiday” (73). “The ‘death car,’ as the newspapers called it, didn’t stop; it came out of the gathering darkness, wavered tragically for a moment and then disappeared around the next bend” (144). “At the moment of impact—the final crash of the dead dream into the disillusioning body of reality—it is surely no accident in a novel of mutual alienation that Daisy and Gatsby are both gripping the steering wheel” (Person qtd. in Tredell 121).
Artistic Violence Fitzgerald’s response “‘I want Myrtle Wilson’s breast ripped off—it’s exactly the thing, I think, and I don’t want to chop up the good scenes by too much tinkering’” (qtd. in Tredell, F. Scott Fitzgerald 124). “He claims that he won’t ‘chop up’, yet the scenes whose form he is anxious to preserve and order have as their content a predominant pattern of chopping, breaking, smashing, and falling to pieces.... the novel is strewn with dismembered bodies, disconnected objects, and fragments against whose background Nick Carraway, along with his drive to make connections between things and events, appears as an ordering force.” (Paulson qtd. in Tredell 124-25)
A Dream (Permanently?) Deferred “He was clutching at some last hope and I couldn’t bear to shake him free” (148) “... I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption—and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them good-by” (154) “I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about... like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees” (161).
Going West “—Mr. Gatz. I thought you might want to take the body West” (169). “That’s my Middle West—not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name. I see now that this has a been a story of the West, after all—Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life” (176).