Presentation on theme: "Under the Red, White, and Blue - or - Foul Dust Floating in the Wake of Dreams: Why The Great Gatsby is an Incredible Book Feraco American Literature 25."— Presentation transcript:
Under the Red, White, and Blue - or - Foul Dust Floating in the Wake of Dreams: Why The Great Gatsby is an Incredible Book Feraco American Literature 25 March 2008
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode? --- “Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”
Perhaps It Explodes Gatsby’s dream has been deferred long enough for it to seem impossible; he’s literally pursuing the past in the present Gatsby pines for Daisy for years after he loses her to another man through marriage; it’s worth noting that he leaves for an extended period of time, only to come home and find the love of his life has entered into said marriage However, we see him on the precipice of realizing his “impossible dream” – his American dream, his girl from Louisville, with a voice like money What is the cost of chasing this dream? What’s the cost of realizing it?
Quick-Write! Have you ever wanted to relive a moment from your past, to redo it? Describe the situation. How and why would you change the past? You have five (intense!) minutes! Make the most of them! After this, we’ll take a look at the characters and their dreams – for each is inextricably tied to his/her failed hopes
The Object of His Affection “[Gatsby’s] entire heart and imagination are utterly consumed with his romantic image of Daisy Buchanan, a selfish, silly, giddy creature…for what is Daisy, dreadful Daisy, but his dream and the American dream at that? [Fitzgerald] seems to make no bones about it. [Daisy is] vapid, vain, heartless, self-absorbed…” - Louis Auchincloss Did he mention “married”?
‘Til She Cries, “I Must Have You!” Though Daisy is all of these, and more, she still captures Gatsby’s heart in a way that nothing else does An otherwise falsely genial and remote character, Jay Gatsby is so captivated by Nick Carraway’s cousin that he attempts to construct an identity that will render him respectable enough to win Daisy’s affections He throws everything he has into the charade, buying new clothes and new property as he tries to assimilate into Daisy’s modern world of higher society
The Wrong Side of the Bay He buys an elaborate, empty white palace to impress her, but he purchases one on the wrong Egg. This strands him so far outside of her world that he is reduced to watching the pulsing green light of her island under the cover of night, arms outstretched to embrace something he cannot seem to hold. It’s an empty identity, an empty existence – an attempt to pursue a dream that’s nothing more than an “illusion…all gush and twinkle.”
The World Divides Us His desperate pursuit of his ideal woman – a figure who lies on the opposite side of the divide between the old world and modern society – reflects the clash between old- fashioned, traditional passions and a changing world that alienates and pulls people apart Old vs. new – old money vs. nouveau riche – inheritance and legacy vs. people without pasts
The Eggs Are Decaying East Egg, West Egg, and the Valley of Ashes all represent different “existences” in America – and none of them are populated by morally upstanding types The Valley symbolizes moral decay, and the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg symbolize the eyes of God – seeing all that happens in the land of the liars and sinners
The Space Between Us This is not a world that is friendly to romance or love – or even to manners Ironic, considering that it’s the nouveau riche who are supposed to be vulgar Tom cavorts with Myrtle Wilson as Daisy observes passively. The Buchanans seem almost eager to broadcast their problems to an audience.
Nick the Narrator As the narrator, Nick recounts his experiences in a variety of situations – most of which are exclusive to himself. He never goes anywhere without being respected, at the very least – there is no one in the story who dislikes him. Other characters (Gatsby, Tom, Wilson) are resented and trapped within their own spheres of influence (or lack thereof). Other characters (Gatsby, Tom, Wilson) are resented and trapped within their own spheres of influence (or lack thereof). People confide in Nick – see Daisy and the butler’s nose, Daisy’s speech about how “sophisticated” she is, Jordan Baker’s revelation of the history between Daisy and Gatsby, and Gatsby’s own confession of how he constructed his identity (in Chapter VI) He has “privileged glimpses into the human heart” (page 6) He has “privileged glimpses into the human heart” (page 6) Nick sees marital discord within his own family (Daisy and Tom) and outside of it (George and Myrtle) Nick sees marital discord within his own family (Daisy and Tom) and outside of it (George and Myrtle)
Quick-Write II Have you ever had a dream that failed, or that you never realized? Have you ever been deeply disappointed by something? Did you have trouble accepting what had happened? How did you react to disappointment?
Speaking of Marital Discord… and Privileged Glimpses into the Human Heart Daisy’s wedding speaks volumes about the type of person she really is Has Daisy ever been happy while married? She greets her wedding day with tears and alcohol: ‘Here, dearis.’ She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. ‘Take ‘em downstairs and give ‘em back to whoever they belong to. Tell ‘em all Daisy’s change’ her mine. Say ‘Daisy’s change’ her mine!’ She began to cry – she cried and cried…She wouldn’t let go of the letter. (Fitzgerald, 81) ‘Here, dearis.’ She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. ‘Take ‘em downstairs and give ‘em back to whoever they belong to. Tell ‘em all Daisy’s change’ her mine. Say ‘Daisy’s change’ her mine!’ She began to cry – she cried and cried…She wouldn’t let go of the letter. (Fitzgerald, 81)
The Pearls in Her Eyes The pearls – which Daisy notably tries to cast away – represent the “pomp and circumstance” that Fitzgerald focuses on in his description of Daisy’s marriage. Daisy marries a man who uses his wealth to throw her a wedding that holds true to the conventions of high modern society – in other words, all glitz and empty glamour. The pearls he gives his new wife are not described in terms of their beauty, but in terms of their monetary worth. This underscores the superficial nature of the present. Tom buys the necklace not because he thinks Daisy will actually love the gift, but because it is clearly the most expensive object he can give her.
An Impersonal Marriage It is a gaudy and impersonal affair for Daisy, while Tom ships “a hundred people [to the wedding] in four private cars” (Fitzgerald, 80). While he constructs a scene in which the young Lieutenant Gatsby and his love sit in a car “so engrossed in each other that she didn’t see [Jordan] until [she] was five feet away” (Fitzgerald 79), Fitzgerald offers no hint of an old-fashioned romance between Tom and Daisy. For that matter, there is not even evidence of a friendship between the two. Compare this to the Wilsons’ wedding
So, To Recap… Love is dead Morals have decayed People are unhappy and separated Why is this book great again? And what does it have to do with the American Dream again?
Reason #1: The Characters Every one of the seven main characters is fully-fleshed-out, vibrant, and real. We may hate Tom, but we understand his feelings of frustration and disappointment at the same time He has everything, yet nothing He has everything, yet nothing He, too, is in search of the past in the present He, too, is in search of the past in the present
Reason #2: The World Fitzgerald has created a feverish, compelling America, a land of excess and distance, of deceit and dreams Everything from the Valley of Ashes to Gatsby’s mansion is described in full sensory detail – it’s an illustrator’s dream You understand Gatsby’s world – and why he is so desperate to move into Daisy’s – because we understand George’s world, and how it’s something everyone is trying to flee In other words, the settings reinforce the book’s themes and content
Reason #3: The Surprises I’ve tried to be very, very careful about revealing the ending I’m looking forward to re-introducing some of these ideas once I can talk about them openly! For now, rest assured that Fitzgerald does an excellent job of dropping surprises into his text – even if they’re made up of little moments, like Tom’s almost subdued attack on Myrtle
Reason #4: The Way It All Comes Together As Anthony pointed out, we’re drawn to stories where things lead up to a conclusion, where the world we’ve been studying is united – and where everything “comes together” in a moment of transcendent greatness
Reason #5: Form + Content = Classic Fitzgerald’s prose is active; his narrator’s language is pompous and inflated because it fits the narrator (how do you expect a Yale graduate from the 1920s to speak); his story loops through time repeatedly to drive home the idea that the characters are chasing something they’ve already lost His characters, settings, and themes all unite to serve the story – and the story itself does not disappoint, as Chapters VII and VIII are perennial favorites of the book’s readers
Reason #6: The Dream Gatsby can never enjoy what he seeks, and this makes his dream all the more tragic The world is increasing in complexity and modernity; Gatsby and Nick just fought a war for control of it The passionate, old-fashioned frontier romance that he seeks, to run off with his love and simply be with her, is an obsolete dream that can no longer be realized Daisy is no longer the girl he loved; when Daisy marries Tom after “changing her mind,” she sacrifices who she is for the sake of convenience, wealth, and all sorts of other trivial things Daisy is no longer the girl he loved; when Daisy marries Tom after “changing her mind,” she sacrifices who she is for the sake of convenience, wealth, and all sorts of other trivial things
Under the Red, White, and Blue Perhaps that’s what the American Dream is about Pursuing the things we want Daring to pursue them Daring to pursue them Pursuing the things we’ve lost – traditions, simplicity, familiarity Pursuing love and greatness and wealth, stability and independence and happiness Is that the American Dream? A pursuit?
Quick-Write III! Gatsby completely overhauls his identity in order to win Daisy’s love. What do you think of his decision? Are you impressed with his dedication, angry with his foolishness, or somewhere in between?
That’s All for Today! Study these notes again after you finish the book – and before we can discuss it again!