Marxist Criticism on The Great Gatsby

What happened to money does not buy happiness? From what I read, Tyson seems to portray that the more money you have, then the higher social status you seem to be and therefore the happier you are. After reading this chapter on Marxist criticism I still stand behind my motto of money does not get you happiness, but instead the people you have in your life and goals you accomplish.

The first part of Tyson’s chapter wanted to bring out the argumentative side in me because I do not believe that all wealthy people are happy and all poor people or even middle class people are unhappy with their life. I come from certainly not a wealthy family, but a stable financial family. Both of my parents worked hard for their money and still do to this day, but regardless of whether they own a mansion, a private plane, or a huge corporation they are still happy with the place that they stand financially.

Marxist criticism apparently tends to be a “Debbie downer” on the American dream. This is the part where I completely disagree with the Marxist criticism because I do not think that the American dream is a belief to make you wealthy, but more of a way to make you happy. Fulfilling a dream does not necessarily mean you need to own five houses or your own plane. It could simply mean starting your own small business and making enough money to where you are financially comfortable, not filthy rich.

Going back to money can’t buy you happiness, I think this comes across strongly in the characters of The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby himself is one of the prime examples of being rich and having a huge mansion, but not being satisfied with life. To me Gatsby is very empty inside and I think his empty house represents this. Without fulfilling his dream of getting Daisy back, he will not be happy regardless of how much money he acquires. Now, the reason I seem to agree with the Marxist criticism is because I truly believe that if this book had not been based in the roaring 1920s then it would have turned out differently. This was a time when everyone believed that money was the only path to happiness, so therefore whether rich or poor you tried to gain not only money, but power as well to try and fulfill this need of happiness. In my opinion Tyson does a good job of analyzing the fact that if this had not been the 1920s things might have turned out a little differently in The Great Gatsby.

To conclude what I am trying to get at here, I do not believe in Marxist criticism defining that you must be wealthy in order to be happy. Also, I might be living in a fantasy world, but do you really want to go along with the fact that all beliefs are a joke and that in hindsight they are just a failure? Do you really think that our beliefs of the American Dream is an unnatural way of viewing our world? I’m sorry, but I do not believe it is unnatural to want to fulfill a dream. But, I do agree with the fact that the economic status and society does effect our literature and how an author might write a book. I have very mixed feelings about Marxist criticism, does anyone else feel the same way?

Is Myrtle a foil for Gatsby?

There is a section of the Tyson chapter on Psychoanalytic Criticism that sparked my curiosity on this matter.  According to Tyson, “Daisy doesn’t realize it, but Gatsby and Myrtle function in much the same capacity for the Buchanans:  as psychological pawns in their relationship with each other” (46).  Both Gatsby and Myrtle serve as extramarital lovers to characters who demonstrate a “fear of intimacy” (39).  In that sense, they have similar romantic roles.  However, Myrtle differs from Gatsby in numerous key ways, which serve to accentuate Gatsby’s, well, better character.  Myrtle is the sensuous mistress, while Gatsby is the hopelessly devoted romantic.  Myrtle is low-class but trying to climb the social ladder, while Gatsby is wealthy to attract Daisy.  What are some other parallel differences?  Is this enough to say that Myrtle is a foil for Gatsby?  I know foils are usually of the same sex, but the parallel contrasts are interesting to me.  Maybe that’s all it is – a complex use of contrast?  I’m not sure.  Any thoughts?

Madeleine’s Bridge to the Blog: Analyzing The Great Gatsby with New Criticism

In class today we discussed many of the beliefs that New Criticism holds and what is applied when a New Critic interprets a text. The main argument that New Criticism makes is that a work should be understood solely through its textual content and everything outside of that should be disregarded. This includes such things as authorial intention and personal response. The main attribute that New Critics look for in a work is whether or not it holds themes of “universal human significance”. In other words, does the work contain (or expose) timeless truths about the human condition?

So, through the eyes of a New Critic, what can be said about The Great Gatsby? Tyson makes the argument that the novel’s theme is “the inescapable longing of the human condition.” Each of the main characters in the novel, who represent different facets of society, are longing for something that can never be fulfilled. Daisy longs for her “beautiful white… girlhood,” untainted by society and age, in Louisville. Similarly, Nick reminisces about his childhood in the Midwest, a far cry from the corruption that he is now surrounded by. Gatsby longs for the Daisy he loved in his youth which coupled with his dream of a bright, successful future. Even Tom is mentioned “drift[ing] on forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrevocable football game.”

The problem that I feel is highlighted by these characters’ desires is that they idealize the past and the future. Tyson gives the example of when Gatsby finally sees Daisy for the first time in years and finds that she still loves him, Nick states, “there must have been moments… when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault but because.. no amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”  The idea they have in their mind goes past the point that reality can follow, making it incapable for their reality to match their idea. This makes it so they are perpetually longing for something unattainable which leaves them with a jaded disaffectedness towards the world they live in.

Tyson compares this unfulfilled longing to the last line in the novel,

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

She explains that our own unfulfilled longing is the “current” against which we “beat on” in vain.

Do you agree with this assessment of the novel? Is it true to say that we all are pursuing our own green light in the distance? Thinking as a New Critic, what would you establish as the overall theme(s) in Gatsby? Or, what theme(s) in the novel do you feel fail to be universal or speak to the human condition and why?

 

 

The Great Gatsby: What is love?

I enjoyed reading The Great Gatsby so much more the second time around.  I focused in more detail and felt more emotions than I did the first time.  One thing I realized the second time around is the love shared between each of the characters.   At first look, one would read that Gatsby was in love with Daisy; Tom was in love with Myrtle; Daisy in love Gatsby and Tom; Nick in love with Jordan; and many more not mentioned.  However, I believe that love didn’t really exist in The Great Gatsby.  The characters may have loved in the past but became too into themselves later on to really love anyone but themselves.

Gatsby lived by his love for Daisy, but I think he was in love with the idea of loving Daisy.  He became rich, successful, and known.  He was essentially perfect for Daisy.  Gatsby knew Daisy was out of reach (maybe the symbolism of when Nick said he was reaching out to the air one night).  Gatsby was obsessed with trying to please Daisy, he showed no real admiration for her.  He wanted to show off his extravagance to her in the hope that she would love him for what he’s become.  For example, when Daisy shows off her daughter to Nick and Gatsby, Gatsby doesn’t express any signs of emotion for the child.  If he truly loved Daisy he would have had some internal conflict with the sight of the child.  This is just one of the many questioned relationships of love I noticed in the novel.

 

Mary’s Bridge to the Blog: Gatsby Discussion

Today’s discussion started with Fitzgerald’s biographical information—from his infidelity and alcoholism to his and Zelda’s ennui and rampant partying.
Someone suggested that Fitzgerald is like Tom, and Zelda is like Daisy but if it’s really considered, they were more like Gatsby and Daisy: Zelda was a rich girl from the South, Fitzgerald a military boy from a poor Midwestern family. He made a fortune to win her back. The biggest difference is that they did get married, but shortly after that their relationship went to hell in a handbasket.
My biggest question is: how biographical is “The Great Gatsby”? We know that Gatsby despises social structure because society expects him to stay in his place and essentially never rise above it. When he does rise above it, he is met with scorn and dislike from those who have always had status and are of old money. Gatsby himself finds his fortune through illegal means, such as gambling and bootlegging, despite the fact that many readers assume he is a Good Guy. He profits financially from this line of work, but I’m not sure he profits socially, especially not when everyone starts to get the hint that he’s a bootlegger.
Does Gatsby reflect anything about Fitzgerald himself?

We know that Gatsby is actually similar to Nick up to a point, as Nick finds himself despising the Midwest (like Gatsby did) and comes to the East to find himself or find a career. If Gatsby does symbolize something about Fitzgerald, does this mean that Nick does as well? The huge difference between them is that Nick is still poor, and goes home to the Midwest at the end, and develops the same cynicism many people developed after witnessing the extravagant carelessness of the Jazz Age. Nick talks about working at his father’s business and marrying a girl from his hometown. Then he goes to New York to leave everything behind, but finds that New York is awful for him and runs away home to leave New York behind him. Does this evaluation of Nick prove that he exemplifies good ol’ Midwestern values like family and contentment? Or is this simply how Nick copes with everything: by running away (albeit temporarily)? It seems to me like he’s a bit defeatist by the end of things, but still has an admirable hope within him that can be rekindled if he gets away from the kids (because let’s be honest: Tom, Daisy, Gatsby; they’re refusing to grow up in some ways because society has told them to) in New York and back to calmer society in the generic Midwestern town he’s from.

The idea that the rich characters are refusing to grow up is shown in their varying levels of practicality. Gatsby is immensely practical …until he falls for Daisy. Then everything he does is for Daisy and Daisy alone, no longer for his own self-improvement. Daisy is a bit foolish and romantic at the start of the book, but by the end her own cynicism has caught up with her and she only sees one outcome of the altercation with Gatsby and Tom: stay with Tom because it’s the socially right thing to do.
Speaking of Tom, what about him?
He’s not romantic (he was never going to run away with Myrtle), nor is he necessarily practical (rents an apartment for Myrtle’s excessive amount of purchases bought with his own money, but not for her living self). Yet he still seems to be childish in some manner. Any ideas?

We also discussed symbolism of color and the place of women, ultimately ending full-circle by re-discussing Fitzgerald and whether he was racist himself, or if his characters are just a product of the racism of society. Sadly, I don’t have the space to discuss those in-depth.

Feel free to discuss any of the above (including those last points I haven’t elaborated on)!

The Great Gatsby- Mistresses and Innocence

Honestly, I hated reading The Great Gatsby in high school and for this class. I just really hate the book. I hate almost all of the characters except for two. George Wilson and Tom Buchanan were very straight forward and consistent in my opinion. Wilson was a simple man that just wanted a happy life for him and his wife. Tom was a “complex” man that just wanted happiness for himself and, maybe afterwards, for Daisy too. Both men were cheated on but in the end Tom got to keep his wife, of whom he was not deserving. Which brings up a question that I think is important for this book; Why is it that innocence and purity get trampled on and used? Wilson was a good and innocent man and he was used by his wife and Tom and in the end he was alone and empty. Tom was used to get over a former love and used to escape a stagnant marriage. And although he seemed like a jerk, he still had feelings and cared for both women in his life, both of which used him. This book makes me sad but at the same time a little happy. The men are the ones really getting hurt and the women are the ones doing the hurting, which is a role not usually seen in literature. I like that women can be seen as something other than the damsel in distress or the naive virgin. They can be the mistress and the murderer. These are women with power over men that have power. These are women that can do the dirty work and feel no shame afterward. But I still hate this book.

Colors

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

I figure that most of us are probably aware of the significance of colors in The Great Gatsby.  Some observations: women usually wear white clothing; the green light at the end of the dock; Eckleburg’s eyes are “blue and gigantic”; yellow usually comes in the context of parties; many eyes are gray, and often gray implies detachment.  These are just a few of the color references in the novel.  What did you guys notice about color?  Why does Fitzgerald rely on color so much for symbolism in the first place?  Just some thoughts.

The Great War in “The Great Gatsby”

I’ve been puzzling over the relationship between The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald, and the Modern Period as described in the Bedford Glossary. It seems to me that this book is all out of character for the time; it’s rather conventional in structure and topic, and although the book clearly deplores the American East, it just as clearly affirms more traditional, old-timey “American values” — see Nick’s rapturous description of “the thrilling returning trains of [his] youth” (page 176 in my book, not sure if I have the standard version). World War I is barely discussed, and when it does appear it doesn’t seem to have any significance beyond filling in what a given character happened to be getting up to between around 1914 till about 1918. Nick humorously describes it as “that delayed Teutonic migration” (3), and when Gatsby relates his experience it’s a farcical story of overblown gallantry (66). It seems there’s only room for one “Great” in this book. Does this just mean that Fitzgerald was a reactionary, or am I missing something? (It might be significant that Fitzgerald, although he joined up in 1915, was never deployed.)

The Role of Women in Gatsby: Cultural Context and Scratching the Surface of Feminist Criticism

“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.” -Daisy

This mysterious quote is comfortably tucked near the top of page 17 in the middle of a superfluous conversation between Daisy and Nick.  It is subtle enough that you might miss it if you were reading too fast, but in my opinion this quote embodies one of the thematic cornerstones of the novel: an archetypal, subordinate role for women in the Roaring Twenties.  Daisy’s quote implies a recognition of some grand looming obstacle, and an ensuing sense of surrender.  When I read it, I think that Daisy feels personally victimized by her world; there is a wounded ambition inside her, resultant of some sort of defeat.  It also suggests that Daisy is critically aware of her own feminism, and the place that femininity holds in the particular historical context.  It seems like Daisy has begrudgingly accepted the lifestyle that she has been dealt, yet there is a faint nostalgic glimmer of hope in her heart.  Although she appears superficial at times, we should not dismiss the potential wisdom of her character.  In many ways, this quote is autobiographical, despite the fact that Daisy is talking about her daughter.

When understanding the role of women in The Great Gatsby, it is important to employ a blend of Feminist Criticism and Cultural Studies; knowing the historical context in which Fitzgerald wrote is just as important as using a balanced arsenal of Feminist Criticism tools.  I want to point out a few passages that I found where the disenfranchisement of women was clear, and hopefully hear a few other opinions on them.

There are plenty of other examples beyond Daisy’s quote that portray women as, in Simone de Beauvoir’s terms, a “second sex.” (Murfin 171-172) Fitzgerald makes a clear point of establishing gender roles in his writing.  The women of Gatsby are proper and delicate, often found in cream or white dresses.  They follow an unspoken, deep-seated social code that demands conformity and leaves many female characters indistinguishable from one another.  On page 63, we see that Benny McClenahan “arrives [to Gatsby’s parties] always with four girls” who are “never quite the same ones in physical person, [but were] so identical one with another that it inevitably seemed they had been there before.”  This particular observation by Nick suggests that there is a rigid formula for women in Gatsby’s era; the social code is transcendent beyond physical being and carves these women into replicas of one another.

A Gatsby woman, as I mentioned before, is treated as lesser than man.  Because of her feminine handicap, she is forgiven for things about her nature that she cannot control.  Nick showcases some blatant sexism in his observation of Jordan Baker on page 58.

“Dishonesty in a woman is something you never blame deeply…”

This reflects poorly on Nick’s character.  He goes on to say, soon after, that he is one of the few honest people he has ever met, which begs the question: is honesty without equality much of a virtue after all?

On page 51, one of the considerably drunker girls at the party was singing a song and decided that “everything was very, very sad.”  She wept and broke into sobs during breaks in the song, and then responded to a “humorous” comment about singing the note-like mascara tear drops on her face by throwing up her hands and sleeping in a chair.  This hyper-cathartic reaction harkens back to the Bedford Glossary’s description of French Feminist Criticism, where emotion is associated with the feminine (Murfin 172).  The girl at the party’s emotional state puts her in a category of the “second sex,” because emotion is valued beneath reason and is associated with femininity.  Simone de Beauvoir’s idea of a woman’s voice being taken from her comes to fruition in this passage.  The party girl “opts out” of “adopting the male-dominated discourse.”  Instead, she remains silent, and falls asleep in a chair (Murfin 172).

Tom and Daisy’s relationship is visibly strained.  The reader sees it in almost every interaction the couple has, from the accusatory remarks about bruised knuckles to an awkward phone that won’t stop ringing during dinner.  Beneath the lavish, elite lifestyle, there are domestic issues that no money or alcohol can solve; that is one of the underlying themes of the novel.  On pages 12-13, Tom is telling Nick about this bit of edifying and profound white supremacist literature he read.  Daisy, in a defeated tone, tries to chime in, but Tom speaks over her.  Her next comment is a vapid racist remark about “beating them down,” which is either inspired by sarcasm or ignorance–I’m not sure.  I have mentioned the importance of language in Feminist Criticism, and how male-dominated society forces a woman to choose between adopting “phallocentric” language or simply remaining silent.  On page 173 of Bedford:

“… feminine or feminist writing that resists or refuses participation in”masculine” discourse risks being politically marginalized in a society that still is, after all, patriarchal.”

Daisy, along with the other women in the novel, has been marginalized.  However, she is painstakingly aware of it: “… that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”  She has seen her own marginalization, unlike other female characters in Gatsby.

_____________


I know that I wrote a lot on this one, but if anybody did read it, what are your thoughts?  Do you think that Fitzgerald is shining a light on the disenfranchisement of women during the Roaring Twenties, or is he absentmindedly perpetuating it?  If it does in fact pose a challenge to progressive feminism, can we forgive the canonical Gatsby for giving women an unfair representation?

Gatsby’s Superficiality

Just putting a question out there:

Is it ironic that The Great Gatsby primarily portrays the narrator’s (Nick’s) study of a character (Jay Gatsby) who does not really seem to exist? He appears to be so incredibly superficial, and I’m trying to figure out the purpose for this. Is it meant to be a portrayal of the culture and shallowness of the time’s nouveau riche, or of post-traumatic stress disorder from the war (displaying that even wealth cannot cure psychological damage), or something else entirely?