Some Gatsby Afterthoughts

Special thank yous to Adrienne for planning (and silverware), to Rachel for the best potluck contribution, to Ashton for bringing the DVD, and to Tedward for valiantly taking home all leftover food so no one else had to carry it.

Confession: I did not expect to like the DiCaprio/Mulligan version at all.  But I did.  A lot.  It’s  gorgeous, of course.  And both Gatsby and Daisy were significantly more human in this version–reinforced even in simple ways like the fact that Nick repeatedly called Gatsby “Jay,” which is not true of the novel or Redford/Farrow movie.  As a result, Leo-Gatsby seemed more vulnerable, his carefully constructed world on a much shakier foundation.  I had loved Redford-Gatsby, but he is a cardboard man, and Leo-Gatsby showed the work it took to be Gatsby.  And Mulligan-Daisy was both much more likeable and more awful, since her guilt for Myrtle’s death is more profound if she isn’t simply a twit.

Still struggling with how I feel about the Nick-in-a-sanitorium invention.  And with the combination of explicit information about the 20s for an ignorant American viewing public being carefully woven into the film, only to be juxtaposed with radically anachronistic elements (not the music– I liked that much more than I anticipated).

Both Toms stink.  Bruce Dern-Tom is not nearly enough of a “brute,” to use Daisy’s word.  And Joel Edgerton-Tom is not believable as old money– would Tom Buchanan ever wear dirty polo clothes to a dinner with guests?  No way.  Very interesting difference in George Wilsons, one of whom is so beaten down and lost and the other of whom is a man ready to kill.

It has already been well established that I can find a phallic symbol anywhere.  But please, people: Nick and Gatsby on the porch with a huge white column between them (Redford version)??  The sharing of one cigarette??  Etc. etc.  Don’t even get me started psychoanalyzing Gatsby’s wombish swimming pools, in which he meets his death.

Lastly (maybe): why did Leo-Gatsby say “old sport” to rhyme with “Colbert Report”?  That was awkward.

“Clamorous” Creativity

The BG entry on psychoanalytic criticism provided a somewhat startling comment of Freud’s.  According to the article, “[Freud] defined the artist as ‘one urged on by instinctive needs that are too clamorous'” (412-13).  Later, it reads that he characterized the “creative mind as ‘clamorous’ if not ill” (413).  Whoa!  How do you feel about that description?  Is the creative mind clamorous?  Is it ill?

Mary’s Psychoanalysis of a Song: Suspender Man by Steam Powered Giraffe

Time for a longer than expected post that’s not about Gatsby!

Some background: The most basic description of Steam Powered Giraffe is this: they’re a musical group trained in pantomime, and half of them are professionally costumed as steampunk-ish robots. (Check out their youtube videos if you want to see them in action!)

“Suspender Man” was written by one of the group’s main performers: Bunny Bennett, who plays the male robot character of Rabbit. She is openly MTF trans, and has explicitly stated in an interview that she has planted a lot of symbolism and supposedly blatant references to her female identity in this song. I’ll analyze what those might be and how they relate to the recent things she’s told blog readers about herself. Due to copyright reasons, I cannot post the song’s mp3 here, but here’s a link to the lyrics. I will gladly play it for us in class sometime if anybody’s interested.

The song starts off with the Suspendered Man appearing out of nowhere in the bayou. It’s apparently a very strange night since “the gators were all drinking tea in a dreamy pantsless glee” when Bunny’s robot character, Rabbit, discovers the Suspendered Man. The gators defy the concept of gender by being naked during their tea party and show right away that Bunny isn’t comfortable with society’s expectations. This idea of freedom is portrayed as feminine due to the tea party the ‘gators are participating in; tea parties are considered a female activity.

The Suspendered Man himself is dripping with male imagery: “the biggest red suspenders I ever did see” and a banjo “holstered” in his hand. Banjos are an obvious phallic image, and suspenders prove to be a symbol of conformity throughout. The Suspendered Man is the epitome of maleness and initially draws Rabbit in with saying how his “banjo has shown [him] the promised land”, implying that maleness is “Right”. To get him to start playing, Rabbit flips a coin into the Suspendered Man’s tip pot, which in itself is a yonic symbol in need of other analysis. This indicates how Rabbit currently subscribes to inherent male symbolism and how Bunny used to for years. The Suspendered Man then starts the music in a masculine, wild manner: “He plucked those strings and belched a giggle/He tapped his foot, howled like a hound/Igniting up the unholy sound.” 

The chorus verses start with how Rabbit has “never never…ever heard anything so great” as the masculine symbol of the Suspendered Man playing his phallic banjo. (That was not a sentence I expected to write…) The chorus insists that everyone wants suspenders and a banjo because of how awesome this mysterious bog-man is. An entire crowd “swarmed the swamp and was tossing in coin after coin” when they heard him play. The crowd is subscribing to the idea of standard heteronormativity; not only are they all abusing the poor tip jar, they all want more suspenders to keep their own identities literally suspended and hidden from others (symbolized here by pants), and a Freudian analysis would say that everyone wants a banjo due to an improper development during the phallic stage, leading to penis envy.

Near the end, the Suspendered Man disappears, leaving behind just his suspenders and banjo. The band says “that’s what he gets for selling his soul to the bog”, where the bog is a metaphor for the  mire of mixed genders/identities in the real world. He died for the social ideas of normativity to appeal to others, but it changed who he was until he faded completely away. The same concept could apply for Bunny: she has since stated that she made herself completely miserable by trying to convince herself to identify as male for years because it was “easier”.

The last few lines end up meaning that trying to change one’s true identity is like trying to do gypsy magic: it just won’t work. One of the very last lines is also a sign that Bunny has made a decision about herself: “You could wear a dress, and have no need [for identity suspension]!” She has concluded that being comfortable is just as important as fitting in, but sometimes you cannot do both. The background vocals even state that “the alligators had it right/wearing pants, it sure does bite,” going back to the idea of freedom and nonconformity being a release, but not ideal for every day use.
Freud would have a field day with Bunny herself, but I’m not going to do that here since I don’t know enough about her life to be able to say “x is probably because of y during stage z” in his style of analysis.

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?

Change to Applied Theory Post Assignment

Hey folks–

I am changing the TIME that the applied theory post will be due, starting this week.  Instead of being due before class on the assigned day/theory, the posts will be due no later than midnight on that day (that is, AFTER class if you wish to wait).

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 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?

Technology prep

I’ve been thinking about some of the delays in tech training and realized that we can be more efficient if folks take care of basic registration first.  So if you are brand new to UMWblogs, please try to do the following before class on Thursday:

1) click on Register to the right under the heading Meta

2) This will take you to a page in UMWblogs.  Enter a username and your UMW email address.

3) Agree to the terms of the system, and then click on “Just a username”

4) you will get an email to your umw account that should allow you to authenticate the request (NOTE: some students today had trouble with this because the new student email system is breaking links.  If it gives you an error message, you could try forwarding it to another email address before authenticating, or you can copy the link and paste it in your browser.)

5) then you will get a temporary password  for UMWblogs via email.

6) Come back to THIS blog, and log in using your user name and password

7) you should then get an Add Me! button under the heading Join the Blog, which you should click

8) you can change your password by clicking on your name in the upper-right corner of the blog to get to your profile.

And guess what?  All of this info is also available above under Tech HowTo