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)!