In “What We Read”, Richter introduces us to the term “glozed over” through Barbara Herrnstein Smith:
… features that would, in a noncanonical work, be found alienating – for example, technically crude, philosophically naive, or narrowly topical – will be glozed over or backgrounded.
As Richter continues to elaborate, this means that when a work is found to be of literary significance despite a strand of racism, sexism, or other prejudice woven throughout, those who are in place to judge the work can also find the room to forgive the author’s transgressions due to the ultimately redeeming qualities of the whole. (125) Doing so protects the work from entering a “trajectory of extinction.” (Quote attributed to Smith via Richter, 125)
What drives the academic, critic, or any individual reading canonical works, to forgive or gloze over such uncomfortable passages? In The Great Gatsby, Tom Buchanan stands out as a bigot in more ways than one. When we are first introduced to Daisy’s husband, he goes on a tirade inspired by a book he had recently read (located on p. 12 of the class edition):
The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be- will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved…
The book Tom’s so passionate about is real: The Rising Tide of Color Against White-World Supremacy was published by Lothrop Stoddard in 1920. Most of us are familiar with the fear-based “science” of the time that sought to prove the superiority of whites. If we understand, then, the context the book is placed in, are racist remarks such as Tom’s easier to explain away? Is it just as easy for any of the minorities targeted in the book, as it is for whites, to appreciate the more obvious themes and concede the overall “literary value” of the book?
When do we stop making excuses for works that would be, if published in our time, considered grossly inappropriate and culturally insensitive?