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The Great Gatsby

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Gwen Hedden

on 2 January 2014

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Transcript of The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby
Where to Begin...
Nick Carraway, our narrator, begins by talking to us in a retrospective manner about his experiences "out east". Which inspires us to believe that he is about to tell us about the "civilizing experience" that inspired him to tell us this story.
The American Dream...
The American Dream is a
national ethos
of the United States, a
set of ideals
in which
freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success
, and an
upward social mobility
achieved through hard work. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931,
"life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth
The idea of the American Dream is rooted in the United States Declaration of Independence which proclaims that
"all men are created equal"
and that they are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights" including "Life, Liberty and the
pursuit of Happiness
How is he unique?
So let's talk about Myrtle...
All I kept thinking about, over and over, was 'You can't live forever; you can't live forever.'
Living the Dream?
At Tom and Myrtle's apartment Nick is overwhelmed by the ridiculous show of materialism - they go shopping on their way there, Myrtle changes her clothing over and over, they buy a dog (she wants a "police dog", but Tom buys her a mutt -- this shows how she is seeking stability and protection, and he is not necessarily willing to give her exactly what she is looking for...), and the furniture is far too large for the apartment. Even during the party, Myrtle speaks condescendingly to the hotel staff. Ironically, in this place where she has realized her dream, Tom puts her in her place and breaks her nose. Nick describes this uncomfortable party as "the second time he has been drunk" and leaves with a man, with whom he shares the evening.
"When I came back from the East last autumn
I felt that I wanted the
to be in
and at a sort of
moral attention
forever; I wanted no more
riotous excursions
glimpses into the
human heart
Is his inclusion of the phrases "uniform" and "moral attention" an attempt at allusion to WW1?
Is this his description of these "riotous excursions" in the life of the privileged?
According to Nick there is apparently only one "human heart" worth discussing that is exempt from his "scorn"...
Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was
exempt from my reaction
— Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then
there was something gorgeous about him
, some
heightened sensitivity to the promises of life
, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This
had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament.”— it was an
extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.
No — Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what
preyed on Gatsby
, what foul dust floated in the
wake of his dreams
temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.
So apparently Gatsby was special in that he was the only person in Nick's "civilizing experience" that was human and good.
Jay Gatsby
What "dreams"?
So what is Gatsby's dream?
Social Climber
Gatsby is unique because in spite of his ambition, he is willing to put others before himself. Nick sees within Gatsby, a true affection for people, and a hope that he will receive it as easily as he gives it.
Want John Green to explain?
Use setting to
understand the
social divides...
Now, lets
West Egg
East Egg
Daisy Buchanan
Green Light
Hello, class! Today we are going to review
By: F. Scott Fitzgerald
What does that mean?
Remember, Fitzgerald was a member of the "Lost Generation" - which is a group that Gertrude Stein coined as being lost, due to the adverse effects of participating in WW1. She said that because they had not had their "civilizing experience" and as a result they were lost and useless to society.
Glad you asked!
At this point, We can assume that Fitzgerald is going to use Carraway to echo his own impressions of the Jazz Age. Already we know that, like Fitzgerald, Nick has been to war and lived in New York.
Annotated for your convenience!
Nouveau Riche (New Money)
Nick Carraway rents his home for $80.00 per month.
Gatsby has recently "earned" his money, and so he also lives on this "less fashionable" side. His parties and mysterious identity have made him larger than life.
Aristocracy (Old Money)
It does not appear at the start that Daisy is very pleased with her lot in life. She has found that money cannot buy happiness.
Everyone knows Gatsby! We love him!
Reliving the Past
Gatsby needs Daisy to say that she never loved Tom - and to erase the events of the past 5 years.
Gatsby wants his parties to be so successful and lavish that even East Eggers want to participate
It hides in the shadows of his neighbor's palatial mansion. He hears about this Gatsby constantly - he is apparently very popular!
Gatsby's mansion is set directly across the bay from the Buchanan's mansion. He stares longingly across the bay at a green light.
Why is it a
green light?
Green is a symbolic color that holds many possible meanings:
- Go
- Nature
- Rebirth/Spring
- Envy
- $
It seems like these things connect directly back to the motivations of Gatsby - he is envious of Tom, waiting for his opportunity to "go", feels that wealth will win him Daisy, and wants to renew his love with his soul-mate -- a natural inclination to have.
Correct - that's the point
of symbolism!

Gatsby is set apart from Daisy by the physical barrier of the bay, and the currents that push against him (see what I did there) are all coming from "West Egg" -- this serves as a constant reminder to him that he will never be part of this aristocracy no matter what he does in his life to prove himself worthy. This is what drives him to his constant display of extreme wealth.
Speaking of setting...
How did
he "earn" it?
There is some confusion about how Gatsby became so great. Some rumors indicate that he is a:
A bootlegger (who never drinks)
A murderer
A German spy
A relative of royalty (Kaiser Wilhelm)
An owner of drug stores
and Nick
Daisy and Tom
Lets talk about the poor...
Home to Myrtle and George Wilson
This was a real place. In 1922, there was a large area where the uneducated, laboring lower-class lived. John Green describes these people as the "burned waste" of New York society - as much of the luxury and wealth that the upper class enjoyed was earned from the blood, sweat, and tears of these people. They live under the constant judgement of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg -- a set of unblinking eyes, ringed with golden spectacles, that is suspended over their lives. George Wilson connects this ever-watchful presence with that of God. In fact, it seems that Wilson is the only character who concerns himself with religion at all. We can assume, from this, that Fitzgerald wanted to continue the motifs of faith and dreams in his novel and extended it to Wilson in order to perpetuate that concept.
"I spoke to her," he muttered, after a long silence. "I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window" – with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it – "and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!’"

Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night.

"God sees everything," repeated Wilson.

"That’s an advertisement," Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight.
So here's a little lesson about Fitzgerald's use of color:
- T.J. Eckleburg's eyes are
: Blue means truth, honor, and faith
- T.J. Eckleburg's Glasses are
: Gold connects back to wealth (think about it - every color that Fitzgerald describes when discussing Gatsby is gold or yellow...)

So why do you think Fitzgerald uses these colors for this particular image?
The people in the Valley of Ashes live hard lives. They are working for people who are not necessarily working hard enough to reflect the wealth that they enjoy (think about Gatsby and Tom - when are they described as hard-working? Even Nick's family came by their wealth dishonestly, after his Great Uncle dodged a draft). They see the truth of the matter in that their lives are bleak and grey (just like the setting). They have been burned by their dreams and used by the aristocracy. No matter how honest, good, or true they are, they will not enjoy the wealth that they seek. The golden rimmed glasses are there, above them, enticing them, while the giant blue, unblinking eyes stare and judge them - just as the rich classes do.
Gatsby's yellow car races by and taunts them. It is a symbol of what George cannot attain.
Then I heard footsteps on a stairs, and in a moment the
thickish figure of a woman blocked out the light
from the office door.
She was in the middle thirties
, and
faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously
as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine,
contained no facet or gleam of beauty
, but there was an immediately
perceptible vitality
about her as if the nerves of her body were continually
. She smiled slowly and, walking through her husband as if he were a ghost,
shook hands with Tom, looking him flush in the eye. Then she wet her lips
... (Ch. 2)
So Isla Fischer may not be the best choice for Myrtle, because she is far from "faintly stout", however this picture is helpful in illustrating how hard the character is working to free herself from this Valley of Ashes. Fitzgerald uses words like "vitality" and "smouldering" in order to illustrate how desperately this woman is trying to find her exit. She is too lively to be trapped in this world, and so she sees Tom as her ticket out. In addition, George Wilson is described as "lifeless" and a ghost. They are clearly not a match made in heaven. What little we see of Myrtle shows that it is her dream to be part of this world that recklessly drives past her in expensive fast cars. The irony that she gets hit by the very thing that inspired her dream -- a yellow car to boot -- shows that her desperate dream was an empty one. She is too foolish to be a woman who challenges the norms, and everything about her description indicates a "smouldering" sensuality. She has decided that she will use her feminine wiles to get out. Unfortunately for her, Tom is just as snobbish as Daisy, which makes her dream as impossible to attain as Gatsby's.
So how is she connected to Gatsby?
The similarity between these two characters is that they share the same dream; Gatsby comes from the lowest of low classes and Myrtle is a woman trapped in a marriage to a "lifeless" man in the Valley of Ashes. Both of these characters want desperately to be part of something bigger and grander, and will risk anything to attain their dreams - unfortunately, they find that in the relationships they share with some of the most "careless" (to quote Nick) characters in all of American Literature. They try so hard to put on these false personas, or facades, and are so desperately in love that they are literally blinded to the events that bring forth their untimely deaths. Myrtle runs directly in front of a speeding car, in opes that Tom will stop and take her away. Myrtle's death illustrates for us how pathetically in love Gatsby is with Daisy. He watches her run-down a woman in the streets and takes the fall for her without hesitation. He is so heart-sick and desperate for Daisy that, as he awaits her call, he ignores George Wilson standing over him with a pistol. They are both completely blinded to their dreams and love in their final moments.
Yeah! Does that make them both tragic heroes?
Gee, that's
so sad!
Hey, Aristotle, What is a "tragic hero" anyway?
“...the change of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity" (Aristotle).
So Aristotle states that your
luck needs to transition from good to bad
, meaning at first you are at the top of the food-chain, and then something happens that causes all of that to change - like Simba in "The Lion King".
These characters are not entirely perfect. They may be good and honorable, however they have some weakness that will perpetuate their end.
The hero's downfall, therefore, is
partially her/his own fault, the result of free choice, not of accident or villainy or some overriding, malignant fate.
In fact, the tragedy is usually triggered by some
error of judgment
or some character flaw that contributes to the
hero's lack of perfection
. This error of judgment or character flaw is known as
and is usually translated as "tragic flaw". Often the character's hamartia involves
hubris (which is defined as a sort of arrogant pride or over-confidence)
“...who is not eminently good and just, whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty” (Aristotle)
“He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous...a morally blameless man” (Aristotle).
This character is most often a prince or king in the original Greek tragedies (which is where this whole concept comes from). However, most tragic heroes are notable for heroic characteristic, fame, or even wealth.
Good question. To best answer that, we should consult Aristotle, since he came up with the concept of a tragic hero...
"Change of Luck"
Can't say I ever really had great luck... I live in the Valley of Ashes...
Well, I didn't have exactly what I wanted, but I certainly can't say I have had a bad time living it up... I am, after all, the "Great" Jay Gatsby, Old Sport!
So at this point Myrtle is not qualifying as a "tragic hero"... Even Gatsby comes from meager beginnings, so neither of them are screaming "I AM A TRAGIC HERO"... but let's continue...
A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall...
Well I don't know if you haven't been paying attention, Old Sport, but I am the "Great Gatsby", and there is something gorgeous about me -I am exempt from Nick's contempt, after all...
Well I am Tom's mistress...and I am married... so I suppose that you can't call me blameless. I have my reasons though...
Not looking great for Myrtle at this point...
My weakness is clearly money....
Can you say
Good points all around!
Well I certainly did run out in front of a car, because I thought Tom was driving - my mistake! I get so crazy when Tom is around... he is only staying with Daisy because she is a Catholic and doesn't believe in divorce. I guess I always knew he loved Daisy more... I was avoiding that truth when I ran to the car.
I chose to take the fall for Myrtle's death. I chose to not leave. I was distracted by Daisy when Mr. Wilson shot me, Old Sport. I guess I already knew that she had chosen Tom, but you can always dream, Old Sport, you can always dream!
Do you feel that they deserved their deaths? Do you pity them?
If you do that is a sign that
their death was tragic!
What do you think?
Gatsby is clearly much more tragic than Myrtle, partly because of the way we know Myrtle -- as Tom's mistress -- but also because of Fitzgerald's treatment of her. This book certainly isn't one that is partial to women. As a work of modernism, this novel reflects the time when it was written, and women were certainly not on equal footing as men (as you might have gathered from Daisy's "beautiful little fool" comment). The other reason why you might think that Gatsby is much more tragic is because of the way Nick talks about him. He is gorgeous, and sensitive, and a hopeless romantic. We care about Gatsby because Nick does, and by the same token we don't care about Myrtle because Nick doesn't really either. Myrtle is important because it is her death that sets the stage for Gatsby's. Her death i tragic, but she is NOT a tragic hero.
So, is that why Gatsby is "Great"? He seems more pathetic than great...
So why did we
read this?
Take note of Nick's final reflection.... the last chapter should show how Gatsby is not unique - we all have dreams. It is our human nature to fight against our obstacles - our currents- ceaselessly attempting to find happiness akin to a more golden age.
Fitzgerald doesn't do a great job of introducing his characters to the readers. Notice, we don't really know much about what Tom really cares about, or what drives Daisy -- we can only guess because Nick doesn't really get any insights about the inward character of these "two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all" (6). Gatsby, on the other hand, is a fully fleshed out character, however he is never described outwardly apart from his smile that has the "quality of eternal reassurance" and "concentrated on
with an irresistible prejudice in your favor" (48). We know he is "gorgeous", but that is a description of his character only. Fitzgerald creates this narrative around several "careless" characters in order to reflect the artifice and vanity of the Roaring Twenties (179). He, like Salinger, depicts the phony nature of society during his time. Fitzgerald shows that the upper class, Tom and Daisy, will chew up and spit out the dreamers, such as Myrtle and Gatsby, and the outsiders, like Nick. Tom is hateful, and Daisy is almost worse. Fitzgerald's purpose in doing that is to show his own contempt for this high class that uses and abuses people without remorse. Apparently, Fitzgerald felt that wealth gave birth to the soul, and drove everyone else to their death. The nameless, faceless masses who haunt Gatsby's mansion are an extension of this. Fitzgerald suggests that society feeds off of the aristocracy, and follows their lead - like Myrtle and her countless copies of the Town Tattler.
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