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The Great Gatsby and How to Read Literature Like a Professor
Transcript of The Great Gatsby and How to Read Literature Like a Professor
How to Read Literature Like a Professor
by Grant Royster
In chapter IV of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the character Meyer Wolfsheim is introduced when he meets Gatsby and Nick for lunch. Meyer Wolfsheim is physically described as a 50-year old, small, flat-nosed Jew with a large head, small eyes and long, noticeable nose hair. Mr. Wolfsheim seems to be a mysterious, dangerous person. For one, Wolfsheim tells a story about how his friend, with whom he was eating at the time the event took place, got shot in the stomach three times by someone outside the restaurant who asked the waiter to retrieve him. This story suggests that Mr. Wolfsheim and his friends are either criminals or have connections with criminals. Soon after this story, Mr. Wolfsheim falsely assumes that Nick is looking for a “business gonnegtion,” only to be corrected by Gatsby that Nick was just a friend, and that Gatsby was going to introduce this person to Wolfsheim at a later date. This doesn’t only support the idea that Mr. Wolfsheim is a criminal, but it reveals that Gatsby works with Wolfsheim; therefore, Gatsby is likely a criminal as well. Later, while Gatsby has to make a telephone call, Mr. Wolfsheim makes another false assumption that Nick is looking at his cufflinks; Mr. Wolfsheim explains that his cufflinks are made of human molars. After Mr. Wolfsheim leaves, Gatsby explains to Nick that Mr. Wolfsheim is a gambler, and that he successfully rigged the World Series of 1919 without getting caught; this confirms that Wolfsheim is a criminal.
In Chapter 3 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster discusses literal and figurative vampirism in literature. In many works of fiction, vampires are cunning, dangerous, mysterious, attractive, and unmarried, and regardless of whether they are literal vampires, they become more youthful and lively as they corrupt their victims. Also, vampirism often figuratively represents selfishness and exploitation.
The character of Meyer Wolfsheim can figuratively be described as a vampire.Physically, Wolfsheim isn’t much of a vampire; although he is relatively old, he is unattractive. But Wolfsheim fits the bill for many other traits of vampires: because of his criminal nature, he’s cunning and dangerous; he’s mysterious; he’s likely unmarried. Even his first name, Meyer, which means “major” or “superior,” can represent vampirism, because of vampires’ sense of superiority. Also, although he claims it’s because he’s too old to socialize with Gatsby and Nick, when Wolfsheim leaves the restaurant, he comes across as selfish, which is another trait of vampires; Wolfsheim also demonstrated exploitation when he rigged the 1919 World Series. Wolfsheim more literally demonstrates vampirism when he explains that his cufflinks are made of human molars, because in having these cufflinks, he physically benefits from other humans, as literal vampires do.
In Chapter 2 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster discusses the importance of meals in literature. Meals are almost always more than just meals in literature; authors would have a very hard time writing scenes where people eat and nothing more happens. Also, meals often represent communion, whether religiously or not. Meals are a good way to reveal things about characters, and to reveal how characters get along with each other.
All throughout The Great Gatsby, there are meals. For example: Nick meets Daisy and Tom Buchanan at their house for dinner; multiple times, Gatsby hosts parties (where, of course, people eat); Gatsby goes to lunch with Nick and Meyer Wolfsheim; Nick has Gatsby and Daisy over for lunch.
Many important things happen during meals in The Great Gatsby. Even though there are so many, each meal reveals something about characters. During the parties, Nick hears various rumors about Gatsby revealing Gatsby's mysterious nature, and Nick and Jordan are introduced to Gatsby as well as other minor characters. During a lunch, Gatsby introduces Nick to Meyer Wolfsheim; also Nick learns about Gatsby and Wolfsheim being criminals.
In Chapter 18 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster talks about the significance of characters entering water, especially if they drown or almost drown. When characters almost drown, they are not only alive after the incident; they are changed, reborn. Some characters are even changed just after they enter water, even if they don’t almost drown. This represents baptism: in baptism, once one is submerged, he is supposedly forgiven for his sin, making him a changed, reborn man. However, characters often drown in literature as well, often intentionally. But generally authors have their characters drown unintentionally for character revelation or plot development.
In Chapter VIII of The Great Gatsby, George Wilson, whose wife was killed when Daisy Buchanan hit her while driving with Gatsby in his car, is in despair. Wilson knows what the car that hit his wife looks like, and he eventually finds out that Gatsby is the owner of the car, so he assumes Gatsby was the driver who Wilson's wife, Myrtle. Gatsby, who hasn’t used his pool all summer, decides to relax in his pool before his butler drains it, only to be shot and killed by Wilson, who then shoots and kills himself.
This scene in The Great Gatsby applies to the chapter on drowning and baptism in How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Although Gatsby doesn’t technically drown, he dies while he’s in his pool, and this mostly happens for the plot; it adds to the plot, ends the book, and allows for character revelations. But Gatsby entering the pool also represents baptism. Even though he knows he might be attacked by Wilson or arrested by the police at any time, Gatsby decides to go for a swim, where he’s exposed; this might be because Gatsby knows what’s going to happen to him eventually, so he wants to get it over with. Gatsby enters the pool in order to be baptized because he’s about to die; he wants to relieve himself of his sin, as he attained his wealth through criminal activity and he had an affair with Daisy Buchanan.
In Chapter 10 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster talks about the significance of the weather during when events in literature. Rain can mean many things. For one, rain can be used to affect the plot, or to affect the moods of characters. Rain can be used to foreshadow or reflect upon bad fortune. Rain can be a way of cleansing characters; it can even baptize characters without them getting in bodies of water. Rain can also represent life because of its connection with the spring.
In chapter V of The Great Gatsby, at Gatsby’s request, Nick invites Daisy to visit him (without Tom), and without telling Daisy, arranges for Gatsby to come over at the same time. Nick reintroduces the two and leaves his house to leave Daisy and Gatsby in private, and he has to use a tree as cover from rain.
This event in The Great Gatsby doesn’t apply to Chapter 10 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor. The rain in this scene doesn’t cleanse or baptize Nick; nor does it foreshadow or reflect upon an unfortunate event. The rain, if anything, slightly affects the events in the chapter.
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Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner trade paperback edition. New York, NY: Scribner, 1925. 69-74, 88, 160-162. Print.
With a few exceptions, many themes of How to Read Literature Like a Professor appear in The Great Gatsby.