October 18, 2014

"The Great Gatsby" Discussion

Lizzie Diana's Great Gatsby Discussion Review

So, first things first–an apology is in order. I have no legitimate excuse for being this late, so suffice it to say that I am sorry, and I will attempt to improve in the future.

Now–Gatsby. As with Pride and Prejudice, there is a great deal to be said about this novel–far more that I could ever say in one blog post. This time, however, I will attempt to be somewhat more brief.

Daisy as the American Dream

To begin with, I am going to narrowly define the American Dream as the supposedly great financial and social mobility allowed for by America’s lack of de jure aristocracy. As a poor boy initially, Gatsby aspires to Daisy, a treasure trove of wealth and beauty that could be his for the taking.

For the first part of the novel, Daisy is inexplicably magnetic to nearly everyone she meets. Nick describes the ripple of her voice as “a wild tonic in the rain,” which he later realizes is the sound of money.  Additionally, the color she is most associated with is gold. The buttons on her dress are gold, she carries a little gold pencil, and when Gatsby met her she owned gold and silver slippers. For the most part, this gold (associated with Daisy and wealth) is usually portrayed positively. Gatsby certainly holds positive connotations with it. The lights in his house are yellow, his gorgeous little car is yellow, and the flowers at his front gate carry the scent of pale gold. Gatsby has essentially worked constantly for the last five years for her: adapting himself to the idea of Daisy, reading Chicago newspapers to just catch a glimpse of her name, and buying a house just across the bay from her dock. Gatsby is obsessed with the concept of owning Daisy; he will do whatever he must to obtain her. He throws grand parties that he does not even allow himself to enjoy on the off chance that she will wander in one day. And after establishing himself as a great party giver, he drops this lifestyle entirely after Daisy shows the slightest disapproval. For Gatsby, Daisy is beautiful and alluring, but in truth she is also selfish and devastatingly careless. It is important to note that Gatsby’s beautiful, yellow car, a mark of his great financial achievement, becomes a deadly missile under Daisy’s careless hand.

Tom and Wilson as Foils

Tom Buchanan and George Wilson are, in my opinion, perfect opposites. Tom is a large, blustering man, while Wilson is comparatively small and withdrawn.  Tom Buchanan, despite his ranting absurdly about being  “Nordics . . .and we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization,” he has made nothing. Tom does not work, he did not earn his wealth, and he does not produce anything. He only rides on the backs of men who work, like the butler who ruined his nose with silver polish and Wilson himself. Even aside from his abject racism, Tom’s statement is absurd. Wilson, on the other hand, works for everything he has. He lives in among the ash heaps, where he pumps gas and works on cars. Wilson only wants to buy Tom’s old car off of him so that he can make a little extra money.

The most important distinction, though, is the way the two of them react to responsibility. Tom takes no responsibility for any of his actions. He takes another man’s wife from him without considering the consequences, even though he not only has a wife of his own but also a child with her. Wilson, on the other hand, carries the guilt both for his own blindness, and also for Tom’s actions. Once Wilson discovers that his wife has been seeing someone else, the guilt  for actions he hasn’t committed makes him physically ill, and he looks as though “he just got some poor girl with child.” Compared to Tom’s carelessness, Wilson is supremely careful. Tom has everything that the American dream could offer him; after all, he has Daisy. Wilson, on the other hand, is subject to the ideal of the American dream–he wants to make a better life for himself and his wife–but that ideal will never belong to him.

Dr. T.J. Eckleburg and the Owl Eyed Man

I believe it to be generally understood that the billboard of the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg represents God in some capacity. His eyes watch over the land of ashes, and particularly the house of the Wilsons. Wilson himself tells his wife that even though she could fool him, she could never fool God.
Similarly, Owl Eyes is present at Gatsby’s parties, living in Gatsby’s house, but he doesn’t spend much time interacting with the other guests.

I realize that this connection is rather tenuous. However, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the one man, other than Nick and Mr. Gatz, who comes to Gatsby’s funeral wears remarkably thick glasses. He is, similarly to Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes, an observer. Nick says of him “I don’t know how he knew about the funeral, or even his name.” Owl Eyes and Dr. Eckleburg do not participate in the primary action of the story. They are only present to observe, and, in the case of the Owl Eyed man, to see Gatsby on his way.

Bonus: "Young and Beautiful"

To be perfectly honest, I have not yet seen the recent DiCaprio film adaption, but I have heard the Lana Del Ray song “Young and Beautiful” from said adaption. I find it fascinating that within the song, Del Ray sings “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” to which she later replies “I know you will, I know you will, I know you will.” Assuming that she’s singing from Daisy’s perspective, I think that her conclusion is incorrect. Gatsby was so obsessed with turning back time–he wanted to get married in front of Daisy’s house where he met her, he wanted her to say that she never loved Tom, he claims that you can relive the past–I don’t think that Gatsby would ever be able to accept change, even due to aging. Based on what we see of Gatsby’s obsession with the past, I believe that he might be satisfied with Daisy for a short time, after she grew older he would eventually seek out a more perfect “Daisy” figure and leave the one he has behind.

As usual, any discussion or opinions to the contrary will be welcome. We’ll be announcing the next book for the club soon, which will cover the remainder of October and the entirety of November. Again, I apologize for the delay.

Best wishes,