I started a new class at SNHU (Sooooooooo happy that term five is done) and we are looking at different ways to analyze certain books for the majority of the class. This week (and week two, which I’ve done) we are looking at The Great Gatsby. Take a look at some of my opinions:
The Green Light: A look at metaphor, word choice and symbol in The Great Gatsby
The last lines of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby are some of the most memorable words in the western canon of literature. The thoughts and ideas speak to the thoughts and ideas of a generation. They are an overarching metaphor for the story, the time and a humanity in flux after a period of insurmountable change. The themes of Fitzgerald’s story foreshadow a generation careening towards issues such as the stock market crash and the Second World War.
Before moving further, take a look at the text in question:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (Fitzgerald 180).
Word choice in the selection is something that can be focused on for a while. Look at some of the words Fitzgerald employs. So much of them have a sense of movement to them – all most as if he is trying to mimic the waves Nick Carraway is watching and relating that to all the movement the characters did in the story: West Egg, East Egg, The city, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Louisville, Europe – for a novel that seems so routed in Gatsby’s mansion it possess an undeniable motion that mimics humanity and nature.
Continuing on the motion notion for a moment, focus on the word “Orgastic”. It stands out above the rest. Orgastic isn’t a word. Orgasmic is. They only differ by one letter. Much like Gatsby. He had the money, he definitely was able to mimic some sort of social convention and for a brief moment (like a letter in a full word) he had the girl. Orgastic brings to mind a sense of culmination – an approaching pleasure that will fill each and every desire of the beholder. But consider that Orgastic future with the years receding by and by. The consistent grind of working towards something but never being able to achieve it: Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy, George’s want for Myrtle to be satisfied with him, even Daisy being able to really love Tom – all seem to be working towards something but never do reach it.
The imagery of the selection stands out as well. The last paragraph highlights that with its use of the boats. While there is the base picture of boats actually beating against the current, there is the metaphor of the boats as humans – humans who, no matter how hard they try, no matter how much they try to wade out the storm, inevitably recede to their past. Maybe it’s a little pessimistic. The reader is forced to see the story through the eyes of Carraway. But at this point in the story it certainly feels (and stands to reason) that Fitzgerald has taken over.
There’s so much conflict in the last two sentences. While the claim can be made that the last line is undeniably pessimistic, the preceding line about tomorrow mimics an American dream that provided Gatsby with the drive to get to where he was. Tomorrow it will happen. Tomorrow he will just do it. Tomorrow he will have his green light – hid daisy, his acclaim, his status, his own damned dream. But, like the story illustrated, the further he progressed the more headwind he faced and his boat, much like Mr. Cody’s, was destroyed.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “The Great Gatsby”. Scribner. n.d. Print. 6/24/2014.
The idea of something bigger than ourselves
One of the most iconic passages in The Great Gatsby is when Nick Carraway finally looks upon Jay Gatsby for the first time. The passage resonates well because the mystery of who is Jay Gatsby reaches a climax and the reader is lavished with descriptions of a person who is still very much more of an exuberant idea than he is a person at this point in the story. Fitzgerald writes:
He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. (Fitzgerald 48).
In interpreting this passage a couple of different angles can be taken as proven by the supporting text for this course. This quote, specifically is referenced during the reader-response section of criticism. Being in the summer of 1922 a lot can be said for the social critique of a society (Carraway) looking for something or someone they can aspire to after a period of war. Arguments for an LGBT, Lacanian and deconstructive criticism all can originate from this passage.
My approach in dealing with this text would probably start at the reader-response model and then incorporate historical context, structuralism and social implications (which are really tied well together). While it specifically depends on what I was arguing, I would definitely focus on the word choice in every approach. There are a lot of instances in which Fitzgerald uses emotionally soothing words or phrases like “Understandingly,” “Reassurance,” and “Irresistible Prejudice” and that is the very first way we see Gatsby. Fitzgerald also has Carraway say that he doesn’t really trust him immediately afterward but that doesn’t take away from the way Gatsby is initially described. Really, it can be posited that we overlook Carraway’s secondary observations because we, too, are enamored with him at that point.
I’ve had teachers banging structuralism and social context in my head since I started doing book reports in grade school. Other modes of criticism shift from text to text but those two are constants that can be applied to any mode of theory so I try to incorporate them a lot. As for what outside sources I would use to describe this passage – that would really depend on what I would find in my research and the medium in which I was presenting my findings. I enjoy mixed media content so I think other interpretations of the text, video and image, would be a fun thing to work in my analysis of the subject. And of course utilizing outside analysis is something that would be smart to integrate in whatever approach I use.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “The Great Gatsby”. Scribner. n.d. Print. 6/24/14.