We spent the first few chapters heavily focused on Fitzgerald's use of evocative language to present the setting and its inhabitants in meticulous, often thematically complex detail. Now we'll start to unpack those themes, which means getting philosophical. Specifically, we can get a lot of our of understanding two very ancient philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, associated with philosophical theories called IDEALISM and REALISM. You can read about them in the slide above; notice how Plato, as Idealist, points upward, towards higher ideals, while Aristotle the realist holds his hand outward to draw attention to the here-and-now. We've seen this kind of pairing before: for instance, clerk Sammy from "A&P" was a pretend-hero idealist, while the manager (and presumably the girls) represented realism. Then there are characters with elements of both, like John Proctor.
Fitzgerald openly tells us that Gatsby is a Platonic Idealist: "The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God — a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that — and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end."
Unpacking this complex quote requires a better understanding of the debate between Plato and Aristotle, which we can get from these three videos. But basically, Plato believed that our reality was a false appearance, a mask concealing the True Reality, which was timeless and eternal andperfect: essentially, a Heavenly realm. (That's part of why Fitzgerald calls Gatsby a "son of God" in this quote, although there's more to it, as we'll see). Nick, like Plato's dissenting student Aristotle, believes perfection only exists in our heads, and we must focus on dealing with the flawed reality we find before us through extensive study and careful action (a "pragmatist" is a synonym for a realist). This contrast helps us understand why Nick has such mixed feelings toward Gatsby: he respects the "infinite hope" behind his Idealism, but doesn't share it at all. This is clearest in the sad ending of Chapter 6, with the famous line, "Can't repeat the past? Of course you can!"
Your assignment for these chapters is to post a short paragraph defending Gatsby's Idealism or criticizing it from a Realist position, though you can take some in-between stance as well. But give some details from this final scene of Chapter 6, including some text beyond that key line, to support your point.
*Now is also the time you want to start thinking about what you wnt to write your Gatsby paper about - and most of you will probably decide to develop your essay into your research paper, so choose a topic you're genuinely interested in. As always, I encourage you to go outside the boundaries of English (which is called being "interdisciplinary" in fancy academic language) - bring in history, psychology, contemporary issues, etc.)
--> Remember the literary theories or "lenses" we used first marking period to produce interpretations of poetry, short stories and The Crucible? If you liked one of those you might start to bring it into your analysis.
-Psychoanalysis: What happens to society when the Superego TELLS you to feed the Id, as in the Roaring 20s? What desires are the characters repressing, why, and how do they "seep" out in other ways? Also, is Nick gay?
-Lacanian Psychoanalysis: How does Gatsby's Imaginary self-image get caught up with the Symbolic order of wealth? How does this lead him to treat Daisy as the Ideal that represents the Real (objet a)?
-Structuralism: Patterns of images, use of symbols, mirroring or contradictory elements, archetypes
-Feminism: The Platonic Ideal(s) of Woman in the 1920s, and its effects on Daisy and Myrtle
How do you make words, which are just sounds or written symbols, somehow reflect real people and events in the world? This is a complex question which every writer has to answer for themselves, but in F. Scott Fitzgerald's case, it's all about "evocative" writing - that is, trying to "evoke" a scene in the reader's head. That's why we focused on the attention to detail in setting as a way into Fitzgerald's dense writing throughout chapters 1 and 2 - it helped us see how his writing isn't meant to just tell a story, but bring to life a whole WORLD with language. This is especially well-done in Chapters 3 and 4, which finally introduce Gatsby in twin scenes that evoke almost opposite images of him. In Chapter 3, he appears as a perfect gentleman, whereas in Chapter 4 he at least briefly becomes, in Nick's words, "sinister." Which is it? Is it both? The duality or contradiction between appearances and reality that defines Gatsby will begin to make more sense in Chapters 5 and 6, where it will become our focus.
For now, by paying close attention to DICTION (word choice, especially adjectives/adverbs) and SYNTAX (sentence structure, especially way way Fitzgerald links patterns of images together), we'll unpack the many layers of thematic meaning in Fitzgerald's evocative prose. You will post a comment here at the conclusion of chapter 4 analyzing one passage's descriptive use of a MOTIF (recurring image or symbol) and its thematic significance, worth 25 points (including a response to a classmate's post).
Here is our final group from 2B's commentary on the nature and role of the setting in Chapter 1 of our new novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Read it and write a comment in which you respond to one of their observations, then compare/contrast it with some element of the new settings introduced in Chapter 2. You might find it interesting to check out these clips of Tom and Daisy's home and Myrtle's garage-home from the 2013 film version of the novel - they could provide some interesting fuel for different interpretations!
The Great Gatsby: Chapter 1 Setting Analysis
-Symbolic significance of color in the setting: interior of house starts off as a “bright rosy colored space,” creating a facade of joy and tranquility; however, as the chapter progresses, the set is describe a “crimson room.” This transition from light to dark parallels the exposure of Daisy and Tom’s situation as grim and desperate, contrasting the illusion of luxury and happiness that previously enshrouded the scene.
-Adjectives placed throughout the chapter describe the scene (and characters) as stagnant, unmoving, i.e. “stationary,” “anchored,” etc. (Fitzgerald 8) . These details contribute to the “frozen-in-time” ambiance of the house. Daisy and Tom reside in West Egg, home to the rich whose wealth is comprised of family money. They are affluent due to maintaining their historical status as a wealthy family, and just like the house, have “frozen” themselves in time.
-Tom and Daisy’s house was described as having a “sunken Italian garden, a half acre of deep, pungent roses, and a snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore” (7 Fitzgerald). The roses, in their pleasant but overpowering aroma, also show how Tom and Daisy mask the true stench of their putrid, rotting marriage with the illusion of health and beauty. The genuine, twisted nature of their situation is exposed to the reader by the presence of the “motor-boat” in the scene (7 Fitzgerald). If their lives are as perfect as they assert, why would they need to escape from their allegedly fortunate circumstances? It is clear Tom and Daisy are aware (whether consciously or subconsciously) of the ugly reality of their lives that festers beneath the pretty veil of wealth and grandiose living, and have a suppressed desire to flee from their troubles.
-Outside of the mansion, there was “fresh grass… that seemed to grow a little way into the house.” Perhaps this detail foreshadows change soon to come to the Buchanan household. Like previously stated, there are many adjectives and descriptions that indicate stagnancy in Tom and Daisy’s home. But just as plants, constantly growing and changing, are finding a way to pry their way into the home, maybe another force (Gatsby?) will also come to break into the home and disrupt the stagnancy.
-The comparison of the “curtains” to “pale flags” alludes to Tom’s territorial nature (8 Fitzgerald). Like a warring nation, he marks his territory with a flag, proclaiming to all that he will fiercely protect his claims. Therefore, this detail may also foreshadow Tom later in the story protecting what is “his” (his home, his money, his reputation, his wife?). The ambience of the room Daisy and Jordan lounge in is quickly changed from a free flowing space to sudden confinement when Tom enters the room where he “shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room” (8 Fitzgerald). The action shows Tom attempting to bring everything back to a stagnant nature. He refuses to accept change, and in doing so, shuts out the world. He wants everything to remain exactly the way it is, and will go to any length necessary to do this. Also, in shutting the window, Tom is cutting off his wife, Daisy, from the world, and the desire for liberation that may come to her if she were to taste even the smallest bit of freedom. Tom keeps her shut up, caged.
-Tom guides Nick into a room with a ceiling like a “frosted wedding-cake,” and a “wine-colored rug” (8), both symbolic of the honeymoon-stage, in which the couple was at one point happy together, and now, as their marriage deteriorates, they are attempting to pretend they are still. The “wedding-cake” ceiling represents the couple’s refusal to acknowledge the issues of their relationship, the mental aspect. To parallel, the rug and floor represent the foundation, the physical aspect, of their relationship. The “wine-color” of the rug shows that Tom and Daisy, both incapable of dealing with the hard reality of their dying marriage (like a hard, stone floor), soften the blow of it (like how a rug makes a floor seem soft) by drowning their pain in the intoxicating extravagance of wealth, whether it be through literal alcohol consumption (“wine”) or any other luxury paid for by the couple’s abundant supply of money.
-Symbolism of Light as Hope: While Daisy, Tom, Nick, and Jordan are dining outside during this chapter, “four candles flickered on the table in the diminished wind” (11 Fitzgerald). These candles symbolize the little bit of hope left for Tom and Daisy’s marriage, as it is evidently falling apart at the seams. However, Daisy, claiming there is still plenty of light left in the day, plenty of hope left for their relationship, extinguishes the candles. Daisy refuses to accept defeat, that there is so little joy left in their horribly corrupted marriage. As the scene progresses, Tom’s mistress calls the house, shattering the pleasant but false fantasy Daisy had attempted to maintain. Night falls as hope fades, and “the candles [were] lit again,” as the couple at last can no longer pretend there is more than but a morsel of promise left in their relationship, a trembling candle light. Finally, Nick leaves the house, and Tom and Daisy wish him goodbye while “[standing] side by side in a cheerful square of light” (19 Fitzgerald). This displays the restoration of the facade of happiness in the Buchanan home. Nick caught a flash of the truth during his visit, but still the illusion the couple asserts still stands, at least for now.
HW: First read the two stories, and watch the linked author videos:
"A Mystery of Heroism" by Stephen Crane
"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Once you've read both stories, create a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the two characters' predicaments, reactions, and most importantly, their symbolism of their ultimate fate. Finally, add one full-sentence quotation for each character that seems to best reflect your analysis in the Venn Diagram.
HW due Monday:
Using this digital copy of the story, cut and paste as many phrases characterizing Emily (or her house and family). You need at least 12 phrases, although they can be as short as 2 words apiece (and as long as a short sentence). After you have listed these phrases, write a brief summary (2-3 sentences) explaining what you think these phrases have in common and how they collectively help to build our image of the character.
Mr. Justin Biggs