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
Mr. Justin Biggs