What’s So Great about Gatsby? : Identity and Race in the Great American Novel
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby revolves around the demise of its enigmatic protagonist, Jay Gatsby, and through Nick Caraway, the narrator, readers explore the lavish lifestyles of high society in 1920’s America. Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby’s incorporation of recognizable social trends, like the popularity of jazz music, juxtaposes the daunting social issues plaguing American Society in this era. Although Fitzgerald avoids direct reference to “traditional” America’s issues with racism and classism, the context that Fitzgerald creates for his protagonist reveals conflict within American society’s understanding of identity. Conventional analysis of the central themes in The Great Gatsby focus on Gatsby’s struggle with identity and the novel’s portrayal of an “American Dream” and the “American Hero”; these approaches to the text showcase Gatsby as a self-made man that symbolizes the emergence of a new generation of wealth in America. Scholars further this reading by highlighting Fitzgerald’s allusions to money throughout the novel; citing the diction, personification, and imagery Fitzgerald uses for the “green light” that Gatsby associates with Daisy Buchanan, orthodox analysis focuses on the role of wealth in American identity. Despite the scholarship and recognition modern audiences have of The Great Gatsby as a valuable text in American Literature, recent analysis’ spotlight on race within the novel offers a fresh examination of Jay Gatsby’s identity crisis.
The research of scholars analyzing the text for racial significance suggests Fitzgerald bases Gatsby’s characterization on the assimilation tactics of ethnic minorities. Academics consider the growth of ethnic immigrants and minorities in 1920’s American society to link Gatsby’s desire for high society’s respect to ethnic groups’ desires for acceptance into society. In my evaluation of race within The Great Gatsby, I suggest the novel’s lack of ethnic minorities highlights the significance of ethnic characters; I claim Jay Gatsby’s imitation of ethnic minorities’ assimilation tactics reveals the influence and accessibility of ethnic groups to members of white minorities in 1920s America. I will form this argument by connecting the Buchanans’ classism against Gatsby to the racism against ethnic minorities; by introducing Goldsmith’s article that focuses on the ambiguity of Gatsby’s origin, I will reveal the similarities between Jay Gatsby and the protagonists of passing narratives. After analyzing Goldsmith’s claims, I will introduce and further Kirby’s assertion that minorities share the same experiences in societies despite living in different contexts. For my analysis of these authors’ claims I will use close readings of The Great Gatsby that reference traditional America’s fears about integration and inclusivity of minorities. In addition, I will include the racist ideologies that Tom Buchanan promotes throughout the novel to show the elites’ fears of assimilation. I will also address scholars like Thompson and Lewis that believe Gatsby attempts to racially pass into high society. Building on these two scholars’ claims I will suggest the rejection ethnic minorities face from traditional fuels minorities’ desires to assimilate into high society groups as they are seeking acceptance. Focusing on scenes that compare Gatsby’s success to the success of other minorities, I will reveal the relationship Caraway builds between Gatsby and ethnic characters to show the relatability ethnic groups offer white minorities.