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.
The text that I will use as the center for the “Big Project” is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The text is an American, Modernist, Fictional novel produced in 1925. Published in the 20th century, scholars consider The Great Gatsby a relatively new addition to the American canon and American English classrooms use this text as an example of the “great American” novel. The main concerns of the novel revolve around the main character, Jay Gatsby’s, relationships with the residents of the East Egg and the narrator of the novel, Nick Carraway. The Great Gatsby covers the themes of “the American dream”, classism, and desire, while exploring gender roles within society through the main characters. I want to work with this novel, because I enjoy the way the author presents the themes of the text to the reader; also, the imagery and language that Fitzgerald uses to convey setting and mood within scenes causes me to feel a connection to various characters throughout the story, especially Gatsby, Daisy, and Nick. Also, when I read this novel for the first time, a few years ago, the text instantly became one of my favorite novels within the canon. With new experiences and opinions, I intend to re-read the novel with a new mindset, keeping the skills acquired from The Theory Toolbox in mind. Through the research for this project, I expect to gain a new perspective regarding the character’s actions and reactions to the conflicts within the novel. While searching the MLA International Bibliography, I found various academic journal articles that focused on gender, race, desire, identity, and sexuality with the text as the primary subject. For example, Goldsmith’s article “White Skin, White Mask: Passing, Posing, and Performing in The Great Gatsby” relates Gatsby’s extravagant parties to the dramatic process of creating a racial identity. Using the tools of theory that the class studies, I expect to notice additional conflicts in the text that were not discussed as heavily as other subject matter in the text; for example, race in Gatsby’s era, the agency the characters have within their contexts, or the relationship between sexuality and identity in the text.
Even though the Knight escapes the death penalty in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”, it appears that he is forced to marry the older maiden that revealed the secret of women’s desires to him. The older woman interprets the marriage as compensation for the secret, while the Knight views the request as torture, until she becomes beautiful due to his submission to her will. The woman states, “I am your owne love and eek your wife. I am she which that saved hath your lif, And certes yet ne dide I you nevere unright. Why fare ye thus with me this firste night? Ye faren like a man had lost his wit” (pg 80, lines 1091-1095). Consider the knight’s agency within this tale, does he have any? Use the text to show examples of the knight’s agency, or lack of agency, regarding his marriage to the woman and his decision to pursue the queen’s request in exchange for his life.
Throughout “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” Alisoun establishes a strong character that is revolutionary for Geoffrey Chaucer’s era. Near the end of the prologue Alisoun shares a memory from her relationship with her fifth husband; the husband begins, ” ‘Deere suster Alisoun, As help me God, I shall thee nevere smite. That I have doon, it is thyself to wyte. Foryeve it me, and that I thee biseke.’ And yet eftsoones I hitte him on the cheke, And seyde, ‘Theef, thus muchel am I wreke. Now wol I die. I may no lenger speke.’ ” (Chaucer, page 72, lines 804-810). Considering the reactions the other pilgrims have to the wife of bath throughout her prologue, what does Alisoun’s behavior in this scene suggest about the nature of men and women in Chaucer’s culture? Also, how does this incident relate to the statements the wife of bath makes about self-worth in the prologue?