F. Scott Fitzgerald never explicitly mentions Jay Gatsby's race.
Of everythingbooks in the tenth grade curriculum, class setGran GatsbyIt was what we teachers longed for the most. Short enough to take a quarter, F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel was also full of symbolism: Dr. Eckleburg's eyes on the billboard, the green light at the end of the pier, the cars, the music. And it was heavy enough to handle multiple reads. I imagined that my first year of teaching was filled with rich discussions. But to start any conversation, he had to secure the books before the other teachers got them.
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I made it, only to lose consciousness: my students struggledGatsby'egoFrom the beginning. The teenagers in my class, all children of color living in an impoverished rural community in South Florida, many of them first-generation Americans whose parents were Haitian, Cuban, Mexican or Guatemalan, simply did not understand most of the words in the page. . All the appeals I made to the pure pleasure of the text came to nothing. “Surely,” I replied with as much enthusiasm as possible, “you think this part is funny!” I started reading Nick Carraway's introductory narration: "I have often feigned sleepiness, worry, or hostile recklessness when I became aware of some sure sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon." Silence. After all, a brave soul would raise a hand. - What is "pretend"?
I realized that more advanced readings would have to be sent. It shouldn't have surprised me. I struggled with it tooGatsby'egowhen I first read this book, and I was still in college. Fitzgerald's combination of lyrical passages with a bold, minimalist plot proved too much of a challenge for me. Like my students, my public education did not prepare me for such a text. (One of my high school teachers read itEstatealoud for 45 minutes in each lesson; we have gone through all 888 pages).Gatsby'egoI also couldn't connect with the characters. If I wanted to major in literature, I had to find a way to get there.
I turned to the secondary literature and found a chapter that offered an unexpected glimpse into Gatsby's career in a 2004 book titledThe Tragic Black Dollar: Racial Masquerades in the American Literary Imagination. Carlyle Van Thompson, a professor of American and African-American literature at Medgar Evers College, argues that Fitzgerald "sneakily characterizes Jay Gatsby as a 'pale' black person passing for white." I read that sentence twice, feeling that I had finally been allowed to enter the novel, see myself in it, navigate through the prose, and come up with my own interpretations. I was a 20-year-old English major majoring in African-American literature at a historically black college andNadalI needed that permission.
Read: For early reviewers, Gatsby wasn't great
In America we are taught that canonical literature highlights the experiences of white people. We rarely question the racial identity of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, or Willa Cather. If the race of the American character is not specified, we assume that the character is white. This is especially true when we read ancient texts, but we do the same with modern texts. Take Celeste Ng's best-selling novel of 2017,Small fires everywhere, which revolves around the lives of two American mothers. Ng, an Asian-American author, explains that Elena Richardson, one of the mothers, is white. Ng is silent about her second career, Mia Warren, leading many readers to imagine her as white as well. In the adaptation of the novel to the small screen, the choice of Kerry Washington, a black woman, as Miashocked, adding a new dimension to the series that Ng welcomed. Toni Morrison challenged our imaginative assumptions in a different way. In "Recitatif", the only short story she wrote, shethe goal was to reveal binary expectationsthat most American readers bring to texts and embarrass them. As revealed by his critical studyPlaying in the dark: whiteness and the literary imagination, the story was "an experiment in removing all racial codes from the narrative of two characters of different races for whom racial identity is central."
I came across Thompson's analysisGran Gatsbyit was like finding an open door through which he entered with questions. What if the novel focuses on class and ethnic tensions, overshadowing the racial drama that readers immediately read? At the beginning of the novel, eugenicist Tom Buchanan warns "be careful" or "the white race will be...completely submerged."it's loud and clear. Thompson's theorem, on the other hand, requires careful textual analysis. It sets out to show that a black person is skillfully placed in the foreground of the novel. Worried about the obvious clash between old and new money, we just haven't seen it or the threat of miscegenation it represents. Fitzgerald wrestled with the idea of America as a place of self-creation, where radical rediscovery is celebrated and feared at the same time. In doing so, according to Thompson, he attacked America's most illusory self-transformation (black became white) by revealing "how intrinsically racist American literature and the American dream are."
Thompson Interpretation - Answering Morrison's Call, vgame in the darkthe recognition of the "African presence" at the center of the 19th and 20th century literary canon, a presence that serves as a cover for ideas of whiteness, freedom and more, sent me back toGatsby'ego, this time to find an intellectually charged experience. Reading a novel without assuming a white character means finding out which characters identify as white and which do not. When I searched for possible references to black or brown characters masquerading as white, to assess the racial ambiguities that Thompson finds so revealing, I was alert to more clues than his chapter. Nick Carraway, the first-person narrator, is of Scottish descent. The Finnish identity of his maiden is mentioned seven times in the novel. Meyer Wolfsheim is a "little snub-nosed Jew." Tom Buchanan, a self-proclaimed Norseman, counts Nick as a member of the master race. But, Thompson notes, he pauses before adding Daisy Buchanan, Nick's "once-removed" second cousin, to the list, then cuts her off when he begins to describe her "white childhood of hers." "Don't believe everything you hear," Tom tells Nick.
Read: How the Great Gatsby Explains Trump
Jordan Baker, Daisy's best friend and Nick's love, makes it to the Nordic list. But I did notice that he had "a slender golden arm," "a brown hand," "sun-weary gray eyes," "fingers powdered white on his tan," and "a face as brown as a fingerless glove." ". on my knee." One explanation for these colorful adjectives may be that Jordan is a competitive golfer; tanning is common in the profession. The use of "white powder" got me thinking, though; as did the fact that Jordan never reliably identified as white. Nick's assessment of her, even during their affair, is scathing: "She was hopelessly dishonest. He couldn't stand being handicapped, and given that dislike, I guess he got into the ruse when he was very young. Could it be that she and Daisy get along so well because they're both turn-of-the-century women who might as well leave?
Thompson zeroes in on Jay Gatsby, emphasizing what he considers distinctive physical traits: his "brown, hardened body" in Fitzgerald's words, and hair that "looked like it was cut every day." Thompson is also on the lookout for a number of culturally suggestive signs that "Gatsby is a racial fake." For example, Nick is drawn to his "conservative elegant foxtrot," a danceslow drag modeling, the black dance sensation of that period. He also points out that Gatsby's mansion is on 40 acres of land in West Egg, land that is of particular value to black Americans.
Thompson also collects less subtle evidence. When at the Plaza Hotel, Tom clears up his suspicion that Daisy is having an affair with Gatsby, he puts it this way: "I suppose the last thing to do is sit back and let Mr. Nowhere make love to your wife... Then they'll throw it all away and marry black and white." To this, Jordan, "incurably dishonest," replies, "We're all white here."
And what to make of the advances Tom throws at Gatsby in the heat of anger after learning of Daisy's infidelity? "I'll be damned if I see you come within a mile of [Daisy] unless you brought your groceries out the back door." Throughout the scene, Fitzgerald emphasizes that Tom is "incredulous and abusive," impatient, sharp, and explosive. Tom's fury is certainly to be expected, regardless of Gatsby's identity. But coupled with Tom's possibly veiled racial remarks, could the outbursts suggest there's more at stake than his marriage and his social standing among the old money elite? Will Tom be able to vent his fears about miscegenation?
Of course, not everyone buys The Black Gatsby. Mateo J. Bruccoli, editorF. Scott FitzgeraldGran Gatsby: literary reference, perhaps the most comprehensive study of the novel,rejected the ideawhen he learned of Thompson's interpretation, "if Fitzgerald had wanted to write about Negroes... he would have made that perfectly clear in April 1925." Maybe. But if Fitzgerald meant to write simply about whites, why did he include so many cryptic descriptions? A scion of the Scribner family, whose company published the novel, said the reading was not supported by any correspondence between Fitzgerald and his publisher, Max Perkins. However, Janet Savage, wJay Gatsby: The White Faced Black(2017), explains that the original title of the novel -Trimalchio with West Egg—refers to a former slavein petronio's novelsatiricon. Having gained freedom and wealth, Trimalchio throws lavish parties. Although Fitzgerald chose a different title at Perkins' request, the relationship between Gatsby and Trimalchio remains. When Gatsby finally reconnects with Daisy, he no longer has to throw big parties. "His run of him at Trimalchion," Nick notes, "is over."
Sam Thompson said after giving an article that inspiredtragic black dollarthat not all of his students were quick to convert to his view, and ultimately I could not and still cannot support his confident claim that Jay Gatsby is black. All I'm saying is that Jay Gatsby doesn't run. And that seems more important to me because it opens the door more than hard revisionism. Gatsby's ambiguity of race and ethnicity shatters the black-and-white framework we instinctively impose on so many classic texts.
He lectured ntGatsby'egoI found that when I sketched out my initial lesson plan and started over, it certainly allowed my diverse class to come in. Gatsby's American identity is so ambiguous that students could overlap whatever ethnic or racial identity they brought to school. novel. When they did, the text was newly lit. It was the fall of 2012 andfilm adaptation by Baz LuhrmannzGran Gatsby, with a score produced by Jay-Z, has yet to be released. Butthe trailer was availableand put it on the blackboard. The students, instantly recognizing the Jay-Z and Kanye West song "No Church in the Wild," took their seats. When Gatsby, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, finally showed up, I stopped him.
"Why is Gatsby white?" I asked them.
"Because it is written in the book," they answered almost in unison.
"It is?" I asked, feigning confusion.
Suddenly they were reversed. They began searching the novel for evidence of Gatsby's race. They were forced to search for words they didn't know, hoping that those words would yield more clues. Students parsed complicated sentences down to their gist to extrapolate clear meaning. They soon began to search for deeper interpretations.
The conversation then, and later in class, gained momentum. "What's with those two eggs?" the students asked, referring to Fitzgerald's description of East and West Egg. "Can you represent people in black and white?" They pointed to Daisy's upbringing in Louisville, Kentucky, and wondered, "What about this section on Daisy's past? Could all this whiteness indicate what Gatsby was really after? Was he wanting to capture the white?" They dug deeper.Gran Gatsbythan any other text I taught in those years - deeper, according to some, than any book in any school year. Digging through the pages of textual evidence, they found a place for themselves in one of America's greatest novels, indeed, in American culture.
This article appears inMarch 2023printed edition with the title "A new way of readingGatsby'ego”.When you purchase a book using a link on this page, we earn a commission. thanks for your supportAtlantic.
A new way of reading "Gatsby"? ›
Despite being a commentary on a different age and people, Gatsby's story is as relevant today as it was when it was written. Because it explores universal themes — human follies, the hopelessness of societal constructs and man's struggle with time and fate.What can I read instead of Gatsby? ›
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, 1937.
- The Walls of Jericho by Rudolph Fisher, 1928.
- The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein, 1933.
- Six Tales of the Jazz Age by F Scott Fitzgerald, 1922.
Despite being a commentary on a different age and people, Gatsby's story is as relevant today as it was when it was written. Because it explores universal themes — human follies, the hopelessness of societal constructs and man's struggle with time and fate.What grade is The Great Gatsby read? ›
This book's Lexile measure is 1070L and is frequently taught in the 12th grade.Why is The Great Gatsby so hard to read? ›
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is complicated for many reasons. Fitzgerald's writing is lyrical and poetic, with intricate sentence constructions and metaphorical language that may be hard to understand. Nick Carraway's views and ideas hinder the novel's narration.What is the most accurate version of Great Gatsby? ›
Overall, the 1974 version remained true to the novel in many aspects of the dialogue and basic plot, but it did have a few obvious changes and suffered from poor acting. The casting was much improved in the 2000 version, although Paul Rudd now seems an odd choice for Nick due to his extensive comedy career.Is Gatsby an easy read? ›
For the most part, Gatsby is straightforward. It's got some funny 1920s turns of phrase, like "ecstatic cahoots" (8.46), but you're not going to run into too many unfamiliar words. Hard? Not exactly.What does the green light in Gatsby symbolize? ›
Nick first sees Gatsby stretching his arms towards a green light at the end of Daisy's dock. Here, the green light is a symbol of hope.How many hours does it take to read The Great Gatsby? ›
The average reader will spend 2 hours and 54 minutes reading this book at 250 WPM (words per minute).Why is Gatsby obsessed with Daisy? ›
It is Gatsby's longing for the American dream that will lead him into the arms of Daisy Buchanan, who symbolizes both wealth and social standing, a woman beyond Gatsby's reach.
What is the moral of The Great Gatsby? ›
The moral of The Great Gatsby is that the American Dream is illusory. Gatsby's dream was to be with Daisy, but even after he attained her lifestyle, he was unable to be with her. Meanwhile, the people that had money, like Daisy and Tom, could not achieve happiness either.Why was Gatsby killed off? ›
The most famous murder in American literature is that of the titular hero in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, published in 1925. Jay Gatsby is shot to death in the swimming pool of his mansion by George Wilson, a gas-station owner who believes Gatsby to be the hit-and-run driver who killed his wife, Myrtle.What race is Jay Gatsby? ›
These biographical details indicate Gatsby's family are recent German immigrants.What age is Great Gatsby aimed at? ›
This classic American novel is required reading for a lot of high school students, and it can definitely be appreciated and understood on some levels by teenagers. However, Fitzgerald's use of language and symbolism is best appreciated by mature readers able to analyze literature and think critically.Why do high school students read The Great Gatsby? ›
“It captured the ideas of the [1920s] well, such as the themes around identity and materialism.” As American Studies combines both AP English Language and AP US History, reading Gatsby is intended to introduce students to both the history of the time as well as critiquing its values through the lenses of literature.What is the last line of The Great Gatsby? ›
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Fitzgerald hypnotises successive generations of readers with this tale.
Despite some major differences, this 1974 version has been the closest adaptation of the novel. Gatsby didn't die there. He appeared on screen again in 2013 with a modern version directed by Baz Luhrmann, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Elizabeth Debicki, and Carey Mulligan.Why was The Great Gatsby unpopular? ›
As quoted in a New York Times retrospective of The Great Gatsby, critics at the time were rather cold, saying that Gatsby was "clever and brilliantly surfaced but not the work of a wise and mature novelist." Other reviewers felt it was "a little slack, a little soft, more than a little artificial, [falling] into the ...Who is the most flawed in The Great Gatsby? ›
Tom started off wealthy, and doesn't truly understand or appreciate the great wealth he has. Tom's fatal flaw is that he is not content. He is always searching for something more than what he has, building a sense of greed in him.
Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli claims: "The Great Gatsby does not proclaim the nobility of the human spirit; it is not politically correct; it does not reveal how to solve the problems of life; it delivers no fashionable or comforting messages.
Is Gatsby truly great or is the title ironic? ›
In one sense, the title of the novel is ironic; the title character is neither “great” nor named Gatsby. He is a criminal whose real name is James Gatz, and the life he has created for himself is an illusion.Is it worth learning Gatsby? ›
Use Cases of Gatsby
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The Great Gatsby is a highly dramatic movie, directed by Baz Luhrmann in his usual flamboyant style. The story is based on a classic American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and is best suited to viewers over 15 years because of intense adult themes and violence.Is The Great Gatsby a sad book? ›
In Fitzgerald's masterpiece nothing is made whole by this tragedy. Many consider The Great Gatsby to be depressing because, in the end, those who dream do not achieve their aspirations.What does the East Egg symbolize? ›
East Egg is symbolic of class and society in the novel. Most who lived in East Egg had well-known family names in society. They were born into wealth and were already established in society. West Egg was symbolic of wealth and power.What does West Egg symbolize in The Great Gatsby? ›
In the novel, West Egg and its denizens represent the newly rich, while East Egg and its denizens, especially Daisy and Tom, represent the old aristocracy. Fitzgerald portrays the newly rich as being vulgar, gaudy, ostentatious, and lacking in social graces and taste.What is an example of irony from The Great Gatsby? ›
Tom Buchanan learns that his wife, Daisy, is having an affair, which is ironic given that he is also having an affair. Daisy is the driver of the vehicle that hits and kills Myrtle Wilson. This is ironic since Myrtle is the mistress of her husband. These are both examples of dramatic irony.What does veteran bores mean? ›
Conclusion, "veteran bores" means: lot of experience to talk or act in a way that makes someone lose interest.Is The Great Gatsby a must read? ›
This is a book that packs a seriously heavyweight punch. But, lest you be frightened, it's also eminently readable: Gatsby is a love-story, a mystery, a rags-to-riches account of success and its unhappy fallout, and a snapshot of NYC life before the Depression kicked in.How long did it take Gatsby to make his money? ›
In The Great Gatsby, it took Gatsby "just three years to earn the money that bought it." He tells Nick this while they examine the front of the house, before Gatsby shows the house to Daisy for the first time.
Was Nick Carraway in love with Gatsby? ›
This is at the very end of the novel. Of the late Gatsby, Tom says, “That fellow had it coming to him. He threw dust in your eyes just like he did in Daisy's….” And that's why it matters that Nick is gay and in love with Gatsby: because Tom's assessment is spot-on, but Nick will never admit it.Did Daisy ever truly love Gatsby? ›
Although Daisy may have loved Gatsby once, she does not love him more than the wealth, status, and freedom that she has with Tom.Did Daisy cheat on Gatsby? ›
Daisy, like her husband, has an affair but, she cheats on Tom with Gatsby. She slowly starts to lose faith in humanity and starts to see the world as a very bad place. She wishes for her daughter to not see the world for what it is.Who is the most moral in The Great Gatsby? ›
When he first goes to a party at Gatsby's, he seeks Gatsby out (presumably to thank him for his invitation), while the others at the party gossip about Gatsby and enjoy themselves. Similarly, after Gatsby's death, Nick is the only one who shows concern. Nick can therefore be seen as the moral compass of the story.What is the foreshadowing in The Great Gatsby? ›
When Nick looks again, Gatsby has disappeared into the “unquiet darkness” – foreshadowing his disappearance into death at the end of the book. The inaccessibility of the green light tells us to expect a narrative in which the object of desire will never be obtained.What are the three main points of Great Gatsby? ›
The three main themes are the American dream, wealth, and love/relationships.What was ironic about Gatsby's death? ›
What is ironic about Gatsby's death? Gatsby's death is a moment of irony because he is still waiting for Daisy to call him so they can be together, but he does not realize that Daisy and her husband have already reconciled with one another.Who killed Myrtle Wilson? ›
Myrtle Wilson dies due to the car accident. Although everyone thought Gatsby had killed Myrtle, as she was hit by his yellow car, Daisy was driving the car that night. Gatsby just took the blame for her.Why did Daisy leave Gatsby in the end? ›
(Which, of course, is part of the point of the novel.) And perhaps Daisy realizes that Gatsby's love is as fake as his name. At the end, she's left with a man who thinks too much of her and a man who thinks too little of her. She chooses the latter, since she can't measure up to the former.Why is Jay Gatsby so rich? ›
We are told that Gatsby came up from essentially nothing, and that the first time he met Daisy Buchanan, he was “a penniless young man.” His fortune, we are told, was the result of a bootlegging business – he “bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago” and sold illegal alcohol over the counter.
How did Gatsby get his money? ›
Gatsby never grew up into money, selling alcohol illegally made him become rich because alcohol was illegal in the 1920s. Having his alcohol at his parties stood for his wealthiness and social class. Other than bootlegging, Gatsby was selling fake bonds to get money.What religion is Gatsby? ›
The absence of religion is a key theme of the 1920's that contributes to the development of the characters and their actions. Throughout the novel, God and religion are ignored. Characters like Tom, Gatsby, and Daisy have no religious affiliations.What is the age difference between Gatsby and Daisy? ›
Gatsby is stationed at Camp Taylor in Louisville, where he meets Daisy Fay (he is 27, she is 18). They are together for a month, and he is shocked by how much in love with her he falls.How old is Daisy Buchanan? ›
Daisy Buchanan is 26 years old since she was 18 in 1917; she is married to Tom Buchanan who is 30 and went to Yale at the same time as Nick.Was Gatsby rich as a child? ›
The title character of The Great Gatsby is a young man, around thirty years old, who rose from an impoverished childhood in rural North Dakota to become fabulously wealthy. However, he achieved this lofty goal by participating in organized crime, including distributing illegal alcohol and trading in stolen securities.Why do people still read The Great Gatsby? ›
Above all, The Great Gatsby is a classic American novel simply because its story remains relevant today, nearly 100 years after its publication. Americans and readers from across the globe can find themselves in the characters and find meaning and importance in the novel's universal themes.What grade do you read Gatsby? ›
This book's Lexile measure is 1070L and is frequently taught in the 12th grade.What characters are similar to Gatsby? ›
Jay Gatsby and Holden Caulfield both tend to exhibit very similar traits such as straying away from social normalities, inner conflict, which causes them to jeopardize relationships, and they are both well-meaning, but often misguided.Is The Great Gatsby appropriate for a 14 year old? ›
Age Appropriate for: 13+.Can a kid read The Great Gatsby? ›
This classic American novel is required reading for a lot of high school students, and it can definitely be appreciated and understood on some levels by teenagers. However, Fitzgerald's use of language and symbolism is best appreciated by mature readers able to analyze literature and think critically.
Who was the girl Gatsby loved? ›
Relationship 1: Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby. The relationship at the very heart of The Great Gatsby is, of course, Gatsby and Daisy, or more specifically, Gatsby's tragic love of (or obsession with) Daisy, a love that drives the novel's plot.Why does Gatsby hesitate to kiss Daisy? ›
They are about to kiss and Gatsby realizes that “when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.” ■ In this quote, Gatsby is realizing that once he kisses and subsequently falls in love with Daisy, she is going to be ...Who does Gatsby idolize? ›
The reader has already seen that Gatsby idolizes both wealth and Daisy. Now it becomes clear that the two are intertwined in Gatsby's mind.What is the main message of The Great Gatsby? ›
The moral of The Great Gatsby is that the American Dream is ultimately unattainable. Jay Gatsby had attained great wealth and status as a socialite; however, Gatsby's dream was to have a future with his one true love, Daisy.How long does Gatsby take to read? ›
The average reader will spend 3 hours and 14 minutes reading this book at 250 WPM (words per minute).Did Gatsby get the girl? ›
Gatsby lied about his background to Daisy, claiming to be from a wealthy family in order to convince her that he was worthy of her. Eventually, Gatsby won Daisy's heart, and they made love before Gatsby left to fight in the war.Does Gatsby have autism? ›
Autism is a spectrum, with two very different ends, and a very diverse range in between. Many people could fall within this spectrum without even being completely aware of it. One that shows many signs of mild autism through social behaviors is James Gatz, also known as Jay Gatsby, the titular character in F.Should a 16 year old read The Great Gatsby? ›
This book mentions many real life issues and so I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't of a mature audience. However, for those of a mature audience this novel is truly a classic and teaches great lessons and truly gives the reader a new perspective at life.How is Gatsby a son of God? ›
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.