“The Imperfect and Sublime ‘Gatsby'” by Min Jin Lee from the New York Review of Books, January 21, 2021.
We might imagine that novelist Min Jim Lee completed the Unit 1 Paper in The Great Gatsby: Myth to Meme. Her article reminds me of so much of the writing you did in Unit 1.
“Amid a life of disappointments, Fitzgerald’s novel was a crowning achievement. I turn to it because it gives me the sober wisdom to revise my own American dream.”
“Nearly a hundred years after its publication, Gatsby is considered “the Greatest American Novel.” I cannot imagine a more persuasive and readable book about lost illusions, class, White Americans in the 1920s, and the perils and vanity of assimilation. It remains a modern novel by exploring the intersection of social hierarchy, White femininity, White male love, and unfettered capitalism. I’ve read and loved Gatsby for a very long time, and with each new reading, my understanding of it has grown more layered and provocative. As a writer, I reckon with how a book like this was born, how its earnest author intended for us to read it, and how the novel has survived a century, defying obsolescence through its clear-eyed understanding of our wishful nature. I want you to know that the publication of Gatsby broke Fitzgerald’s heart, and he did not recover from it. That this book has endured so beautifully is a meaningful consolation for all of us who persist in making things of our private vision— paradoxically, beyond our reach, yet seemingly so close within our grasp.”
. . .
“Trimalchio, meaning “three times the master,” is a former slave turned wealthy freedman in The Satyricon, a first-century Roman picaresque fiction by Petronius, a courtier who served Emperor Nero. Like Trimalchio, Gatsby hosts lavish parties for freeloading guests who gossip about him. Fitzgerald’s allusion to Trimalchio reflects his preoccupation with class hierarchy, the meanness of the social elite, and our innate wish to be noticed by our betters. Economist E. Ray Canterbery argues that Fitzgerald saw himself “not only as a good historian, but a practicing socialist.” This makes sense to me. Gatsby, a great social novel, evinces the author’s keen interest in history and economics by serving as a critical portrait of an era characterized by the hedonism of barely taxed rich White plutocrats.”
“By invoking Trimalchio , Fitzgerald is choosing sides. Taking an anti-elitist stance, he indicts the American landed gentry of the Roaring Twenties for destroying the romantic Gatsby, the trusting George, and the discontented Myrtle, and draws a straight line from the mocking of outsiders by insiders in first-century Rome to the unchanged dynamic in 1920s America, when the mocking turns to murder. A hundred years hence, our nation struggles with profound income inequality, stagnant wages, and lost opportunities despite the diligent efforts of the diminishing middle class. Starkly different economic realities cannot help but create divergent class identities. Alas, Fitzgerald was prescient.”
. . .
“I think of Scott Fitzgerald fretting over bills, the girl who got away, his reputation, and the clubs that turned him down, and I know he wrote honestly about these things. He didn’t shirk from his own shame, self-loathing, or betrayals. He struggled through. He made sense of life’s confusions as best he could. That’s a lot more than most. His is a fine standard. For a time, his own generation of readers was lost to him; but the ones that came after could sense the truth of his questions and the fullness of his answers. It’s all there—both imperfect and sublime. I turn to Gatsby because it gives me the sober wisdom to imagine and revise my own American dream, and for that, it has a lasting hold.”