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Corruption in The Great Gatsby

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message 1: by Monty J (last edited Mar 11, 2016 06:28PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying [My sincere apology to anyone in the gay community offended by this article. It is not out of prurient curiosity or an intent to provoke unwanted attention and deny privacy that I wrote this article; it is the honest pursuit of a more thorough understanding of what Scott Fitzgerald wrote. Existing literary criticism has ignored the depth of narrator Nick Carraway and misclassified this social critique as romantic tragedy. Look deeper. A latter day Romeo and Juliet it is not.]

The Great Gatsby is often lionized, even by academics who know better, as a romantic celebration of the American Dream, but it is equally, if not more so, a critique of corruption during the Roaring Twenties' run-up to the Great Depression. And how a twenty-six-year-old alcoholic college dropout could pull this off so masterfully is nothing short of genius.

Corruption symbols abound in Scott Fitzgerald's timeless encapsulation of the American condition. The valley of ashes appears in every chapter, mentioned eight times outright and poetically invoked more than fifty with terminology such as "wash," "dust" and "powder." Six more counting references to Nick's Finnish housemaid, an alliterative back flip to remind readers of ashes. The judging eyes of Dr. Eckleburg and the owl-eyed man are mentioned no less than nine times. Crime boss Meyer Wolfsheim's name crops up thirty-two times. Chicago, Al Capone's headquarters, twenty.

The main characters are all adulterers. Tom Buchanan has an affair with Myrtle Wilson. Tom's wife, Daisy, has an affair with Gatsby. Nick, the narrator and Daisy's cousin, enables Daisy and Gatsby's affair and has a gay tryst with McKee while dating Daisy's confidant Jordan Baker, a cheating professional golfer who is a careless driver and habitually lies. The only honorable character is Michaelis, proprietor of the cafe next door to the Wilsons. The hard-working, henpecked and cuckolded George Wilson is honest until, driven insane by grief, he guns down Gatsby in his pool for running down Myrtle in his Rolls and failing to stop. Both Michaelis and George saw a man driving, but Nick chooses to believe his "gorgeous" criminal neighbor Gatsby's lie that Daisy was behind the wheel.

Despite the mountain of evidence of Gatsby's low character, Nick believes him--bootlegging, securities fraud, his failure to stop and render aid after his yellow Rolls hit Myrtle. Gatsby uses Nick to get to Daisy and even tries to recruit him to sell his illicit bonds. It wasn't his social class that made Daisy reject Gatsby; it was his criminality, revealed to her by Tom at the Plaza Hotel. In front of Daisy, Jordan, Nick and Tom, Gatsby mocks the man he cuckholded: "'I used to laugh'--but there was no laughter in his eyes--'to think that you didn't know.'"

Criminals must avoid the law at all costs, and the lie about who was driving was so easy, the way Nick trusted him. Besides, a heroic pose might sway Nick enough to join his sales team. Gatsby's execution by Wilson is the righteous result of Gatsby's failure to stop his yellow Rolls--a bullet for running down Myrtle. At the end, Gatsby stunk so badly only a handful of people came to his funeral, not even the ungrateful Wolfsheim, who "made him."

Readers idolize Gatsby for his determined pursuit of a dream to be a millionaire and reclaim Daisy. Yes, Gatsby dreamed, of riches, but those helium-filled ambitions were evident long before he met her. Did he love? In Nick's naive romantically charged mind he did. But how much can we trust Nick's judgment after he fawned over Gatsby, calling him "gorgeous," and swallowed his lies about family wealth and being educated at Oxford? Daisy could be just a trophy, like the castle and the Rolls Royce that ferried gullible guests like moths to his glittering parties through the valley of ashes. Love? If Gatsby truly cared about Daisy he would have asked Nick if she was happy in her marriage before approaching her.


As if to obliterate any doubt as to his message in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald alludes in the final jaded line to the Jazz Age's current of corruption: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Yes, we keep repeating the same mistakes. Ivan Boesky. Bernard Madoff. There have been dozens like them. In the Twenties it was counterfeit bonds. More recently, sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps. What will tomorrow bring? We can pursue dreams, but it is a morally bankrupt grail if we are corrupted in the process.

Unwilling or unable to face the broader implications of this poetic social critique, the incurious seem mesmerized by Gatsby's capacity for romantic imagination. Is it the novel's dark warning they shrink from or have they been misled by Bloom's Guides: The Great Gatsby, a notorious rag of literary misinformation which could have been written by someone bent on keeping the trusting public unwary of Wall Street shenanigans.

Whatever the reasons for downplaying Gatsby's corruption, even an exorcist conjuring the ghost of Homer could not suppress the fuller message of this apex novella. The trail of evidence will always be right there on the page.


Karen (Hark! Is that the sound of flamethrowers being lit?)

Not from me, because that's what you want.


Carolina Morales Excellent analysis.


Geoffrey No, Monty, Daisy doesn´t reject Jay because of his corruption. She could care less as she has the same loose morals as all the major characters in the novel. She rejects him because of her potential loss of social standing, married or romantically linked to a bootlegger. Had Jay been a corrupt industrialist who clambered to the top with unscrupulous deals, she couldn´t have cared less.


message 5: by Monty J (last edited Dec 10, 2015 11:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying Geoffrey wrote: "Had Jay been a corrupt industrialist who clambered to the top with unscrupulous deals, she couldn´t have cared less."

I have this in my crosshairs. Coming soon, a granular analysis of the Plaza Hotel showdown where Daisy's heart and soul are redeemed as she turns away from evil and restores her family after Tom confesses his sins, promises to reform, and jerks Gatsby's pants to the floor.


message 6: by Feliks (last edited Dec 09, 2015 01:11PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Feliks Its true, what Geoffrey says. The barrier between these lovers is firstly, one of money (Jay's finances are 'new money' and much less stable or diversified than that of the accomplished, old-family-money, Tom). Tied-in to this is the barrier of class. Gatsby is a pretender. That's the River Phlegathon, (the river of blood) Jay had to find some way to cross. He wasn't really 'from' Daisy's circle.

Meanwhile, the River Lethe (forgetfulness) was no problem for him.


message 7: by Monty J (last edited Dec 11, 2015 09:23AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying Geoffrey wrote: "She rejects him because of her potential loss of social standing, married or romantically linked to a bootlegger."

Daisy rejected Gatsby only after Tom revealed he was a crook, which includes bootlegging; so that part I agree with. But I've found no evidence in the book that social standing was an issue between Daisy and Gatsby.

It's another of Harold Bloom's inventions that aren't supported in the text, another conflation from Fitzgerald's biography.

Just because Daisy and Gatsby are from different social strata doesn't mean class is an issue between them. That's a highly un-American presumption.

Tom makes some snide remarks about Gatsby's doubtful origins, but there's no hint of anything like that in Daisy. I've found nothing in the book indicating a class issue between these two. Remember the way she gushed over his multicolored shirts?


Geoffrey Rich girls don´t marry poor boys. That´s the line in the movie. Didn´t she say it in the book?


message 9: by Monty J (last edited Dec 13, 2015 04:41PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying Geoffrey wrote: "Rich girls don´t marry poor boys. That´s the line in the movie. Didn´t she say it in the book?"

Not in the book. It's a line attributed to Genevra King's father. (Genevra, for those who aren't aware, was a socialite that Fitzgerald dated before he entered Princeton.)


Silverpiper I thought Gatsby's love was more along the lines of obsession and possession.

At the end of the novel he's confessed to vehicular manslaughter. If Daisy was at the wheel then taking the blame for the accident works in his favor. He will forever be the keeper of her secret and thus remains connected to her forever and she wouldn't be able to get rid of him so easily.

And dear old George the cuckold. I never believed he loved his philandering wife that much. He certainly couldn't have gone after Tom and that makes me think the murder of Gatsby was also fueled by his impotent rage.

I think the downplaying of Gatsby's corruption is brilliant. Even now when people think of the roaring twenties they think of speakeasies and fun, not the river of blood behind the booze. It speaks to his own fascination with wealth and moral corruption. Yeah, these people are horrible but they're just so darn sparkly!


message 11: by Monty J (last edited Dec 15, 2015 10:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying Silverpiper wrote: "I thought Gatsby's love was more along the lines of obsession and possession."

Me too.


Silverpiper wrote: "At the end of the novel he's confessed to vehicular manslaughter. If Daisy was at the wheel then taking the blame for accident works in his favor. He will forever be the keeper of her secret and thus remains connected to her forever and she wouldn't be able to get rid of him so easily."

But it also requires that we believe Gatsby in the face of: a) reason--you don't turn the wheel over to someone who's nervous, b) countervailing testimony from multiple credible and impartial sources and c)Gatsby's history (and profession) of lying.


Silverpiper wrote:"I think the downplaying of Gatsby's corruption is brilliant."

Me too. Fitzgerald kept the corruption subtle and spread throughout the book, not in concentrated clumps, delaying Gatsby's indictment until the last chapter (Slagel's phone call from "Chicago" which seems to sail right over Nick's head.) An early draft of the book put the corruption up front, but Fitzgerald's editor, Max Perkins, had him tone it down to make Gatsby more sympathetic. Apparently that worked too well for a lot of people.


Silverpiper If your're responsible you wouldn't turn over the wheel but when was Jay ever truly responsible in this thing?

If he was at the wheel that works too. Still so deluded and obsessed at the end he never sees his fate coming.

Max also toned down Myrtle's death which was quite gruesome. Perkins had to work within the standards of good taste for the era. But what on earth was Fitzgerald thinking when he wrote that scene?

Oh how I itch to read this novel in it's unexpurgated form!


message 13: by Monty J (last edited Dec 15, 2015 12:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying Silverpiper wrote: "But what on earth was Fitzgerald thinking when he wrote that scene?"


Psycho-transferrential revenge against Zelda for her tormenting affair with that French pilot?

The novel throbs with negativism toward women, especially the ones at Gatsby's parties. Only Daisy, as her name infers*, seems to escape Fitzgerald's wrath.


*"Daisy," you may be aware, was a Victorian term used to indicate "best in class," (as in Val Kilmer/Doc Holiday's famous line uttered over Johnny Ringo's body,"You're no Daisy. You're no Daisy at all."
http://elenasandidge.com/2014/11/23/y...


Geoffrey And that would be a good reason to study the lives of writers, Monty, if true, substantially supporting your reading into SF´s life.


Monty J Heying Geoffrey wrote: "And that would be a good reason to study the lives of writers, Monty, if true, substantially supporting your reading into SF´s life."

Yes, Fitzgerald admitted that he filled in Gatsby with his "own emotional life."

There's a popular theory, which I support, that Gatsby and Nick represent two sides of Fitzgerald's own personality, a phenomenon which even further complicates analysis of the book. Harold Bloom fell into that trap, I suspect.

It is hard to resist interference from Fitzgerald's biography, once you know it, when reading The Great Gatsby. But you have to fight that urge.


Geoffrey Which would bring up an interesting point as to how often that happens in literature? I would be interested in seeing it graphed out with a large list of the literary greats, each ascribed a position in a linear graph as to how much of their ¨own emotional life¨ they invest in their literary works. I suspect Joyce would score high on that one.


Monty J Heying Geoffrey wrote: "how much of their ¨own emotional life¨ they invest in their literary works. I suspect Joyce would score high on that one. "

As would Vonnegut, per Slaughterhouse Five, and Steinbeck/Of Mice and Men, Golding/Lord of the Flies, Salinger/The Catcher in the Rye... etc., etc.


Silverpiper Monty J wrote: "Silverpiper wrote: "But what on earth was Fitzgerald thinking when he wrote that scene?"


Psycho-transferrential revenge against Zelda for her tormenting affair with that French pilot?

The novel ..."


Monty J wrote: "Silverpiper wrote: "But what on earth was Fitzgerald thinking when he wrote that scene?"


Psycho-transferrential revenge against Zelda for her tormenting affair with that French pilot?

The novel ..."


F.Scott wasn't nice to his male characters either. Perhaps he hated the human state.


message 19: by Monty J (last edited Dec 16, 2015 10:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying Silverpiper wrote: "F.Scott wasn't nice to his male characters either. Perhaps he hated the human state. "

Or perhaps he was a keen observer, noticed corruption and sought to expose it.

Even so, Michaelis went unscathed, as did George, until, sleep-deprived and grief-depraved, he hunted down and killed Gatsby.

Also, at the parties, it was the women who got speared left and right, while the stick figure men were left pretty much alone.

The couple who accompanied Tom on horseback when they stopped in at Gatsby's are another case where the woman was tipsy and the men sober.


Geoffrey Yes, despite Nick´s overt snobbery, it´s the men from the lower classes who come off honorable. Add Mr. Gatz to that roster. A bit of dissonance between Nick and SF on that point.


Monty J Heying "Thank you for sending us "Gatsby, by the Numbers". We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us.

Best of luck with this. Thanks again, and we look forward to seeing more of your work.
Sincerely,
American Literary Review "


Geoffrey That is usually sincere. They're tracking you.


message 23: by Monty J (last edited Jan 06, 2016 07:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying Geoffrey wrote: "That is usually sincere. They're tracking you."

Yes, a far cry from Feliks' and Peter's hoots and guffaws.


message 24: by Geoffrey (last edited Jan 06, 2016 07:17PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Geoffrey Despite my disagreements with you on several points Monty, there is the need in academia to publish controversial ideas that will generate discussion. Sometimes, academic thought atrophies and needs a cattle prod to get ideas back in motion. Even though you are probably off the mark, let the pundits mull it over and perhaps it will be an incentive for them to either refine their own ideas or synthesize some aspect of what you wrote into a clearer idea of the truth.
There are several scholarly journals out there that would probably publish the article. The challenge to you is finding them. I urge you to send it out to as many publications as possible and see what comes of it. Keep in mind that Doris Lessing sent one of her later novels to five different publishers under a pseudonym before she got it published. The point being of course that even a master writer such as her didn't get immediate acceptance.
Years ago I wrote a children's book and sent it out to various publishers. At the time, philomel publishers of Penguin was my favorite children's books publishers and I considered them the very best. They certainly were racking up the Caldicott awards at the time. They were the ones that sent me back the most heartening rejection letter as she insisted I give her first dibs on my next children's book.


Mayor McCheese I like it Monty and this gives some depth/breadth to the work I had not considered before. The book could be called The "Great" Gatsby perhaps. He's neither Great nor Gatsby. But as some discuss above, perhaps the author recognizes that corruption can be alluring and attractive and that he himself was attracted to that.


gaby :) I also find it interesting that all of the characters who strove to change their life (Gatsby, Wilson, Myrtle) ended up dead, and the chatacters who stayed the same throughout the book (Tom and Daisy, Jordan, even Nick when returning home) survived.


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