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Analyzing the title

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message 1: by Kelley (new)

Kelley What is the significance of the title? Is Jay Gatsby "great," or is the title ironic?


message 2: by Monty J (last edited Jul 27, 2014 09:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monty J Heying The editor, Max Perkins, insisted upon it. Thought it would sell better than Fitzgerald's choice, involving a reference to 1st Century Roman mythology's Trimalchio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trimalchio. More American, and the themes are certainly American.


Jemma Hirst He is an engigma, which is what makes him be perceived as soo great at first! then you see the demise of his so called 'greatness' when he has no identity and offers no parties. I think its abit of both!


Feliks A lot of newcomers to the work (and beginning readers in general) seem to seize on the title as a major feature to complain about, deride, criticize.


Christine Of course Jay Gatsby is great! He is a rags to riches transformation, the American Dream.


Treasure Press The Great Gatsby is like the name of a circus performer. It's ironic. His greatness is in smoke and mirrors, and the adulation most people worship when great sums of money are involved.

Gatsby is really a small, little man whose wealth cannot buy him entrée into the superficial, shallow, upperclass world he so desires to be part of. He is an ant. The opposite of great. He is actually worthless.


Christine I dunno, I must say I was always pretty impressed by old Gatsby! Despite his sad ending.


Karen Christine wrote: "Of course Jay Gatsby is great! He is a rags to riches transformation, the American Dream."

By any means necessary? He didn't earn his money by honesty. The title is the trick of the novel- does the term great in this title usage mean good. Not necessarily- is it a sarcastic title? He wanted Daisy to think he was great.


Karen Jemma wrote: "He is an engigma, which is what makes him be perceived as soo great at first! then you see the demise of his so called 'greatness' when he has no identity and offers no parties. I think its abit of..."

Jemma wrote: "He is an engigma, which is what makes him be perceived as soo great at first! then you see the demise of his so called 'greatness' when he has no identity and offers no parties. I think its abit of..."

I like this!


Petergiaquinta Nick thinks he's great. But then Nick is a bit of a pud, isn't he?


Geoffrey And by collusion, so does SF. Good old Scott doesn't hold Gatsby's moral lapses against him. We, the readers, or at least many of us, myself included, see an unintended irony in the title.


Petergiaquinta No, I think you're off there. Nick isn't just a simple mouthpiece for Fitzgerald. The author has a much more complicated, ambiguous attitude toward Gatsby. And that irony in the title certainly isn't "unintended." It sets the tone for the entire novel.


Treasure Press Christine wrote: "I dunno, I must say I was always pretty impressed by old Gatsby! Despite his sad ending."

Christine wrote: "I dunno, I must say I was always pretty impressed by old Gatsby! Despite his sad ending."

It is impressive to read such a marvelous novel about interesting characters, and their finding their way in the world. But, to me, Gatsby just is not great, except, perhaps in his own mind and those of people who value wealth above all else. He is a sad, romantic figure who, while he makes for a wonderful character for a novel and great discussions, remains, in the end, a sad and defeated man. It is Fitzgerald greatness as a writer which engages us so in Gatsby's story.
Gatsby's personal failures as a human dispel any idea that Fitzgerald meant anything but irony when titling his novel. Or allowing his novel to be so titled. Lita


message 14: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary There's an interesting thing about the fonts used on the original cover design for The Great Gatsby. The word "The" is in a stylized, more cursive font while "Great Gatsby" is in more block characters.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I'm not sure that this was meant to be anything other than a design choice, but it does tie into some other things I've been thinking about the book recently. In particular, the font makes the capital T for "The" look more abstracted. It could be an S, making that first word "She" rather than "The." Of course, the word is meant to read as "The" but it is interesting that it could have that ambiguity.


Geoffrey Gary
I take it more as a manner of emphasis.

THE Great Gatsby vs. The Great Gatsby


Paul Martin "She Great Gatsby"? What are you implying here, Gary?;)


message 17: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary It's not really anything untoward. What I'm getting at is that the cover title on the original is hinting at what made Gatsby great. The possible "She" that the cover references has more to do with the cover art--it's a woman's eyes depicted there, not the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg. Daisy is the underlying cause of Gatsby's greatness. "She" is the beginning of the Great Gatsby.


Paul Martin Oh haha, I thought you were going to delve into some speculative transgenderism.

Did Fitzgerald ever say anything about the cover?


message 19: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Paul Martin wrote: "Oh haha, I thought you were going to delve into some speculative transgenderism.

Did Fitzgerald ever say anything about the cover?"


I've been looking into it, and haven't found a whole heck of a lot as of yet. For instance, when Hemingway complained about it (Ernie never having been stingy with his criticism) being like the cover of a bad science fiction novel, FSF wrote to him not to worry about it, that it had to do with the eyes on a sign in the novel that was "rather important to the story" or words to that effect.

The cover was designed by Francis Cugat (born Francisco Coradal-Cougat in Spain) who moved to Hollywood BEFORE Fitzgerald did (in 1925--the year The Great Gatsby was published...) and continued to work there after Fitzgerald died.

I have a rather elaborate theory about the cover and the novel, so I'm going to be doing some research for a while. Fortunately, it seems FSF kept a sort of journal/diary that he called a "Ledger" which might have some clues.


message 20: by Mkfs (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mkfs Gary wrote: ""The" look more abstracted. It could be an S, making that first word "She" rather than "The." Of course, the word is meant to read as "The" but it is interesting that it could have that ambiguity."

It could also be a C, making for Che Great Gatsby. Undoubtedly the inspiration for the nickname of the future revolutionary ;)


Stephen Personally I like the interpretation that the "Great" in the title connotes a sham. It reminds me of P.T. Barum's scam "This way to see the great EGRESS!"


message 22: by Gary (last edited Sep 03, 2014 04:58PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Karen wrote: "Okay, now the suspense is really killing me.She, as in Daisy- Gatsby wanted her to think he was great. And the eyes on the cover are women's eyes.That's true."

It looks like I'm going to have to get access to Fitzgerald's papers to see if I can find anything related to my thesis. I doubt I'm going to be able to find anything conclusive. It's just not all that likely that he left behind the kind of evidence I'll need to lock in the verdict of history. Authors are rarely so accommodating....

That said, Fitzgerald did leave a lot of tantalizing evidence. There's some interesting stuff I've been digging up related to the title of the book that is relevant here. For instance, the original title or, at least, one of the working titles of the book was Trimalchio or Trimalchio in West Egg. Fitzgerald struggled with the title a lot. Among the other titles he considered were:

Gatsby
Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires
On the Road to West Egg
Under the Red, White, and Blue
Gold-Hatted Gatsby
The High-Bouncing Lover


So, let those wash over you for a minute. We could be here talking about the nuances of "Bouncing" or the importance of hats in the book as those things relate to the title. Or we might not be discussing the book at all, had one of those titles failed to capture the imagination of the reading public....

Fitzgerald was apparently never happy with The Great Gatsby as a title. He said, "the title is only fair, rather bad than good." He went with it under pressure from Zelda and the publisher. Nonetheless, he wanted it changed to something else until it was too late; the book had already gone to press.

In any case, Trimalchio is a character in Petronius's The Satyricon. He's a "parvenu" or "nouveau riche" or we might say "social climber" in that book who hosts elaborate and conspicuously expensive dinners/orgies, much to the delight of his guests. Amongst other things, these parties feature specially prepared eggs with live birds in them or various other treats. There's a lot of particulars in the details of the food, ridicule of the guests and Roman elite, and Trimalchio's arrogance and vulgarity are a major theme. The party ends with Trimalchio getting drunk and the whole household acting out his funeral.

Fitzgerald refers to Gatsby directly as Trimalchio at the beginning of Chapter 7: "...as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over."

For our purposes in this thread, however, the name itself is important. "Trimalchio" means something like "thrice kinged" or "three times king" or more generally "great king." So, Gatsby is "great" as a reference to Trimalchio.

What's more, there are a lot of uses of the word "great" throughout the novel, often in direct reference to Gatsby, and not always in a positive way. "That's a great expression of yours" Tom says when trying to attack Gatsby's affected manner by saying "old sport" all the time. Sometimes the word is used more ambiguously. West Egg (the less fashionable side of town) has "its own standards and its own great figures, second to nothing...." His father says, after he's been murdered, that "If he'd of lived, he'd of been a great man." And "Do you notice what he's got about improving his mind? He was always great for that."

We shouldn't overlook the significance of "great" in reference to The Great War. That event was viewed as formative for the writers of the generation, and military service in that war is referenced by both Nick and Gatsby.

The last use of the word "great" is probably the one that sums of the core theme of the book most directly. Have a look at the last page and find "the last and greatest of all human dreams" to see what I'm getting at there.

We need to consider the name "Gatsby" as well. As we learn in the book, Jay Gatsby was given the name James Gatz at birth, and changed his name (Nick supposes he'd been thinking about it for a long time) to Jay Gatsby when he turned seventeen.

A lot of folks have tried to find significance in the name Gatsby. It has its roots in the Old Nordic language from Gadesbi, Gaddesbia or variations ending with a "y" like Gadesby, Gaddesby, Gadsby and the one Fitzgerald used. I'm not sure how much use that kind of etymology is for us.

Others have gone either high or low with the name, pointing out that it could be derived from a root that means "God's boy" or something similar, making Gatsby a Christ figure. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that "gat" was common slang for "gun" at the time. How does Gatsby die? Well, by gun, of course.

Personally, I don't think any of these interpretations were beyond Fitzgerald's powers or his inclination. His use of the names "Daisy" and "Myrtle" are equally fraught, as are Wolfshiem, Jordan Baker, etc.


Paul Martin Really interesting stuff, Gary. Gives a whole new dimension to a book that originally wasn't that fond of.


message 24: by Gary (last edited Sep 01, 2014 07:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Paul Martin wrote: "Really interesting stuff, Gary. Gives a whole new dimension to a book that originally wasn't that fond of."

Heh. Well, dimension is good, even if the diorama it makes isn't based on your favorite picture.

A couple of other notes regarding the name issue and how it relates to the post I wrote up regarding Daisy's ancestry. Some folks have speculated about Gatsby's ancestry. Is the character meant to be Jewish? Catholic? Some folks have even said they thought he was supposed to be black, apparently. (I haven't delved very far into those theories.)

If the name Gatz is meant to give Gatsby a Jewish heritage then it further illustrates the conflict in the triangle between Tom, Daisy and Gatsby.

Fitzgerald, a Catholic, had problems with Zelda's Protestant family, who were not happy about their daughter marrying a papist. His inclusion of this kind of dynamic is very possible. The character Wolfshiem is a reference to famed Jewish criminal boss Arnold Rothstein. Gatsby's relationship with this character isn't fully expressed, but he would appear to be involved in high level money laundering, banking or finance for bootleggers all over the country. His connection to a Jewish mobster fits if he himself has a Jewish background.


Paul Martin Haha okay, "dimension" is a bit of an overstatement, I guess. More like "aspect",then.

I always thought he was supposed to be of Jewish ancestry from the sound of "Gatz" and the fact that he changed it + his connection to Wolfsheim.

As for Gatsby being black..hah, imagine if Hollywood bought that theory and cast Cuba Gooding Jr as Gatsby.


message 26: by Petergiaquinta (last edited Aug 26, 2014 01:01PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Petergiaquinta Based on where he hails from, I tend to think Jimmy Gatz is not Jewish, as do the folks at the fascinating and funny website "Jew or not Jew?":

http://www.jewornotjew.com/profile.js...

But...if we want to think of Gatsby as a rather ironic sort of Christ figure (which frankly we never spend enough time discussing on these threads!), then the Jewish angle definitely works there.


Karen Paul Martin wrote: "Haha okay, "dimension" is a bit of an overstatement, I guess. More like "aspect",then.

I always thought he was supposed to be of Jewish ancestry from the sound of "Gatz" and the fact that he chang..."


Funny! But Gatsby as black would not fit.


message 28: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Karen wrote: "I do think Fitzgerald chose all the names carefully, and remember the ridiculous and funny names he gave some of those part goers? Why- to ridicule them for their phoney and corrupt ways, I think."

Those paragraphs put me in mind of this Rowan Atkinson routine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWJ7b...


Geoffrey I have never heard the name Gatz as being Jewish. I have very strong doubts about that. Had he been, that issue would also have come up in the book. Daisy´s Christian background would have excluded her from marrying outside that faith. It certainly would have caused a furor as great as the one of her marrying a bootlegger.


Karen Ashlynn wrote: "I think Fitzgerald titled the book "The Great Gatsby" as if Nick Carraway titled it. Nick thought so highly of Gatsby. "They're a rotten crowd. You're worth the whole damn bunch put together." -Nic..."

That could be true also


Daphne Treasure wrote: "The Great Gatsby is like the name of a circus performer. It's ironic. His greatness is in smoke and mirrors, and the adulation most people worship when great sums of money are involved.


I'm not sure if Fitzgerald thought of it that way, but that makes sense a looooooooooot.


Paul Martin Petergiaquinta wrote: "Based on where he hails from, I tend to think Jimmy Gatz is not Jewish, as do the folks at the fascinating and funny website "Jew or not Jew?":

http://www.jewornotjew.com/profile.js...

But....."


Hah, what a website. Well, I'm convinced.


drowningmermaid "The Great Gatsby" was a working title. Fitzgerald was never in love with it.

He thought of the title he really wanted too late, and sent a panicked message to his editor slightly before the book hit the printers. But it was too late by then.

The title he wanted, and that fits much, much better with the color symbolism, was "Under the Red, White, and Blue."


Karen drowningmermaid wrote: ""The Great Gatsby" was a working title. Fitzgerald was never in love with it.

He thought of the title he really wanted too late, and sent a panicked message to his editor slightly before the bo..."


I don't like that one- I think The Great Gatsby is perfect.


message 35: by Gary (last edited Sep 03, 2014 04:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Under the Red, White, and Blue doesn't work real well for me either. Of course, The Great Gatsby is so ingrained as a title that I'm sure there's an awful lot of retrospect and nostalgia kicking in there. Under the Red, White, and Blue is just different and, therefore, wrong.

Nonetheless, it's hard to say whether it would have worked with any other title. Of the alternate titles Fitzgerald considered Under the Red, White, and Blue probably trips off the tongue best (contrast with The High-Bouncing Lover) but The Great Gatsby has better alliterative/poetic qualities: the repetition of G's; great to gat; a neat, 2:2 syllabic structure. The vocalization rises up on "the great" and falls on "Gatsby" elegantly.

Furthermore, The Great Gatsby sets a very different focus than does Under the Red, White, and Blue. The former makes that character the main emphasis of the book, while the latter is generalized to America as a whole. Under the Red, White, and Blue could be anything in the U.S. that the book is talking about. It sounds like the title of a war story or some political tract.

It is interesting that Fitzgerald wanted a more generalized theme for the title, though. The Great Gatsby is often considered an American tragedy in the vein of Hamlet or MacBeth or Oedipus or Gilgamesh. The alternate title that Fitzgerald wanted is like saying the names of those stories should have been Something Rotten in Denmark, The Scottish Play, Sons and Mothers or The Immortal Mortal or something more broad. His desire to take the focus off of what most of us see as the titular character is an interesting literary footnote....

The working titles Trimalchio and Trimalchio in West Egg seem the most obvious thematic influences. The objection to those titles was, apparently, that the reference was too obscure, and few readers would get it. I think that's true. I'm reading The Satyricon right now, and while the inspiration is obvious, the influence is less so. The character Trimalchio is meant to be and outright vulgarian in that book. Gatsby is meant to have various vulgar qualities, but his characterization by Fitzgerald is much more subtle. We're meant to sympathize in many ways (not in all) with Gatsby, where Trimalchio was something of a clown. We can sympathize with him, but it's much more in the way we sympathize with the well-meaning fool. Compared to U.S. Presidents, Trimalchio is Johnson or Nixon; Gatsby is JFK or Clinton.

But Under the Red, White, and Blue as a title makes the story about America as a whole rather than any individual character. I'm not entirely convinced that Fitzgerald wanted that title really. He did inquire about it to the publisher and was told that it was too late to change, the book was going to press. But it might have been a more off-hand, last minute nervousness on his part rather than a deep, meaningful change. After all, his working title and several of the other alternates were more pointed towards that character.


Monty J Heying Kelley wrote: "What is the significance of the title? Is Jay Gatsby "great," or is the title ironic?"

What do you think? Do you have any original ideas on the matter or are we supposed to do all the work for you?


message 37: by Gary (last edited Sep 01, 2014 07:35PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary The name "Gatz" is, apparently, of ambiguous origin. It could be German, or it could be Jewish, or it could be a corruption of names from either of those backgrounds. That is, however, the name from his father. Given that Jewish heritage passes through the mother, we can take that name or leave it. But we know nothing at all about his mother, so the name "Gatz" is all we have to go on.

The origin of the character James Gatz/Jay Gatsby from North Dakota doesn't particularly reference a Jewish background. It would lean more towards German given the settlement patterns of that part of the country. When Gatsby's father, Henry Gatz, arrives after Gatsby's murder, he doesn't make any particular fuss about sitting shiva, and the funeral is officiated by a Lutheran minister, so if Gatsby is Jewish on that side of his family then it's his father who began to pass himself off as a Christian German. Or, for some reason, he doesn't want to make an issue of his heritage after his death. Overall, given the name alone, I would say that Gatsby is meant to be German.

However, there are two interesting notes that counter that assertion. The first is that Fitzgerald changed the name to the ambiguous "Gatz" from "Gaty" which is, apparently, a much more obviously Jewish name. (I haven't fully researched this, but I've read two articles that indicate that's the case.) Meaning, Fitzgerald might have realized he was drawing that reference too directly, and decided on purpose to give the character a birth name that was not as obvious.

The second is Gatsby's association with the obviously Jewish gangster Wolfshiem. While it's not an absolute rule, gangsters are notoriously clannish; Italians with Italians, Irish with Irish, Jews with Jews, Chinese with Chinese, etc. Wolfshiem's "business" relationship with Gatsby is very close. "I made him," he says. Wolfshiem makes a point of Gatsby's physical appearance and demeanor at several points, and likes that he is an "Oggsford" man. This could indicate that Wolfshiem is merely using Gatsby as an in on the WASP community... or he could be noting how easily and well his Jewish compatriot "passes" in that community.


Geoffrey I may be clouding the issue, Gary, but in researching the name Gatz on the Internet, I noted that it had its own heraldic emblem. I believe Jews were restricted from any aristocratic display in Europe as from what I recall from reading Max Dimant's book. There were a lot they were forbidden to do, including in many countries from being craftspeople, plumbers, carpenters etc. because of the political pressures brought by the craft guilds.

Yes, but considering that Wolfsheim is quite taken with the Oggsford man, that institution is hardly the bastion of Jewish culture. But you still might have a point. Hmmm, interesting theory. I just don't buy into it.


message 39: by Gary (last edited Sep 02, 2014 01:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary From what I've been able to glean, there are two distinct origins for the name Gatz, one German and the other Jewish. The German and Jewish versions of the name appear to be corruptions/transformations of more distinctly German or Jewish names: Getz and Katz, respectively.

The standardization of spelling for surnames is really something of a late 19th-early 20th century convention, when things like identity papers started to come into use. Before that names would appear in church documents, but those weren't "official" in the regulatory sense. (Just in that "can this person go to Heaven?" sense, which is much less rigorous than the DMV or the tax man....) Plus, signatures could vary over time, and sometimes people just monkeyed around.

Shakespeare apparently spelled his name in the way were used to seeing, but also used Shakspere during his lifetime, and several abbreviations that seem very odd these days: Shakp, Shakspe, Shaksper.

In any case, the open question remains: how aware of the etymology of that name was Fitzgerald?

I suspect he was very aware of name origins and meanings. At least, he appears to have paid particular attention to them in both The Great Gatsby and in other works. I haven't found anything that would be a "smoking gun" for this one, but his use of names in general is pretty compelling that he used them with particular care and knowledge.


Geoffrey Okay, so how do we come up with the names East and West Egg? The only Egg I can think of is Sherwood Anderson's ss, THE EGG AND I, a tale of suspended upward mobility.


message 41: by Gary (last edited Sep 03, 2014 04:58PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Among the alternate titles that Fitzgerald considered and rejected, at least two (Gold-Hatted Gatsby, and The High-Bouncing Lover) are references to the quote that opens the book:
Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
THOMAS PARKE D'INVELLIERS.
Thomas Parke D'Invelliers is a name the Fitzgerald used in his crypto-autobiographical first novel, This Side Of Paradise. In the novel, D'Invilliers represents the poet John Peale Bishop, whom Fitzgerald knew from Princeton. Arguably, D'Invilliers is an alter ego for Fitzgerald as well.

So, in a roundabout kind of way, Fitzgerald was referencing himself with those titles. Often people say that the title character of The Great Gatsby is Fitzgerald himself, but a made up quote attributed to the pen name of the author would indicate that he has a relationship more to the narrator, Nick, than to Gatsby. After all, Nick is penning the book, so if Nick starts his book with a quote by the fictitious D'Invelliers then that fictitious narrator, Nick, is giving a nod towards the fictitious name of the real author's real world friend, or even the real world author himself.

"Gold-hatted" also references a crown, and along with it the name of the aforementioned character Trimalchio ("thrice-kinged" or "great king") from The Satyricon.

Oh, a tangled web he wrote.


message 42: by Daniel (new) - added it

Daniel Libby I feel like the title is like gilded grandeur to an empty container. The greatness of Gatsby is fictional, because his greatness is his money, with which he makes himself known in order to obtain attention. In the end though he is empty and all of his grandeur has left him. So it is all just a farce to make you think he is great until his downfall.


Leslie Gary wrote: "Paul Martin wrote: "Oh haha, I thought you were going to delve into some speculative transgenderism.

Did Fitzgerald ever say anything about the cover?"

I've been looking into it, and haven't foun..."


I think the woman's face on the cover is Zelda.


Geoffrey What? Zelda was Gatsby's secret lover? Now you are really reaching Leslie.


Leslie Geoffrey wrote: "What? Zelda was Gatsby's secret lover? Now you are really reaching Leslie."

No...Zelda is Fitzgerald's "Daisy"...a tribute, she epitomized the "Flapper" for FSF, and he wanted to impress her, so I think he had the artist use her face as the inspiration for the cover.


Geoffrey Leslie
I am kidding you.


message 47: by Leslie (last edited Sep 03, 2014 03:56PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Leslie Geoffrey wrote: "Leslie
I am kidding you."


Oh good! Thanks Geoffrey ;) I might be a bit hypersensitive, having been knocked about recently on these forums, feeling duncelike...


Theodosia of the Fathomless Hall Leslie--Well, Goodreads has very... judgmental forums sometimes, I can't blame you for the sensitivity!

Hm. I think it embodies the glitter of the time, being "great" was easy to be providing one was affluent and charismatic. It might be interpreted as ironic, considering his wealth stemmed for bootlegging.

I never knew that the title was originally relating to a Roman character!


Karen Leslie wrote: "Geoffrey wrote: "Leslie
I am kidding you."

Oh good! Thanks Geoffrey ;) I might be a bit hypersensitive, having been knocked about recently on these forums, feeling duncelike..."


but you're not duncelike


Karen Benzaiten of the Wooded Spring wrote:
"Hm. I think it embodies the glitter of the time, being "great" was easy to be providing one was affluent and charismatic. It might be interpreted as ironic, considering his wealth stemmed for bootlegging."

Definitely meant to be ironic! It's kind of a trick, isn't it? Gatsby is charasmatic but mysterious, with a seedy background. And Nick is enthralled- at first.



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