Continuing my class with Professor Azar Nafisi, I had to re-read this American classic - dimly recalling it from high-school. How could a 16 year old understand such a story ? Or, for that matter, how could a 29 year old (Fitzgerald's age when he wrote it)?
Conveniently, a previous reader had highlighted every mention of color in the copy I got from the library, and explained them all on the inside of the back cover - so I could more easily follow the symbolism of green (growth, desire, envy, greed) , white (purity, emptiness, elegance), yellow (brightness, happiness, wealth) , brown etc.
But the story, as a whole, failed rather badly for me -- seeming to rest upon a shallow, priggish, constipated Midwestern middle-class curiosity and resentment of the polo playing set as fundamentally corrupt and insensitive - combined with utter contempt for a working class (George and Myrtle) who are dupes. (and don't forget about Myrtle's sexual energy - the only character who seems to have any)
With a healthy dose of anti-semitism thrown in (the epicenter of all corruption being the Jewish gangster with all that vermin-like quivering nostril hair who uses the clean cut, war-hero Gatsby as his front man.)
"A small flat-nosed Jew raised his large head and regarded me with two fine growths of hair which luxuriated in either nostril. After a moment I discovered his tiny eyes in the darkness"
Which is to say that Nick, the narrator, is the only character who rings true to me -- all the others being his immature, class-conscious fantasies.
And, BTW , I don't buy his self perception as being an especially honest person -- as he passively hangs out with people he despises and eventually identifies Gatsby as his good friend.
Nor do I share his conclusion that connects Gatsby's ambitious dream of an "orgastic future" with that"last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate with his capacity to wonder"
Won't there always be some people who find something great commensurate with a great capacity to wonder?
Though Gatsby does not appear to be one them (he's more like a psychotic stalker.)
Nor apparently, is Nick Carraway.
Rather than ending an entire book, I think this passage only belongs at the end of chapter one of Nick's life. He would then go back to Minnesota, marry a sweet girl, inherit his dad's hardware store , eventually get divorced by a wife who can't stand his self righteousness, get rejected by his children who can't stand his criticism and hypocrisy, and end up a lonely alcoholic.
It might also be fun to contemplate one of the most reprehensible characters in all of fiction: Tom Buchanan.
A snobbish, racist, philandering, abusive, do-nothing blue blood - who seems to have more muscles than brains -- except that he does mount a passionate, successful defense of his marriage against a fabulously rich fellow who has camped out in his neighborhood for five years, working as relentlessly as Ravana to seduce his wife away from him.
Tom's success surprised me - and if additional chapters for his life were written, I would have him settle down into becoming a good father (he's learned his lesson about consorting with low-lifes) and become director of a yacht club which he would build into a prosperous institution. I.e. -- I figure he would be a no-nonsense manager.
BTW - one loose end, as far as I'm concerned, is the actual value of the Gatsby estate.
The entire narrative is driven by curiosity about this character -- with revelations as evenly spaced throughout the book as sex scenes in a XXX movie.
But how much wealth did he actually accumulate while working for that crafty Jew?
It would have been so easy for Nick to report that the value of estate was less than the loan still due on the mansion, leaving Gatsby as penniless at the end as he was at the beginning. But for whatever reason, Fitzgerald left that question unanswered.
And now it's time to take our seat in Professor Nafisi's class and turn to Chapter two, entitled "Gatsby" in "Reading Lolita in Tehran" --- wherein she ingeniously puts the book on trial for crimes against the Iranian revolution.
As the student/prosecutor, Mr. Nyazi, in the case declared:"Islam is the only religion in the world that has assigned a special sacred role to literature in guiding man to a godly life... through the Word you can heal or you can destroy. You can guide or you can corrupt. That is why the word can belong to Satan or to God"
".... remember, Ladies and Gentlemen, Gatsby is the hero of this book, and who is he? He is a charlatan, an adulterer, he is a liar... this is the man Nick celebrates and feels sorry, this man, this destroyer of homes!"
And I tend to agree with him.
Gatsby is something like a hero in this book, at least to the narrator who finally becomes his friend and admires his dedication to a dream/vision/memory:
"an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person."
And, though he doesn't say it, he would have to admire Gatsby's financial success -- which is in such sharp contrast to his own struggles -- and without which Gatsby would be dismissible as a psychotic loser, whatever his "gift for hope" might be.
"The Great Gatsby" is only off the hook if we deny that Gatbsy has been presented as some kind of hero - and then we have to query the value of stories without heroes.
Nafisi interprets the book as a cautionary tale about dreams that fixate on the past -- like the dream of Muslim revolutionaries to return Iran to Sharia.
But wouldn't that apply to all historic ideals (including those of freedom, human rights, scientific method etc) ?
I think character of Jay Gatsby is too fanciful/unreal to carry that much weight.
But an Iranian reader might be familiar with priggish characters like Nick, and a universality of the contrast/conflict between provincial vs capitol cities.
She goes on to teach:"The idea or ideas behind the story must come to you through the experience of the novel, and not as something tacked on to it. Let's pick a scene to demonstrate this point. You will remember Gatsby is visiting Daisy and To Buchanan's house for the first time:
"Who wants to go to town? demanded Daisy insistently.
Gatsby's eyes floated towards her, "Ah", she cried,
you look so cool"
Their eyes met and they stared together at each other
alone in space. With an effort, she glanced down at the table.
"You always look so cool", she repeated.
She had told him that she loved him
and Tom Buchanan saw. He was astounded. His mouth opened a little,
and he looked at Gatsby, and then back at Daisy as if he had
just recognized her as someone he knew a long time ago"
"On one level, Daisy is simply telling Gatsby that he looks cool
and Fitzgerald is telling us that she still loves him, but he doesn't
want to just say so"
Except that --- she did just say so two pages earlier:"as he (Tom) left the room, she got up and went over to Gatsby, and pulled his face down kissing him on the mouth.
"You know I love you", she murmured.
What strikes me about this passage
is how dry and plain spoken it is.
Where images instead of the author's voice
are carrying the story -- as in a screen play.