Re: RARA-AVIS: GATSBY as the PI novel

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 30 Nov 2004

Jim Winter wrote:

> Actually, I'd never read about MacDonald's views on GATSBY, beyond
> that it was his favorite novel. I know BLACK MONEY was a retelling
> of GATSBY.
> But here's a thought about GATSBY that makes me wonder if it
> originated with MacDonald. A few years ago, a professor wrote a
> paper suggesting that Jay Gatsby was trying to pass as a white man.
> The plot of BLACK MONEY almost suggests that MacDonald had picked up
> on the idea 30 years earlier. I wished I'd read GATSBY before I'd
> heard that, because it was in the back of my mind when I finally did,
> both from that article and BLACK MONEY. Still, it's an intriguing
> debate, and there's nothing in GATSBY to suggest it wasn't possible.

And there's nothing to suggest it was. Fitzgerald is one of the great voices of the early 20th century because of what he leaves unsaid, true, but this sounds to me like someone on a tenure track reading something into the text, as opposed to trying to pull it out. Gatsby is clearly a parvenue, that much is painfully clear, and the novel lays it out vividly that no matter how much new money he illegally makes, he's still "new money" and will never be able to truly enter Daisy's world any more than I can sprout wings and fly.

I think the deeper question about Gatsby is whether Fitzgerald identified more with the viewpoint of Nick Carraway or with the viewpoint of Jay Gatsby himself. Fitzgerald was himself a parvenue who went out and "made it big" in order to win his own Daisy, his wife Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. A social climber by nature, and an alcoholic by long practice, Fitzgerald opened up both the world of the "cruel rich" and of jazz age party excess ("jazz age" being a term Fitzgerald himself coined) for people who might never have had an inkling of what they were like otherwise. I think he did a bang-up job of showing how he himself (a good Catholic boy from the Midwest) was both attracted and repelled by both these aspects of 1920s America.

Oh, and let me repeat for emphasis, I don't see the "black guy trying to pass" any more than I see a potentially drunken gay encounter for Nick after the party scene in the apartment where he helps the other drunk guy home.

A great novel, regardless.

All the Best-

Brian Thornton

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 30 Nov 2004 EST