Why Gatsby Blows
If you’re a drug dealer, a drunk, a crook, a phony, a bully, a racist, a snob, or a ditz you might want to go see The Great Gatsby, because the characters in the movie are your people. Better yet, read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby,” a book that has been called the great American novel, a book that shames American literature and the very idea of what it means to be an American.
It’s 1922, Nick Carraway, a veteran of World War I and a rookie Wall Street bondsman from the Midwest, moves to a little house on Long Island that happens to be beside a mansion owned by a mysterious rich man. Jay Gatsby is holding a torch for an old flame, Daisy Buchanan, wife of Tom Buchanan, who through inherited wealth is probably richer than Gatsby. Tom is, if you’ll excuse the vernacular, a total prick. He is carrying on an affair with Myrtle Wilson, whose husband, George Wilson, runs a car repair shop. Basically, this story is an American Romeo and Juliet- If Romeo was born poor.
We never learn just what Gatsby does to accumulate his fortune, but Fitzgerald signals it’s somewhere between shady and criminal. He appears to be the 1922 equivalent to a contemporary drug lord. Even though Gatsby is not the social type, he holds huge drop-in parties in the vague hope that Daisy will show up one day. Never mind that this is a stupid idea, it’s necessary for the plot. Eventually, Nick, a distant relative of Daisy, arranges for Daisy and Gatsby to meet, and they embark on an affair. In the culminating action, Daisy accidentally runs over and kills Myrtle. Gatsby takes the blame. And George shoots Gatsby dead. Tom and Daisy leave town and the life they’ve built together.
The first reference to a working person in “The Great Gatsby” is Nick’s offhand remark about his housekeeper, “a Finnish woman who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.” The author has given her an ethnic background but no name. He refers to her later in the book as “my Finn” and the “demoniac Finn.” She’s not really a character, more like a running joke in the story. This pattern of working people as hardly worth notice except to make fun of runs through the entire novel.
I can’t fathom a less flattering portrait of a man than Fitzgerald’s description of George Wilson, who is trying to make a living fixing cars. Tom Buchanan sums him up, “He’s so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive.” The only character in this novel with a real job is an idiot - and a murderer.
This is a book that mocks the very idea of labor. It’s not that working people in the book are portrayed critically, it’s that they are not portrayed realistically. They are mere literary devices used to move the overly contrived plot. They are Fitzgerald’s orcs.
Fitzgerald not only lacerates the working people in “The Great Gatsby,” but he takes cheap shots at women, blacks and Jews.
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