June 23, 2013


Great Expectations : What Gatsby's really looking for (William Deresiewicz, American Scholar)

Gatsby wants to arrive. He wants admission to the inner circle. He wants acceptance into what we'd later call--in the twilight of their power, once we could afford to laugh at them--the WASPs, our homegrown aristocracy. He wants what Tom and Nick, who graduated from "New Haven," represent. He's from the West; he wants to make it to the East--a dichotomy Fitzgerald maps onto the local spaces of his two Long Island towns, the famous Eggs. Money's not the point; it's only a prerequisite. Gatsby is already fabulously wealthy by the time the novel starts. But he can't cross over anyway, and not because Daisy is married. That would be a incidental obstacle, as everyone makes clear, if only she were willing.

The problem is he can't pull off the act. Wolfsheim buys it--"I saw right away he was a fine-appearing, gentlemanly young man, and when he told me he was an Oggsford I knew I could use him good"--but people like the Buchanans can tell the difference. Gatsby's downfall comes when Daisy finally goes to one of his parties and sees how vulgar they are. Since he doesn't have access to the aristocracy, he substitutes the world of celebrity, that simulacrum of it that emerged around this time (and that's replaced it altogether now). [...]

Five pages from the end of the book, Fitzgerald delivers his sociological punchline: "I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all--Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life." Even the novel fails to make it East. Even Tom and Daisy feel like frauds. There is no arrival, it seems--or not, at least, for such as us.

Money doesn't make a man.

Posted by at June 23, 2013 8:46 AM

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