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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald-Book Notes
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REFERENCE

THE CRITICS - CRITICAL ANALYSIS - CRITICAL OPINION

A LETTER TO FITZGERALD FROM HIS EDITOR, NOVEMBER 20, 1924

I think you have every kind of right to be proud of this book. It is an extraordinary book, suggestive of all sorts of thoughts and moods. You adopted exactly the right method of telling it, that of employing a narrator who is more of a spectator than an actor: this puts the reader upon a point of observation on a higher level than that on which the characters stand and at a distance that gives perspective. In no other way could your irony have been so immensely effective, nor the reader have been enabled so strongly to feel at times the strangeness of human circumstance in a vast heedless universe. In the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg various readers will see different significances; but their presence gives a superb touch to the whole thing: great unblinking eyes, expressionless, looking down upon the human scene. It's magnificent!

Maxwell Perkins, Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins, 1950

FITZGERALD'S DREAM: A PARALLEL TO GATSBY

When I was your age I lived with a great dream. The dream grew and I learned how to speak of it and make people listen. Then the dream divided one day when I decided to marry your mother after all, even though I knew she was spoiled and meant no good to me. I was sorry immediately I had married her, but being patient in those days, made the best of it and got to love her in another way. You came along and for a long time we made quite a lot of happiness out of our lives. But I was a man divided-she wanted me to work too much for her and not enough for my dream. She realized too late that work was dignity, and the only dignity, and tried to atone for it by working herself, but it was too late and she broke and is broken forever.


Scott Fitzgerald, "Letter to His Daughter," July 7, 1938 from Letters to His Daughter, 1965

FITZGERALD'S DOUBLE VISION

He cultivated a sort of double vision. He was continually trying to present the glitter of life in the Princeton eating clubs, on the Riviera, on the North Shore of Long Island, and in the Hollywood studios; he surrounded his characters with a mist of admiration and simultaneously he drove the mist away... He regarded himself as a pauper living among millionaires... a sullen peasant among the nobility, and he said that his point of vantage "was the dividing line between two generations," prewar and postwar. It was this habit of keeping a double point of view that distinguished his work. There were popular and serious novelists in his time, but there was something of a gulf between them; Fitzgerald was one of the very few popular writers who were also serious artists.

Malcolm Cowley, "Third Act and Epilogue," The New Yorker, 1945

FITZGERALD'S ARTISTIC METHOD IN GATSBY

...the characters are not "developed": the wealthy and brutal Tom Buchanan haunted by his "scientific" vision of the doom of civilization, the vaguely guilty, vaguely homosexual Jordan Baker, the dim Wolfsheim, who fixed the World Series of 1919, are treated, we might say, as if they were ideographs, a method of economy that is reinforced by the ideographic use of that is made of the Washington Heights flat, the terrible "valley of ashes" seen from the Long Island Railroad, Gatsby's incoherent parties, and the huge sordid eyes of the oculist's advertising sign. (It is a technique which gives the novel an affinity with The Waste Land, between whose author and Fitzgerald there existed a reciprocal admiration.) Gatsby himself, once stated, grows only in the understanding of the narrator. He is allowed to say very little in his own person. Indeed, apart from the famous "Her voice is full of money," he says only one memorable thing, but that remark is overwhelming in its intellectual audacity: when he is forced to admit that his lost Daisy did perhaps love her husband, he says, "In any case it was just personal." With that sentence he achieves an insane greatness, convincing us that he really is a Platonic conception of himself, really some sort of Son of God.

Lionel Trilling, "F. Scott Fitzgerald," The Liberal Imagination, 1950

The Great Gatsby AND THE AMERICAN DREAM

The Great Gatsby is an exploration of the American dream as it exists in a corrupt period, and it is an attempt to determine that concealed boundary that divides the reality from the illusions. The illusions seem more real than the reality itself. Embodied in the subordinate characters in the novel, they threaten to invade the whole of the picture. On the other hand, the reality is embodied in Gatsby; and as opposed to the hard, tangible Illusions, the reality is a thing of the spirit, a promise rather than the possession of a vision, a faith in the half-glimpsed, but hardly understood possibilities of life.

Marius Bewley, "Scott Fitzgerald's Criticism of America," 1954

THE SYMBOLISM OF EAST AND WEST

Fitzgerald's dichotomy of East and West has the poetic truth of James's antithesis of provincial American virtue and refined European sensibility. Like The Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors, Gatsby is a story of "displaced persons" who have journeyed eastward in search of a larger and experience of life. To James this reverse migration from the New to the Old World has in itself no special significance. To Fitzgerald, however, the lure of the East represents a profound displacement of the American dream, a turning back upon itself of the historic pilgrimage towards the frontier which had, in fact, created and sustained that dream.

Robert Ornstein, "Scott Fitzgerald's Fable of East and West," 1957

COLOR SYMBOLISM IN The Great Gatsby: DAISY

The white Daisy embodies the vision which Gatsby (who, like Lord Jim, usually wears white suits) seeks to embrace-but which Nick, who discovers the corrupt admixture of dream and reality, rejects in rejecting Jordan. For, except in Gatsby's extravagant imagination, the white does not exist pure: it is invariably stained by the money, the yellow. Daisy is the white flower-with the golden center. If in her virginal beauty she "dressed in white and had a little white roadster," she is, Nick realizes, "high in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl." "Her voice is like money"; she carries a "little gold pencil"; when she visits Gatsby there are "two rows of brass buttons on her dress."

Daniel J. Schneider, "Color-Symbolism in The Great Gatsby," 1964

AN ATTACK ON NICK AS A CHARACTER

Carraway's distinctiveness as a character is that he fails to learn anything from his story, that he can continue to blind himself even after his privileged overview of Gatsby's fate.... He refuses to admit that his alliance with Gatsby, his admiration for the man, results from their sharing the same weakness.... He has learned nothing. His failure to come to any self-knowledge makes him like the person who blames the stone for stubbing his toe. It seems inevitable that he will repeat the same mistakes as soon as the feeling that "temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men" has departed.... Had Carraway been defeated by the impersonal forces of an evil world in
which he was an ineffectual innocent, his very existence-temporary or not-would lighten the picture. But his defeat is caused by something that lies within himself: his own lack of fibre, his own willingness to deny reality, his own substitution of dreams for knowledge of self and the world, his own sharing in the very vices of which his fellow men stand accused.

Gary J. Scrimgeour, "Against The Great Gatsby," 1966

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