Nov 09 2010

The Great Gatsby and a New American East

Published by at 10:35 pm under Uncategorized

Although I expected to find it difficult to interpret The Great Gastby from a techno-critical standpoint (because of how the assignment was phrased), I’ve found that it has been a very elucidating aid in understanding the book as a whole (granted, that might just be because it was our assignment). At the very end of this utterly fantastic novel, while Nick Carraway is brooding over the strange events that have transpired in his recent past, he conclusively states, “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessy into the past” (180).  This comment sums up Carraway’s opinion both of Gatsby’s foolish actions and of the tendency of man to “run faster [and], stretch out [his] arms farther” in pursuit of the ever elusive ‘new’ (180). We will forever seek to conquer, understand, and enjoy the new simply because we are unfamiliar with it and because it holds so much potential. This, according to the narrator, was Gatsby’s fatal flaw, but one for which he cannot be blamed because the narrator can empathize with it himself. From a techno-critical perspective, this novel identifies with the inevitable ennui that sets in when the new is no longer new, or at least when is ceases to bedazzle.

In the last chapter, Carraway describes his fond memory of going back West for Christmas when he was younger. True to his propensity for honing in on a universal feeling by describing a highly specific and personalized anecdote, Fitzgerald makes the reader feel what Carraway feels about his entire life by telling this one story and the impact it has on Carraway. From the fur coats of the “girls returning from Miss This-or-That’s” to the “long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands” (175), Fitzgerald paints the scene more vividly than the realist painters ever could. In one of my favorite sentences, he writes, “we drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again” (176). This sentence is so poignant because in it Fitzgerald puts his finger on that just-out-of-your-grasp yet oh-so-omnipresent feeling of rising above the physical situation and glimpsing the utter reality inherent in the banality of a moment.  Techno-critically speaking, Fitzgerald is sentimentalizing the action of going backwards in time in America. During the 1920’s, as is evident both from this novel and from the historical goings-on of the time, the East was the epicenter of progress and newness while the West was still stuck in the ways of houses that remained in the family for hundreds of years.

“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,” Carraway reflects. This is surprising in light of the fact that the story seems to exclusively celebrate the East, in all its ashen, corrupt, and jaded glory. However, this rumination gets at the heart of the characters and of their experiences in this novel—they tried to be like the glamorous forward-thinkers of their time, but they just couldn’t fit in with the fast pace of the blossoming East.

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