In the ancient Greek dramas, the actors would wear masks. Even though the Greeks were able to design an amphitheater that amplifies the sound of an actor’s voice, they were unable to do so with the actor’s face and emotions. As a solution, they designed masks that exaggerated certain emotions as a way for actors to portray those emotions to even the very back corners of an amphitheater. The actors used these masks as a persona for the character they were portraying. It hid their true face and allowed them to fully immerse themselves into their characters. In much the same way, money and wealth is the modern persona that masks the person behind it.
I am arguing that “The Great Gatsby” is a novel that explores the identity and the myth of success as well as the underlying tragedy and loneliness behind success. My 21st century Great Gatsby has to do with the talked-of self and the unexpressed self that Leo Braudy was talking about.
In “The Great Gatsby,” Jay Gatsby is a persona that we see. He’s wealthy and extravagant and seems put together. The blue on the front of this mask represents the surface level persona that people portray, especially Gatsby in the novel- the talked-of self, while the gold interweaved represents the money and wealth being the foundation for this persona. On the back are certain passages from the book about James Gatsz, the real person behind the persona of Gatsby, outlined in blue to show the unexpressed self.
The tragedy and loneliness I’m arguing for comes from people never seeing the inside of the mask and their real self never being expressed, until, at least in Gatsby’s case, after their death/downfall.
I once had this dream where I fell into a lake. I didn’t know how to swim, so I started sinking through the murky water, unable to do anything else but reach my hand toward the light at the surface. I wasn’t panicking or struggling, it was just this peaceful descent into the depths, until I could no longer see the surface of the water anymore and then I woke up. When I woke up, I wondered why I just accepted my fate. Was it because I didn’t know the reality of what was happening to me? In reading The Great Gatsby, I’m reminded of this dream. But instead of me drowning, it’s the characters and what they’re reaching for is the American Dream. They don’t know that they won’t ever be able to grasp it because they are denying the reality that they’re drowning. We see this especially in Gatsby and his romanticism of Daisy and the American dream. He’s constantly reaching for something that he can’t grasp because he doesn’t know how to swim in the reality of his situation. Unlike me, who didn’t panic, we do see Gatsby panic when he realizes that Daisy isn’t who he thought she was and when his status is threatened by Tom. Gatsby slowly realizes that his idealist view is not realistic and also not sustainable. Not only does Gatsby realize this, we the readers do too when Gatsby dies. We are kind of slapped in the face with this realization, but that’s what I think Fitzgerald was trying to do.
There have been a few movie adaptations of The Great Gatsby. Many directors have strived to take the world Fitzgerald created and take it from the white page to the big screen. Jay Gatsby, the elusive gangster and Daisy Buchanan, the beautiful fool with her voice of money, both brought to life along with those extravagant parties and huge mansion and all the wealth that Gatsby had. How successful were these adaptations? Did they really bring Fitzgerald’s characters and world to life? Or did they change his characters?
There are two films that many people compare. The 1974 Great Gatsby and the 2013 Great Gatsby. From the opening scenes you know that these two films are very different. The opening scene of the 1974 film is a calmer one that sets up the film through imagery and music while the opening of the 2013 film is more jarring with Nick Carraway retelling the story to a counselor in a mental facility. The 2013 film definitely goes for more of a shock factor to drive home the points in the book, while the 1974 film tries to stay true to the book itself and trusts Fitzgerald’s way of portraying things.
The 2013 film has this modern spin on The Great Gatsby and is more fast-paced and easier to watch as a film. This film also exaggerates a lot of scenes to hammer the effect and emotion into the audience. The 1974 film takes a more subtle route. Both movies have their merits, but in terms of relating it back to the book, the 1974 film is a lot more faithful to the actual contents of the book.
There is a reason The Great Gatsby focuses on social classes and money. Fitzgerald himself grew up poor. He didn’t see himself as rich. He didn’t feel like he ever fit into the high society of wealth and money. He built himself from the bottom up. Knowing this, Gatsby’s character makes a lot more sense. Fitzgerald was able to write him because he experienced a similar character arc in his own life. Having come from a poor background and then earning his own money, Fitzgerald also has a unique perspective about the class system. He came from a poor background, so he is able to provide the outsider’s perspective to the upper class. Unlike Gatsby though, he gained fame entirely from his own merits as a writer. This fame allowed him to enter the social circles of “the elite.” Fitzgerald uses The Great Gatsby as a way to critique the upper class. In the book, he portrays the characters that are from a higher class as ridiculous and single-mindedly materialistic. Daisy for example thinks she is above everyone else because of her status in society. Fitzgerald critiques Gatsby as well for thinking that he could ever reach the upper-class status without being born into it. I think that Fitzgerald did exaggerate the characters a little bit to really drive home the point he was trying make, but I also think that the character flaws he reveals were and are true of the higher classes and the social class system. Fitzgerald’s first-hand experience allows The Great Gatsby to be a classic.
Imagine living in a world where wealth is the defining measurement of the worth of a person. If you don’t have money, then you’re nothing and no one. There’s this uncrossable divide between those with money and those without. You stand on the edge, staring across the gaping chasm. The only way to cross is to get a lifeline thrown from someone else. In “The Great Gatsby,” we see Gatsby growing up on the ‘wrong’ side of the chasm and desperately wishing to be able to cross it. He writes in his journal things to do that make him seem higher class than he is. He constantly corrected his father’s crude mannerisms. At seventeen, he is thrown a short lifeline by Dan Cody, and he gets closer to swinging over to the other side of the chasm. He joins the military and that’s enough to get him close to Daisy, who has always lived on the other side. He gets a glimpse of what his life could be like with her. But he has to go off to war and he swings away from the other side’s edge, unable to let go and jump to that side, until he gets swept under Wolfsheim’s tutelage. This lifeline is thrown from a place on the other side far away from where Gatsby was always looking at, but it gets him across. He now has the money and one foot in the world that he’s always dreamed of being in. Yet, he didn’t grow up on that side of the chasm. He doesn’t know the customs or how he’s supposed to dress and act. So Gatsby overcompensates with his lavish parties and gaudy suits and way too many cars. “The Great Gatsby” shows that even once you cross the divide, that’s not enough for you to be accepted into that world on the other side.
Long ago, during the ancient times, the Greeks performed dramas. In these dramas, the actors would wear masks if it was a tragedy. The Greeks were smart and able to design their amphitheaters in a way that amplifies the sound of an actor’s voice. Unfortunately, they were unable to figure out a way to do so with the actor’s face and emotions. As a solution, they designed masks that exaggerated certain emotions as a way for actors to portray those emotions to even the very back corners of an amphitheater. The actors used these masks as a persona for the character they were portraying. It hid their true face and allowed them to fully immerse themselves into their characters. Nowadays, the modern version of those ancient masks are the flashy clothes celebrities wear to portray a persona of being famous. We see this all the time on the red carpet. Celebrities wear these over-the-top, exaggerated clothes, as a sort of costume to hide their true selves. This is very similar to Gatsby. He wears these flashy and gaudy suits as a way to portray to everyone that he has money. But it’s just a costume. He may have the money, but everyone can see that he’s trying too hard to look wealthy. Unlike Daisy, he wasn’t born into money- he didn’t grow up with money. He had to make something of himself on his own and we can see him overcompensating with the over-the-top parties, the huge mansion, the numerous cars, and of course his gaudy clothes.
Lately, we’ve been exploring identity and what really interested me was the concept between the talked-of self and the unexpressed self. One of the assignments I had to do was to explore the identity of famous people and the two celebrities that came to mind for me was Britney Spears and Billie Eilish.
When it comes to Britney Spears, we see one way that media impacts identity. She is very famous, and her life seemed so perfect and unattainable until we realized the truth- she was forced into a lot of what she did. This perfectly illustrates that tension between the talked-of self and the unexpressed self. This might be an extreme case, but Britney’s unexpressed self was also oppressed instead of just hidden away. She was at the mercy of the media and her audience.
But then we see Billie Eilish. She started out really young in the industry, so her whole life has been shaped around fame and media. She kind of tried to resist that having that tension between her talked-of self and unexpressed self with the way she dressed. She tried to make it harder for the media to talk crap about her and her body. She tried to preserve her unexpressed self for as long as she could.
These two celebrities highlight the difference between oppression of the unexpressed self and a purposeful preservation of it. And it makes me think what other celebrities are being oppressed by the spotlight of the media and of fame?
The tragedy of a gangster’s life begins with identity or the lack of it. The marking point of a gangster is the persona they create. Gangsters don’t start as gangsters. They start from nothing and claw their way up to success. They know what it’s like to be no one and have nothing. Take Gatsby for instance. He was a poor kid who had no money to his name and no means of making something for himself. Then he meets Dan Cody and he decides to transform himself into the person he’s longing to be- Jay Gatsby, a man who knows everyone, has connections everywhere, and has more money than he knows what to do with. But he was also a man no one else knows. They know of him, but they don’t know him. And this is exactly what makes being a gangster so tragic and also futile. No matter what he does to make a name for himself, no one is ever going to know the true him. Not even Gatsby’s own father knew him. This anonymity is one of the trademarks of gangsters. People talk about them. They create rumors about the “terrible acts” or the “amazing deeds” but none of the rumors are the truth. I think that kind of life must be so exhausting, and it makes me wonder is it even worth it? Is money or fame enough to weigh out the drawbacks of being alone? Also, Gatsby dies in the end too, so I would say that that would be a no.
There’s this parable about blind men who heard that an elephant was coming to town. These men wanted to know what that elephant was like. Even though they wouldn’t be able to see it, they could still touch it and know that way. They made their way to the elephant and started to touch it. One man’s hands landed on the trunk and said the elephant was like a snake. Another was touching the ear and said it was like a fan. The man who touched the tail said the elephant was like a rope. And the man who touched the tusk said the elephant was like a smooth spear. The men argued about who was right and they didn’t realize until another person came along who could see described to them the elephant in its totality that they were all right. The blind men weren’t wrong about what they described, but none of them had the full picture because their perspective was limited. F. Scott Fitzgerald writes The Great Gatsby from the perspective of Nick. Nick is only one person, so he can’t know everything about Gatsby. He’s just one of the blind men trying to touch the elephant that is Gatsby. He may be right in what he’s telling us about Gatsby, but it isn’t the full picture. This begs the question, is there any way for us to ever know who Gatsby really is? Or are we always destined to be blind men, trying to touch a different part of the elephant, but never knowing if we’ve been able to get it all?
When looking at the character Myrtle, I’m not sure what to think about her. She changes her clothes 3 times in a span of a couple hours. Nick describes her clothes as a “costume” she wears. Along with her change of clothes, her personality also changes with each new costume. It’s like she’s trying to be the person that the situation calls for, not herself, which makes me think that she’s insecure and always trying to fit in. But another way to look at is that she could use clothing as a way to feel more confident in herself. I know that when I wear clothes that are more formal, I feel more confident. And in Chapter 2, it says that “her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment, and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her.” From this quote, it seems that she’s just feeling herself in her new outfit.
But I’m on the fence about whether or not she’s supremely confident or insecure and overcompensating. The question arises; is Myrtle really insecure or is she really confident? And we can even put this into the context of the purpose of clothing. Is someone who doesn’t care what they look like and wear clothes that don’t flatter them, are they insecure because they’re not showing off their assets or confident because they feel like they don’t need to? On the flip side, is someone who goes out of their way to wear clothes that are flattering confident because they know what they have and enjoy feeling good and showing off or are they actually insecure about themselves and trying to use clothing as a mask to hide their flaws? I’m not sure if I even know the answer to this.