Since F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite writers, I took Tyson’s discussion on The Great Gatsby in chapter 5 to heart. Tyson focuses largely on Gatsby’s longing for future fulfillment, but I believe that students can go deeper than this, because the novel is not just about Gatsby. The novel was published in 1925 and certainly introduced love affairs, unhappiness, and longing to its readers. However this was a year of great importance to Fitzgerald, who had been married for five years to Zelda Fitzgerald, or “Daisy”. Zelda had just ended an affair with Edouard Jozen in France, and the couple had returned to America as an escape. The Fitzgeralds drank heavily and partied to mask their problems, and Zelda was already exhibiting glimpses of mental illness. They suffered financial strains and Fitzgerald’s hatred of the rich was masked further by his turbulent hypocritical lifestyle. Zelda, however, thirsted for riches and demanded nothing less of her husband.
What would Tyson say about this angle in the New Critical Reading of Gatsby? Aren’t we missing something? I have always felt that Gatsby, like other works by Fitzgerald, is a memoir of his marriage and personal life. When discussing the New Critical Reading of the novel, this must be taken into account. If the text must focus on one single meaning and one single interpretation, the question I would ask my students in their search for this identification would be something like: “Is the universal theme of Gatsby unfulfilled longing? If so, who is the main character in the novel who defines longing for the course of the story? Or, is longing ever marginalized by any other force in this novel, such as compulsion? What do you think?” I really don’t feel that unfulfilled longing as the one theme of the novel can be talked about without questioning Fitzgerald as the main character in the novel. Also, I feel a little disappointed that Tyson did not take that into account in his discussion. Finally, I do not think that the answer of “longing” can be arrived at without looking at and questioning the weight of other forces in the novel.
I hear Tyson’s appreciation of New Criticism as a replacement for biographical-historical criticism, which looks at the author’s life, but I disagree with it. If we are to teach students that writing is intimate and highly depended upon an individual’s view of the world, how can we tell them that there is only one best accurate interpretation of the text, which does not take into account the experiences of the author himself? I think text should be open to multiple interpretation that goes outside of the text, as well, because we can never truly know what our authors were thinking at the time they wrote their novels. In order to journey into their heads, we should journey outside of just one question or one meaning, like universal longing. There is more. What about compulsion? What about resentment? What about fear? -Sofia