The Self-Made Chamele-man

A self-made man is someone whose circumstance and inherent qualities/abilites do not make him apt for success in his specific environment so he becomes successful by altering himself by assuming the qualities of those who are successful. We can compare this to the evolution of a chamillion. Why do chamilions possess the ability to camoflauge with their environment. They got this ability because they were always too easily spotted by predators. Overtime the environment favored those that were able to blend in with their environments, as the ones couldn’t were too easily spotted by their predators and thus killed. Natural selection favored the chamillions who could camoflauge. If for the camilion, to succeed is to survive, then their success as a species is due to the ability to adapt to their surroundings. The self-made man is like the camillion: he draws his success from adapting to his surroundings.
    Benjamin Franklin projects this idea of adapting to one’s surroundings in his works regarding how to be successful. We see this in the list of thirteen virtues in the excerpt from his autobiography we read in class. He preaches against any/all activity that will result in negative attention from others: “speak not but what may benefit others”, “Use no hurtful deceipt. Think innocently and justly; and if you speak, speak accordingly”, “wring none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty”, “Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve”. He is saying one should always focus on the task at hand and abstain from thoughts that will interfere with your ability to perform the task at hand or cause others to interfere with your ability to perform the task at hand. This advice is non-specific and will aid one’s ability to succeed in any environment because it ultimately helps one camoflauge with his her environment–or “work environment”, as the case may be.
    This directed piece of advice to abstain from saying or doing anything that will result in negative attention fits perfectly into the bigger picture of Franklin’s teachings: his advice is not particular to the success in any specific environment but, rather it teaches one how to obtain the abilities of adaptability that allow people to succeed in any environment. If it was a handbook for being a successful camillion, rather than being about “how to look like tree” or “how to look like a leaf” it’s simply “ how to look like_____” which is synonomous for “how to camoflauge”.
    The notion of camoflauging is only specific to self-made success. A tree doesn’t need to know how to blend in order to be successful in it’s environment. A tree defines success for its environment- it’s what defines success for the camillion when it’s in that environment. Because the tree sprouts from the ground with the predispotion for success in its environment that means its success is not self-made. It is a favorable aliging of innate traits and an environment that favors those traits. The characters, Romo and Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross are like the tree. They don’t possess the ability to adapt or camoflauge  but they don’t need it because they’re aggressive, confident personalities are favorable for success in their environment (as salesmen).
    The camillion, the other hand is comparable to Gatsby’s character, in The Great Gatsby. Although  his character does not have a successful or “happy” ending, he is considered successful with regards to wealth. If being successful means being wealthy then he achieved it. He achieved it by camoflauging with the trees–we can equate the trees with the Daisy and Tom and the other East-Eggers. Gatsby attempted to assume all of their qualities. While he did manage to obtain the money, he could not obtain the lineage. He did not successfully blend in with the trees. He was spotted as a reptile only pretending to be a tree. Had he managed to camoflauge and blend in perfectly with his environment, he wouls have been successful.
    Thus, still thinking of the self-made man as the camilion, he draws his success from camoflauging. This trait is true of all camilions, however, it is the “success” that is not true of all environments. This reveals the irony of the concept of  the individual who is a self-made success; thinking of it in terms of uniqueness and universalness, we would assume the individual to possess the unique qualites (escpecially considering that “unique” and “inidivdual are synonyms” and the success to possess the univerasal qualities; however, it is the individual who possesses the universal qualties (adaptability and camoflauging) and the success that possess the unique qualities (specific to environment).
    The reality TV show “Biggest Loser” illustrates this idea. The universal idea of success in television would seem to say one needs to be thin and beautiful to be on television, however to be successful chosen to be on televsion for this specific show, the opposite is the case. If the self-made man’s goal was to be on that show, rather than becoming “thin and beautiful” he would gain a lot of weight because that would render him successful in this specific instance. This shows us how the unique-universal  relationship between success and the self-made man always withstand.    

Will the Real Daisy Buchanan Please Stand Up?

My paper examines Daisy’s association with the color white in The Great Gatsby. Though we understand white to be a symbol of purity and virtue, it is associated with Daisy who utterly lacks these qualities. In my research, I came to the conclusion that this ironic yoking was done to highlight the distinction between the essential Daisy and the role she assumes for herself—similar to an actress playing a part. This is significant because we can link Daisy and the symbolism of the color white in three ways: conventionally, literally and thematically.

Conventionally, white symbolizes purity and virtue. Though this is not true of Daisy at heart, it is true of the role she plays. References to her “white dresses”, “white girlhood”, “white roadster”, etc. symbolize the white virtue of this role.

Literally, white symbolizes blankness or emptiness, which characterize the real Daisy. As an actress, it seems quite fitting that Daisy is an “empty” person; Like any good, actress she voids herself of personality in order to better project that of the one she’s playing. This characteristic manifests itself in her passivity—she’s described as “helpless”, “inconsequential”, “unobtrusive”.

Harking on the “illusion vs. reality” theme, thematically, white symbolizes illusion. Daisy relates to this symbolism because she herself is an illusion; she appears to be something she is not (yet another actor-ly trait). We see this deceptive quality In a conversation she has with Nick where remarks “…the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made [him] uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a contributary emotion from [him].” This sounds much like the experience of seeing a play.

These three symbols all directly relate to Daisy, thus enlightening our understanding of her association with the color white.

The Great Gatsby

Shevonne Richardson/Katie Harris

Sparking Overview – The Great Gatsby

Biographical Context

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896 to Edward Fitzgerald and Mary (Molly) McQuillan. The family moved from St. Paul to upstate New York when Edward had taken a sales job at Proctor & Gamble. They moved back to St. Paul when Fitzgerald was twelve and lived off of Mary’s inheritance. Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy and a Catholic prep school in New Jersey called the Newman School. As a member of the Princeton Class of 1917, Fitzgerald ignored his studies for his literary apprenticeship. Unlikely to graduate, Fitzgerald joined the army in 1917 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry. Fitzgerald fell in love with Zelda Sayre while assigned to Camp Sheridan, near Montgomery, Alabama in 1918. The relationship reinforced Fitzgerald’s hopes for the success of his first novel, “The Romantic Egotist.” However, it was rejected by Charles Scribner’s Sons twice. He was discharged from the army in 1919 and headed to New York City to seek his fortune in order to marry. Zelda was not willing to live on Fitzgerald’s small salary, to she broke their engagement (Elhardt).

The publication of This Side of Paradise on March 26, 1920, propelled the twenty-four-year-old Fitzgerald into overnight celebrity, and a week later he married Zelda Sayre in New York. They lived a very extravagant life. He wrote The Beautiful and the Damned in his New York apartment; however, his reputation as a playboy overshadowed his works. His drinking increased during his heavy partying in Great Neck and New York and he became as alcoholic. This prevented Fitzgerald from making progress on his third novel. Literary critics were reluctant to take Fitzgerald seriously as a craftsman and they viewed him as irresponsible. Fitzgerald wanted to be able to work on his novel in peace so he went to France in the spring of 1924. Here he wrote The Great Gatsby during the summer and fall. The book was published in April of 1926. Fitzgerald’s achievement received critical praise, but sales of Gatsby were disappointing, but he made additional income from selling the stage and movie rights (Elhardt).

Historical Context

The Great Gatsby was set in the “The Jazz Age” which started after World War I. The country experienced an economic boom and the advancement of women’s independence. Women took jobs outside of the home while their men fought overseas. So naturally after the war they were financially freer and enjoyed that lifestyle. In The Great Gatsby, Jordan Baker is an independent woman with an amoral view of life. Her character represents the new breed of woman in America with a sense of power during this time. The U.S. Government and conservative groups grew concerned about the liberal lifestyle that became popular in the big cities and blamed alcohol for the disruption. The groups imposed legislation restricting the manufacture and distribution of liquor. They felt it was the government’s duty to remove the temptation of alcohol by banning it altogether. In January, 1919, the U.S. Congress ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that outlawed the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” on a national level. However, Prohibition did little to reduce the hedonism of the liquor-loving public, and speakeasies cropped up everywhere (Cengage).

Prohibition encouraged a large underworld industry in many big cities. New York was under the control of Tammany Hall, an Irish politician who assured that corruption persisted. Police accepted bribes from people engaged in bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling, so they overlooked the illegalities. Arnold Rothstein was a major player during this era. He contributed to the corrupted politicians, and was therefore entitled to a monopoly of prostitution and gambling in New York until he was murdered in 1928. Rothstein is portrayed as Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby. Rothstein’s close friend, Herman “Rosy” Rosenthal, is referenced in the novel when Gatsby and Nick meet for lunch. Wolfsheim says that “The old Metropole….I can’t forget so long as I live the night they shot Rosy Rosenthal there” (Fitzgerald 70). Rosenthal also paid off, his political boss, but when the head of police, Charles Becker, tried to receive some of Rosenthal’s payouts, Rosenthal complained to a reporter; thus exposing the entire corruption of Tammany Hall and the New York police force. Two days later, Becker’s men murdered Rosenthal on the steps of the Metropole and were later executed for the crime (Cengage).

Fitzgerald died believing he was a failure. His fourth novel, Tender Is the Night, was published in 1934 and considered a commercial failure. He went to Hollywood in 1937 and worked as a screenwriter under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He had written more than half of his fifth novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, when he died of a heart attack in December 21, 1940. Fitzgerald’s works was resurrected between 1945 and 1950 and by 1960 he had achieved a secure place among America’s most celebrated writers. The Great Gatsby, a work that seriously examines the theme of aspiration in an American setting, defines the classic American novel (Elhardt).

Modern Scholarly Reception

When The Great Gatsby was first published in 1925, it was not received with much enthusiasm—especially for a writer of Fitzgerald’s esteem. The reviews ranged from dismissive to pleasantly patronizing. Apart from the small, scholarly crowd of astute readers and professional writers (including Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein and T.S. Eliot), amongst whom The Great Gatsby was highly successful, the general attitude toward the book for roughly the next twenty-five years was one of contemptuous indifference; “it was considered a nostalgic period piece with ‘the sadness and the remote jauntiness of a Gershwin tune,’ as Peter Quennell said in 1941.”  According to a New York Times article from 1960, entitled “Gatsby, 35 Years Later,”  “In 1937, when Fitzgerald wanted to give Miss Sheilah Graham copies of his books, they went from bookstore to bookstore only to be told again and again that there were no copies of any of them in stock” (Mizener).

The book’s lack of success really took a toll on Fitzgerald, as it was right around this time (the mid-nineteen thirties) that he publically announced his failure—failure in the sense that he didn’t make it to Hollywood. Ironically enough, Fitzgerald was victim to all the vices of wealth, superficiality and alcohol that he so criticized in The Great Gatsby. According to a May 2013 article in the New Yorker entitled “All That Jazz,” “[Fitzgerald] was a writer who needed recognition and money as much as booze.” The same article goes on to postulate, “Jay Gatsby sprang from [Fitzgerald’s] platonic conception of himself” (Denby).

What’s even more tragically ironic, is that the book finally earned him the fame and recognition he so craved during his lifetime, only shortly after his death in 1940. The novel’s success continued to increase dramatically. Aside from holding a secure position among the classics of the 20th century, it sells at a rate of half a million copies annually and has been translated into two film adaptations, the more recent of which earned $51.1 million the opening weekend. When the book was first published, Fitzgerald complained that “of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, not one had the slightest idea what the book was about.” He would be pleased to find out that many people do indeed understand what he was trying to say.

There is a general consensus by the readers of The Great Gatsby that it is about more than the “Roaring Twenties.” The book is mainly a commentary of the American Dream and the fact that some people are willing to achieve it at all costs. Academic commentary focuses particularly on how well Fitzgerald handled the novel’s first-person point of view. Nick Carraway does more than recap the events; he is an observer and also an important part of the narrative. Through Nick, Fitzgerald is able to work from within and without the scenes just as the narrator was “enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life” (Fitzgerald 35). The New Critics struggle with the ambiguities of Nick as a reliable narrator and whether or not he is as moral as he claims to be. They also disagree on how to interpret Gatsby. Was he a Christ like martyr or an Antichrist figure? Or was he just unlucky?

Many critics found similarities between the valley of ashes in The Great Gatsby and T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem, The Waste Land. Both authors describe how disappointed they are in the changes in the postwar era. The rich, the middle class, and the lower class were equally portrayed as being culturally empty, entrapped in sterile, purposeless lives. Both Fitzgerald and Eliot see the world losing its morality and falling apart due to its lack of ethics. Later criticism views Fitzgerald as a social commentator and a prophet, warning future generations that there is a price to pay for chasing false dreams.

Many modern critics also see the novel as representing universal themes of human yearnings. Fitzgerald shows the upper class as having empty values, which is why they have no problem taking advantage of the lower classes. Nick Carraway learns that wealth and power do not necessarily bring happiness, which implies that the West (where Nick escapes to) is morally superior to the East Coast which is portrayed as corrupt and materialistic.

The Great Gatsby goes beyond capturing the frenzy of the “Roaring Twenties.” It is a novel for all ages. Gertrude Stein, writing, ironically, in the early 1930’s, when Fitzgerald’s reputation was fading, prophesied that “Fitzgerald will be read when many of his well-known contemporaries are forgotten.” She could not have been more accurate.

Relevant Media

Sound like a genius in….60 seconds with Jenny Sawyer. In these videos she briefly discusses

how symbolism plays a very important role in the novel.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DF7rykLUIU0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wa8BqsGswA0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg6pjy4tpqg

Works Cited

“F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Online Academic Edition.

Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. Web: 8 Jun 2013

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/208897/F-Scott-Fitzgerald

Cengage, Gale. “Historical Context.” Novels for Students. Vol. 2, eNotes.com. 10 Jun, 2013

http://www.enotes.com/great-gatsby/

F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Elhardt, Michael J. The F. Scott Fitzgerald Society.

http://www.fscottfitzgeraldsociety.org/biography/index.html. Web: 9 Jun 2013.

Bicknell, John. “The Waste Land of F. Scott Fitzgerald.” F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Collection of

            Criticism.Ed. Kenneth Eble. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973. 67-80.

Denby, David. “All That Jazz.” The New Yorker. 13 May 2013. Web. 10 Jun 2013.

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2013/05/13/130513crci_cinema_denby

Mizener, Arthur. “Gatsby, 35 Years Later.” The New York Times. 24 April, 1960. Web. 10 Jun 2013

http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/12/24/specials/fitzgerald-gatsby60.html

Mendelson, Scott. “Weekend Box Office.” Forbes. 12 May 2013. Web. 10 Jun 2013.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2013/05/12/weekend-box-office-the-great-gatsby-opens-to-51-million-star-trek-into-darkness-debuts-overseas-to-31-million/

“The Great Gatsby Captures the Essence of the Roaring Twenties.” Great Events from History II:

Arts and Culture Series. Ed. Frank Northen Magill. Salem Press, Inc., 1993. eNotes.com. 11 Jun, 2013

<http://www.enotes.com/great-gatsby-captures-essence-roaring-twenties-reference/&gt;

Sparking Questions

  1. In the first chapter of The Great Gatsby we are introduced to East Egg and West Egg. Each of these locales is home to the rich; however, they are defined by different values. East Egg is old money and good breeding, as represented by the Buchanans and their upper class legacy. West Egg represents the flashiness of the newly rich, as represented by Gatsby and his outrageous parties. How does the romance between Gatsby and Daisy reveal the unattainable junction of the two Eggs?
  2. Consider Nick Carraway’s role in the book: he is both the narrator and a character in the novel. What is the effect of this dual role? Do you think he is a reliable narrator? On page 59 he says “…I am one of the few honest people I have ever known.” Is this true—is he completely honest throughout the book?  Why or why not? How does his perspective change throughout the course of the book? Where else does the idea of honesty (vs. deceitfulness/façade) appear in the book?
  3. The American Dream is arguably the most significant theme in The Great Gatsby. In what ways is the novel a criticism of the American Dream? How does the character, Gatsby embody the failed pursuit of the American Dream? In what ways does this relate to other themes in the book? (wealth, hope, dreams, the past, the social stratum, isolation, greed, the corruption of materiality.)
  4. Several of the themes and ideas in The Great Gatsby are present in the other texts we’ve read in class. Consider “identity”, “the path to wealth/success”, “the role of women”, “the corruption of wealth/materiality” as they appear in Douglass, Franklin, Jacobs and Thoreau respectively. Compare and contrast these themes/ideas, as they appear in Gatsby vs. their respective texts. How are they similar? How are they different?
  5. As mentioned above, many of the modern critics struggle on how to interpret the character of Gatsby. In the beginning of the novel, he is portrayed as being confident and invincible. However, when he is around Daisy he is revealed to be his true self. How would you explain who Gatsby really is? Is he still the sweet man Daisy knew before he left for the war? Or is he so corrupt with attaining his dream of having her that he has lost a sense of what is right from wrong? Could this be why Daisy stayed with Tom? Did she see parts of Tom in Gatsby?
  1. The Valley of Ashes is the complete opposite of East Egg and West Egg in that it is the picture of poverty and desperation as represented by the only poor characters in the novel, Wilson and Myrtle. The valley is not bright and vivid, like the other locales, but gray with a perpetual cloud of darkness hanging over it. What does the valley symbolize, or, more importantly, what does it suggest about East Egg and West Egg? What does the faded paint of the eyes of God (Doctor T. J. Eckleburg) represent as they hover over the dump?
  2. By the end of the novel three people are dead: Gatsby, the self-made man, and Wilson and Myrtle, the only poor characters. Although Gatsby took the blame for Myrtle’s death because of his love for Daisy, she left town with Tom and never bothered to even attend Gatsby’s funeral. Only the wealthy characters are allowed to carry on with their lives as if nothing happened. Is this Fitzgerald’s way of approving of the upper class or is he in fact criticizing them?

Thoreau’s View on Happiness

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

This quotation appears in Thoreau’s Walden toward the beginning of the first section entitled “Economy.” It is significant because it raises most, if not all, of the major ideas discussed in this section, the first being Thoreau’s outlook American culture and lifestyle. In particular, the “wanting” aspect of this lifestyle, as a result of the necessity of the consumerism that drives a capitalist economy. This type of economy is indicative of a technologically advanced and, in Thoreau’s opinion, superfluous, society. Thoreau believed the economy’s reliance on consumerism, amongst the other qualities that go in hand with a technologically advanced society, was lethal to a person’s ability to be happy. The constant state of wanting that defines consumerism predisposes people to never feel contented—to live lives of “quiet desperation.” This quotation also illustrates Thoreau’s grounded belief in the essentiality of simplicity to obtain true contentment. Since the cause of the “[life] of desperation” comes from this permanent state of desire, or “want”, as a result of the superfluous nature of civilization, then happiness (the state of having all one’s desires satisfied—i.e. not “wanting”) must be a result of simplicity—the opposite of superfluity. Thus, we understand the why Thoreau retired to the woods to test this hypothesis by living a life of utter simplicity and why and how he arrived at his conclusion.