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Gatsby and the Obscene American Dream

  • Date Submitted: 04/08/2013 12:15 AM
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Faizan Syed
Instructor: Christopher Simeone
English 251
26 October 2009

Gatsby and the Obscene American Dream

Jay Gatsby, from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, is a figure constantly enshrouded in obscurity yet often also marked with a sense of hope. These alluring qualities lead critics such as Barbara Will to characterize him as a self-contradictory embodiment of both obscenity and the glorious American Dream.   These characterizations are presented as a discrepancy, as opposites that have no meaningful relation to each other except for their incongruous presence in the text. Obscenity is seen as a device that Fitzgerald uses to conveniently erase all of Gatsby's troubling aspects in favor of a more uplifting final view of patriotic collective transcendentalism. This view has its merits but at the same time discounts and downplays the significance of the obscene and the connections it may have with the text's vision of the American Dream. Fitzgerald's juxtaposition of the obscene with the American Dream may instead suggest an intrinsic relation between them, allowing a veiled but powerful critique of the American Dream to take form. Gatsby's elusive qualities and his tendency to vanish on the brink of signification point to a similar elusiveness inherent in the act of dreaming and in the American Dream itself, giving it a quality of obscenity that subverts the transcendental and glorified vision that Nick seems to present in the novel's conclusion.
Gatsby's association with the obscene is a relationship well established in Barbara Will's essay The Great Gatsby and The Obscene Word. She argues convincingly about Gatsby's tendency in the text for “extending the promise of meaning or presence and 'vanishing' at the moment in which that promise leans toward fulfillment” (129) by connecting this curious elusiveness to the nature of obscenity itself, which is explained through its Latin etymological roots as meaning “that which is either unrepresentable or...


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