After teaching The Great Gatsby for many, many years, I couldn’t help but get bored with the same old interpretation of the geography: East Egg represents the old rich, West Egg represents the new rich, The Valley of the Ashes represents industrialization. Blah, blah, blah. That’s why I was excited to find a totally different (although controversial) interpretation right here on eNotes.
It all began with one of the answers in our Question and Answer section which, ironically, was on the synecdoche in The Great Gatsby. Suddenly, my teacher-mind (numbed by years of teaching the exact same thing) became reenergized again and I posted a query to the discussion board. What was most interesting was to hear the loud voices of dissenters! (Was it truly surprising to me that, as teachers, we would desire to cling to our time-tested ways of looking at literary pieces?) Desiring to research the new perspective myself, I came to a lesson on The Great Gatsby from Multiple Perspectives, began to peruse and be amazed.
Suddenly, I was being presented with The Great Gatsby from a feminist, Marxist, and archetypal point of view! Never before had I broached the subject of how Fitzgerald himself had “treated” women in his novel or whether the female characters were, in fact, “complete” or victims of “gender inequality.” It was totally new to me to discover a separation of the characters into the powerful and the powerless, as cars as the symbols of power, or of the impact of a specifically Midwestern, middle-class narrator. I had never thought before to divide characters into types such as the hero, the scapegoat, the loner, and the temptress.
Furthermore, as a teacher, it is just so exciting to inject novelty into a subject that becomes so very monotone year after year. Now the trysts of Daisy and Gatsby, the bloody blotch on the yellow car, Nick’s quaint cottage in West Egg, and those ominous eyes of Eckleburg will never quite look the same ever again.
For years I have used Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today in conjunction with teaching Gatsby. We read and discuss Gatsby in a conventional way, then students are assigned a particular critical theory to present to the class (12 in all). Tyson uses Gatsby as a model for introducing each theory, so the students teach that theory using Gatsby as example. Students demonstrate what they’ve learned by applying two theories to a text other than Gatsby–typically a Faulkner short story.
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