Gatsby from Multiple Perspectives

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.

Light in February: Plantation Diary Find Sheds New Light on Faulkner Novels

For scholars, there is no bigger coup than finding new information that offers insight to a writer’s processes, character construction, or plot development.  Even if one is working with a lesser known writer, there is joy in discovery.  To find previously unknown information for an author as popular and extensively researched as William Faulkner is akin to finding a gem in a junkyard.

Sally Wolff-King is a professor and Southern literature scholar at Emory University. She appears to have found the ledger that Faulkner used as a model for the famous scene in Go Down, Moses in which the character Isaac McClassin opens his grandfather’s farm ledgers and discovers his family’s slave-owning past.  Many of the character names, used in this and other works, seem to have come from this ledger as well.

The diary/ledger belonged to Frances Terry Leak, a plantation owner. Leak’s great-grandson, Edgar Wiggin Francisco Jr. was a childhood friend of Faulkner’s, and the two men remained friendly throughout their lives.  Mr. Francisco’s son, now 79, recalls that Faulkner was a frequent guest in their home and had a keen interest in the ledgers.

Character names that appear in both the ledgers and Faulkner’s novels include Moses, Isaac, and Toney in Go Down, Moses, Caddy/Candace (Candis) and Ben in The Sound and the Fury and Old Rose, Henry,  Milly, and Ellen in Absalom, Absalom!.

Of particular interest to scholars is that Faulkner has given many of his white characters the names of slaves listed in the ledgers. Why did Faulkner do this?  Professor Wolff-King believes Faulkner is trying to “give the slaves a voice.”