Dust and Dreams and the Great Gatsby Author(s): John Fraser Source: ELH, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Dec.

, 1965), pp. 554-564 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2872258 . Accessed: 26/04/2013 07:40
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2. 26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .28 on Fri. The than an importantreason for this is that all three. One hears even today of men of affairswho refresh themselves in their off-duty hours with Dickens or Jane Austen.) I further suggest that the three distinguishedAmerican novels that have been the most unfeignedly enjoyed by intelligent readers in our time are almost certainly Huckleberry Finn. and I question whether many academics in fact do so.139. The Great Gatsby (New York: Charles Scribner's. each shows us insufficiencies in conventionallyschematized and unreflectiveethical judgment-making. it is hard to imagine their doing so with Melville or Hawthorne or James. (To say which is to be reminded anew of the irrelevance of the notion of pleasure to most kinds of critical discussion.what fouldust floatedin the wake of his dreams that temporarilyclosed out my interest in the abortive elationsof men. and we are not implyingthat it is necessarily either better or worse than other kinds. each im'F.78.1925). GreatGatsby.intend pretty much the same thing when we call a novel enjoyable. for instance.in a peculiarly seductive way. at least when compared with British ones.DUST AND DREAMS AND THE GREAT GATSBY BY JOHN FRASER No-Gatsby turnedout all rightin the end. it is what preyed on Gatsby.and The Catcherin theRye. And I suggest finally 554 Dust and Dreams and " The Great Gatsby" This content downloaded from 129.' sorrowsand short-winded The concept of enjoyment is a notoriously slippery one and of virtually no use as an aesthetic term. when speaking withoutphilosophical pretensions. Scott Fitzgerald. p. We mean that it is the kind of book one can welcome when tired or convalescent or on vacation. Each of them subverts the claims of the ordinary social world on one's allegiance. but I take it that most of us. each points to a seeminglyrespectable correlation between freerand non-systematized moral perceptiveness and social powerlessness. invite and encourage a relaxation of the will. I suggest that in this sense the number of distinguishedAmerican novels that are really enjoyable is curiously small.

Stallman I will add that I arrived at my conclusions about the indebtedness independently. 2 John Fraser 555 This content downloaded from 129. and its thesis on this subject appears to be as follows: To have large romantic ideals is almost certainly to be mistaken. however mistaken. as Arthur Mizener observes. In a period of such corrosive scepticism and relativism as ours it seems desirable to look particularly closely at works in which such suggestionsare advanced." Twentieth Century Literature. It is especially concerned with the relationship between ideals and conduct. hence almost any large romanticideals. 'F. grotesque. 177.78. but there is an important aspect of Nick's consciousness that so far seems to have been For substantiation of this point see Robert Wooster Stallman. but to attempt to do without them is to live emptily and to thwart a permanent human craving. Scott Fitzgerald (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode. In The Great Gatsby this kind of balance is missing. 5-12. because of the nature of ideals. and even in his own terms a failure. 1958). p. the limitation of the novel "is the limitation of Fitzgerald's own nearly complete commitmentto Gatsby's romantic attitude. " Conrad and The Great Gatsby. 1957).139. on the basis of the amount of human conduct displayed in the novel. since if Kurtz is manifestlysuperiorto the " pilgrims" he is just as manifestlyinferior to Marlow.plies that a really firm personal commitmentto a long-termcourse of purposeful action is possible only if one is more or less deluded or trapped in one way or another by an inadequate conception of the nature of things. 69-73. and Jerome Thrale. III (July. can yet live admirably and up to a point satisfyinglyin terms of a very different set of values. and to point out certain artistic defects entailed in the attempt to substantiate it. an untenable thesis. 1955). Of the three works that I have mentioned. to which the novel is obviously indebted. while aware of a good many of the things that Kurtz is aware of. The Great Gatsby. He is evil. and in Marlow we are shown convincinglythe consciousness of someone who. but it is confinedto the status of a possibility only." Twentieth Century Literature. the one that I am concerned with here. has the largest philosophical pretensions and is the most seductive.2 this notion is raised as a possibility. Like Mr. I (April. In Heart of Darkness.deserve to be viewed respectfully.28 on Fri." 3 In the followingpages I shall try both to account forthe air of solidity given to what is. " The Narrator as Hero. 26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . That the novel is at least as much about Nick Carraway as about Gatsby is rightlya commonplace.

which is no doubt one Hemingway's rural-oriented reason why Hemingway's novels are coming to seem more and more ' period' while The Great Gatsby remains. I take it. Accordingly.the more normal that Gatsby's consciousness and conduct appear in relation to Nick. And it is fromNick himself that we get these perceptions. Nick's consciousness in these respects is one that most of us. by implication. so glowinglymodern. We are in a world-very much a twentieth-century. namely those promulgated through the entertainment media. of the galaxy of other heroes who are entering their consciousnesses by way of the kinds of movies in which those stars are acting and to whose splendid remembered images they will presumably be trying later to approximate the males with whom they have sentimentaldealings." (p. I think.139. When one tries to account for the extraordinaryperiod weightinessof so slim a book one is driven. and ifwhen Klipspringerplays the popular songs forGatsby and Daisy one recognizes both their appropriateness to the evening mood and the roles that others like them have played in the evolving consciousnesses of the two lovers. 79) and. the more 556 Dust and Dream~s and " The Great Gatsby" This content downloaded from 129.media-permeated urban world-where the boundaries between ' life' and 'art.28 on Fri. in the same sentence. have lost their definitenessand in which the question of when some of the characters are being truly 'themselves' becomes almost impossible to answer. the fact of " the clear voices of little girls" out in the park singing of the Sheik of Araby (p. If Gatsby is tryingto adjust himselfto a stereotype. it is Nick himselfwho has felt their appropriateness and mentally provided the lyrics.slighted. than are those of Midwesterners. or like going to two dozen popular movies or listening to two score popular songs. " It was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines. 67) Nick comments justly on the Rich-Young-Sufferfor his inspection during ing-Hero persona that Gatsby proffers their ride into Manhattan.Nick is as familiar with that stereotype as he.paradoxically. 26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . to consider the functioningin it of a particular set of ideals as apprehended by Nick. and he could have said with equal truth that the whole Gatsby-Daisy relationship was like that.' stereotypesand private individualities.78. certainly. The novel is one in which Fitzgerald can quite casually trap not only the fact that in 199?2movie stars are living in the West Fifties overlookingCentral Park but also. it is far closer to most of ours. have duplicated to varying degrees in our own growingsup.

1954). And there is a further and more importantway in which such a softeningis invited. a work with which The Great Gatsby has marked affinities. at least.and presumably most of the guests at Gatsby's parties. and of their future." Accent. Nick himself. XIV (Autumn. the whole crew at the brilliantlyrenderedaffairat Myrtle Wilson's apartment. 26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .even while notingthe tawdriness of an actuality. I am unfortunately unable to recall where I heard this. to understand the glamour that it could still legitimately possess for an outsider-these. to conform to "platonic conceptions " of themselves for which they are obviously unfitted.normal they are likely to appear to us. the haughty negro trio in their chauffeur-driven limousine.is presented throughoutas being fullyalive only to the extent that his own way of looking at things resembles Gatsby's. Nick's constant romantic self-projection. examples of a single pattern of conduct proliferate: the pretensions of Gatsby are in varying degrees echoed throughout it by virtually all the characters.his ability.with an unsuccess apparent to Nick's ironic gaze.since they suggest that it arises out of proclivities deeply rooted in human nature. are so obvious and so spelled out as to need no commenting on here. the formerowner of Gatsby's house. of course. and the tendency of the whole novel is in fact to normalize them. and the incongruitieshere are plainly intended to be underlined by those observable in the other characters.78. including the Buchanans. I suggest.his own large sense of glamorouspossibilities. just as the pretensionsof Pip are underlined by the pretensions of most of the other characters in Great Expectations. All are endeavoring. 5A JohnFraser 557 This content downloaded from 129.5But in Fitzgerald's novel. with an air of dismayed discovery. we are leftin no doubt about the discrepancies between Gatsby's conceptions of himself. number of the affinitiesare pointed out from a neo-Aristotelianviewpoint in Norman Friedman's " Versions of Form in Fiction-' Great Expectations' and 'The Great Gatsby '. 246-264.139. "But they're all like that! "4 In The Great Gatsby. such underliningsserve in a deeper way to excuse or at least to invite a softeningof judgment on the conduct of the protagonist. There is an anecdote. of Proust's having been discovered one day sitting on the floor with the MSS of his masterpiecespread around him and exclaimingabout his characters. of Daisy.28 on Fri. True. similarly. possibly apocryphal. And the effectof this is paradoxically the reverseof what it is apparently intended to be. and the actualities.

indeed. 26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . it is a single consciousness in which Manhattan reiterates its " firstwild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world. limited " boylike figure (p.78. Nick becomes increasinglyconscious of time not as the bringerof fruitionsbut only as the destroyerof beauties and securities. 47).28 on Fri. " foul dust " follows in Gatsby's wake. having no special dream that he is tryingto realize himself. especially in the crucial matter of sex.What I wish to emphasize instead is the way in which when Nick strikes out for himself in an opposite direction from Gatsby's. one ranging fromenergies and 'dialogue' to an imagistic and non-metamorphosingrelationship with discrete objects. in part." (p. of course. 69) and the Buchanans' lawn runs and jumps fora quarter of a mile fromthe beach up to their house (pp. " our eyes lifted over the rose-beds and the hot lawn and the weedy refuse of the dog-days alongshore" to the clean simplicity of a boat's sails against " the blue cool limit of the sky. that shows itself in his grateful view of the ocean's cleanness and in the general gratefulnesswith which he responds to phenomena having those qualities. it is plain that in the deliberately simple. he seems positively to be leaving the 'natural' behind. Moreover. 6-7). it is demonstrated. It is hardly too much to say. sweat breaks out repulsively on the upper lip of the girl back home. 81) of Jordan Baker can be placed toward the latter end of the spectrum while that between Gatsby and Daisy belongs near the former. the limitations of Nick's consciousness are rather more serious than even Fitzgerald himself appears to have been 558 Dust and Dreams and " The Great Gatsby" This content downloaded from 129. and. and Nick's relationshipwith the " clean." (p.to expose oneself to disappointment when dealing with most things and with all people. at the Buchanans' again. 118) But in those responses as I have arranged them a spectrumis discerniblenevertheless.139. largely unillusioned and passion-free relationship that Nick has chosen one can see. But to seek for changelessness of this sort is of course.Putting it another way. Nick responds to things in general in a varietyof ways. a nonhuman aesthetic purity. and moonlightsolidifiesand floats on the Sound while the notes of a banjo liquify and drip nearby in Gatsby's garden (p. that in this one novel Fitzgerald's vision has encompassed Hemingway's and 'placed' it more firmlythan Hemingway himselfwas ever able to do. Jordan Baker turns away disgruntled in the end. hard. another manifestation of that yearning for a clean and changeless simplicity. and.

28 on Fri." 6 But the basic question. "In contrast to the corruption which underlies Daisy's world. For all his agreeableness. to be everyone's friendand confidante. " Gatsby's essential incorruptibility is heroic. Arthur Mizener's reaction is representative enough for my purposes." he claims.that " has to do less with morals than with manners. and the neo-Conradian coolness of his opening referenceto " the abortive sorrows and short-windedelations of men " (p. just as it is easy to see how Fitzgerald himself has vulgarized certain of the consciousnesses in James and Conrad: it is always very flattering. and to be conscious always that at least one is being alert-alert photographically or poetically or morally. The distinctive poise revealed in his narration of the events is one.to make amidst the multiplyingerrorsof others virtually no false step oneself that exposes one to irony. and it seems to me that that point is very decidedly passed in The Great Gatsby. to borrow a phrase from W. Nick is someone in whom the moralizing process has become largely a matter of observation unrelated to intervention. Frohock's admirable discussion of Fitzgerald himself. there is certainly something to be said for maintaining an unillusioned detachment in a period in which to go around acting with moralistic vigor may very well be to act wrongly. 227. and if thereis indeed indebtednesstherehas clearly also been a vulgarization.139. How far the Herr Issyvoo of ChristopherIsherwood's Berlin fictionsis indebted as a conception to Nick Carraway can presumably only be a matter of speculation.78. afterall. For that matter. But it is easy to see how vulgarization is invited. a highly important component of the pervasive relaxing charm of the novel. and this brings me at last to Gatsby himself. But obviously detachment is only meritorious up to a point. Manners. 26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .aware of. JohnFraser 559 This content downloaded from 129. is the general pleasantness of engaging oneself with most of the presented experiences in Nick's fashion. In spite of what I have just been saying. of course. 2) appears to have been arrived at far too lightly. after all. is not how Gatsby's consciousness and conduct are helped to appear normative through their relationship to Nick Carraway's."SouthwestReview. " Morals. Because of the skilful construction of The Great Gatsby the 6 1955). and Scott Fitzgerald. XL (Summer. but how far they ought in fact to seem so to us. M. and frequentlyall three at once.both as they occur and in the act of recollecting them.

on the contrary. the natural and man-made.") (p. of course. who is the prime representative " denizen " of the underworldin a novel that relies so heavily on representative scenes and figures. To pick up a term that I used above. again. " is not and this because Gatsby's " essential incorruptibility heroic but unbelievable. and from one point of view. to be naive or coarse. sentimental.the rhetoricof the book may be nearly perfect but the art most certainly isn't.and the boundaries between the human and non-human. 177. Scott Fitzgerald. It is a world of surprises. The art of the book is nearly perfect. p. a good deal of metamorphosing goes on in the novel.becoming strangelyindeterminatein Nick's heightened apprehension of things. The superb telephone conversationbetween Gatsby and one of his lieutenants is an obvious example of this. he's no use to us if Detroit is his idea of a small town. after all. 95) But it is Wolfsheim. and gasoline pumps glowing in the summer darkness like exotic flora. a professional criminal on a large scale is not." It seems to me that. the discrepancy between Wolfsheim's comic.78. So too is Wolfsheim'sanecdote of the shootingof Rosy Rosenthal.139.so that at the start even " that slender and riotous island which extends itself due east of New York" (p. and fromone point of view there is perfect consistency in the extension of this kind of metamorphosingso that Gatsby's professional milieu becomes converted into an oddly harmless-almost an innocent-kind of fantasyworld. little-Jewish-businessman appearance and the abstract idea of The Man Who Fixed The World's Series is masterly. I think. with lawns leaping.28 on Fri. 560 Dust and Dreams and " The Great Gatsby" This content downloaded from 129. in which the murdered man's almost dream-like dissociation from his body's vulnerability-his transportingof himselfto the door as a 7 F. 26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .eloquence and invention with which Fitzgerald gradually reveals this heroism are given a concentration and thereforea power he was never able to achieve again. and one of the more interestingaspects of the book is the extraordinarily skillfulsleight-of-hand with which Fitzgerald has avoided coming to terms with the fact of this criminalityin the interest of sustaining his opening disjunction between the 'pure' figureof the dreaming Gatsby and the " foul dust " that stirred in his wake. (" Well. of things escaping frompigeonholes. 4) eludes momentarilyits customarylabel. To point out that Gatsby is.

Brown. ed. on the other hand. indeed. N. lives for us in the novel almost wholly as simply one of Fitzgerald's yearninglyaspiring and self-improving Minnesota boys grown up into financial success. 1960).1914). thereis no necessityfor Gatsby's being a criminal at all." Given a marked emptiness. 46. qua Good-Bad-Guy. Kurtz's power to make not only the young Russian but Marlow " see things-things As 8is not allowed to be dissociated from the severed heads on the posts and the general horrors of King Leopold's domaine prive. In termsof plotting.of course.78. Fitzgerald has also dodged a crucial fact about Gatsby's fantasyingsabout money and the charms of Daisy. Gatsby. the claims to respect of the single-mindedand extravagant risk-takerdominated by ideals increases considerably in force for the judicious onlooker. but it is obvious enough why Fitzgerald made him one.139.9 And by dodging or metamorphosing the muck and violence of large-scale criminalityin the interest of preserving Gatsby's 'image' from contamination. J.kind of object. 26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .: Prentice-Hall. Leonard F. The crucial difference between the two works. Dean (Englewood Cliffs. The Lone Wolf (Boston: Little. as it were. he is almost as stock and sentimentalized a creation as the Lone Wolf. The transmogrification of the underworld by such means is a significantelement in that slightly nightmarishdissolution of certainties and values that is so important a part of Nick's experience of the East. Yet sleight-of-hand still seems the appropriate term where its functionin the larger argument of the novel is concerned. with Gatsby standing in relation to Nick and the 'society' characters as Kurtz stands to Marlow and the " pilgrims. p. Hovering behind the novel.unawareness. As a criminal he is as little present and convincingas Dick Diver in Tender is the Night is present and convincing on the Riviera as a psychiatrist. ' See especially Louis JosephVance. namely their fairlydirect causal relationshipto the obscured unpleasantnesses in his get-rich-quick 8 Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. whereas Fitzgerald has not. as I said above. JohnFraser 561 This content downloaded from 129.is that Conrad has permitted all the elements in the problem to emerge fully. that can subsequently be transported back to resume contact with the waiting coffee-cup-is another example of the dissociating and the conversion of bodies into things (by heat or fatigue or alcohol) that goes on throughout the novel. is Heart of Darkness. or positive corruptnessin the soi-disant respectable.however.28 on Fri.

393. 287. But one can see all the same a sense in which Gatsby-or more preciselyFitzgerald's creation of him-is very American in the reconciliationsthat are attempted by means of him. 1959).78. his compelling desire to realize all the possibilities of existence. p."-' " Mr. '1 WutheringHeights. The wholehearted sympathy extended by some critics to Gatsby and his ambitions seems to me possible only if one is. but the question of any literal credibilityhe may or may not have becomes trivial before the large significancehe implies. A capital fellow!" "-the initial enthusings of Lockwood in Wuthering Heights come irresistiblyto mind when one is informed. 26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Pritchett. Bentham and Coleridge.1956). p. it is Nick Carraway's consciousday. divided between power and dream. " the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled.: 1953). Richards. Y.whatever Moby Dick. of F. In his essay on Fitzgerald Lionel Trilling remarkswith his customary suavity that " Gatsby is said by some to be not quite credible. Scott Fitzgerald. "2Marius Bewley. indeed. epitomizes for his pursuers and for us. p. The Eccentric Design (London: Chatto and Windus.III (March. 243. 1954). he couldn't do it if he were not in the firstplace a very convincingly formidableold albino sperm whale. however. Doubleday AnchorBooks (GardenCity. '0A Collection of Essays. for instance. 1935). Leavis's characterizationof another distinguishedlittrateur's manoeuvringsas " slipping into the empyreanby something very like the Indian rope-trick. I am reminded. N. this seems surprisinglybad. of course. Y." The Liberal Imagination." since it is hard to see how any" of this order thingcan have a verymeaningful"large significance unless it has a firmlycredible smaller one first. comes inevitably to stand for America itself. his belief that we can have an Earthly Paradise populated by That Gatsby should have evoked the kind of sentimentality that he has is in part. V.: Double- 562 Dust and Dreamns and " The Great Gatsby" This content downloaded from 129.Buchanans. :L "c F. 1. Riverside Editions (Boston: Houghton Mifflin.28 on Fri.139.a tributeto a further aspect of the illusion of largeness that the novel so brilliantlyand charmingly generates.for instance. S. Paradoxically. of " Gatsby's goodness and faith in life." Scrutiny. p. R. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. ed. 14" Dr. 242."13 As a piece of arguing. Doubleday Anchor Books (Garden City."12 career.N. in George Orwell's words. For Gatsby.

78. however. and whose detachment." its " extraordinary gift for hope. "A new world. To animadvert on them is ratherlike animadverting on Dietrich or Garbo. and in Nick's sympathetic contemplation of those qualities the actual desolation of his own position and its implications can escape being brought into disconcertingfocus. material without being real "-the analysis of Gatsby's impoverished consciousness after the destruction of his illusions (p." and its " romanticreadiness" (p. it is not 'the ' American dream but a peculiarly twentiethcentury.139. and they are no doubt prominentitems in the mental scrapbooks of a lot of us. they are among the 'beauties' of American prose. But by dividing Gatsby's "power" from the evil concomitants of that power and thereby emphasizing the heroism of his "dreams. in the light of traditional American patterns and values. is markedly un-American. But surely they are largely incantation. and surely it is not obtuse to insist on that ultimate inseparability of Beauty from Truth that was affirmed by the poet to whom Fitzgerald himselfwas so indebted? Surely one is not waking froma dream in those paragraphs but going yet deeper into one. urban.reassuringly. 162) is disturbingly relevant to Nick's consciousness too. with its "heightened sensitivity to the promises of life. sentimentalizing one? Presumably none of us knows what Dutch sailors in the early seventeenth century were thinkingwhile they eyed the approaching shores of Long Island.28 on Fri. The fourlast paragraphs of the novel pluck at the heartstrings.I mean.ness that. and surely." Fitzgerald has been able to provide a figurecounterpoising Nick's in which a more traditional American pattern of consciousness can once again be affirmed. The reaffirmation is not quite as traditional as it looks. in view of the lurking implication in the novel that the latter is the psychological end to which all the idealistic energies of the American experimenthave been leading. 26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . invites a neo-Puritan uneasiness and condemnation. 2). for all the moralizing notes that are sounded in it. it is the consciousness of someone who has been defeated and has withdrawn. that the discrepancies between it and the revealed present are not in fact as accusingly great as they might seem. but it seems highlyimprobable that they lapsed into a picturesque John Fraser 563 This content downloaded from 129. too. disturbingly. and I will conclude by suggestingthat in fact the novel culminates in a misreading of the American past in the interestof showing.

26 Apr 2013 07:40:47 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . So too. unknown world" in terms of siren-likewhisperings and a soothing femininebreast suggests. 564 Dust and Dreams and " The Great Gatsby" This content downloaded from 129. far from exalting the quality of all the ambitions and virtues that have manifested themselves in the making of America.to William Bradford or Thomas Jefferson. Fitzgerald has diminished them to something almost Hollywood in the attempt to raise Gatsby to heroic stature and imply that the errorsin his idealizings are historicallyinevitable. " So we beat on. one is tempted to retort.139.78.trance of " aesthetic contemplation". in ignoringthe role of clearly articulated and admirFurthermore. 182).N. boats against the current. were those pioneers who were still heroically pursuing their " dreams " across the Great Plains more than two centuries after this " last time in history" when " man " was faced with " something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. and the gazelle-like leap by which Fitzgerald in the next sentence makes them the representatives of man in general reminds one of how much tougher the early American settlers as a whole were. Admittedly American fiction after Cooper's has been strikinglydestitute of figuresof this sort. S.borne back ceaselessly into the past." (p. with their gallimaufry of private and communal ambitions." (p. Tell it for that matter (to invoke a novel that demonstrates what the effectiveuse of the aspiring intelligence feels like) to Tolstoy's Levin. Dalhousie University Halifax. In other words. for that matter.28 on Fri. able ideals in the collective American experience he has further diminished their role in individual lives. 182) Tell that. but that would seem to point not to the nature of ' man ' but to an insufficiency in the way in which ideals have often operated in the American consciousness. than Fitzgerald's evocation of that " old.

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