The Great Gatsby

November 10th, 2010

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is rife with the technological influence of identity. The character-driven novel is full of people and actions that are designed and effected by the constructed notion of identity: how they perceive themselves, how they are perceived, and how they wish to be perceived. Through analysis of the ways both individuals attempt to build up their identities and the ways in which society facilitates this self-invention we will see the effect that the technology of identity carries on throughout the text.

Firstly, the distinction made between “new” money and “old” money that outlines the whole West Egg/East Egg rivalry exemplifies a conflict created by the technology of identity. Nick describes West Egg as “the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them” (5).  He describes his nearness to Gatsby’s mansion and general living arrangement as “an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of  the water, a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires–all for eighty dollars a month” (5). His comfortable living arrangement signifies a comfortable, rather upper-class life. However, when compared to the living arrangement of Tom and Daisy in East Egg, it seems compartively diminutive:

“Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful-red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens–finally it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from momentum of its run” (6)

That Nick first had a grandiose notion of what an East Egg house would be and that an actual house superseded that tells of how the built-up reputation of East Egg as lavish, classy, and rich is well-known and creates an identity for the area. East Egg, defined by its residents’ wealth being grounded in generational wealth and a continuous culture of prosperity within families. Tom’s fear of the the rise of ethnic people in society and his related affinity for Godard’s “Rise of the Colored Empires” is all tied into his belief in a static, controlling force being derived from traditional notions of power sources.

“The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island sprang from his Platonic conception of himself” (98)

Jay Gatsby represents another example of the technology of identity being a prevailing factor in The Great Gatsby. Literally, Jay Gatsby is a created character; the man who went by Jay Gatsby was named James Gatz. His non-descript upbringing in North Dakota indicated a working-to-lower-class life (“His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people”) (98).  His dropping out of college after two weeks due to his dissatisfaction with the janitorial work he had to do facilitates his notion of aspiration being based off of identity and not work, and furthermore that identity can be built. While he was denied inheritance from Dan Cody, his understudy/the man whose yacht he worked on and with, it left him with the impression of power one man’s identity can have, being left with the “substantiality of a man” (101). It is with these combined factors of desire for social/economic mobility, disdain for the perceived drudgery/ugliness of labor to achieve change, and envy of ostentatiousness, that we can understand how Gatsby became overpowered with the notion of identity, and consequently allowed the guiding compass of his life to be constructing an identity of power. His dealings with bootlegging, the Black Sox scandal, general shady/ambiguous sources of income, and hosting of lavish blowout parties comprised of people he hardly knows all are not thought of ethically or morally, but rather as means to achieving his end of  identity construction, all so that from that identity he can gain the love of Daisy. This belief that identity, and in the particular case with Daisy, attempted reconstruction of the past expresses a superficial notion that identity supersedes anything sensory or contemporary to make decisions of emotional grounding in life.

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