It is in my nature to rush to the defense of a friend. Friendship has taken on so many definitions and boxed into certain categories and used too flippantly in most cases, maybe in this case. But friendship is simply a connection. Of course, friendships vary in degree, and what makes this even more strange is that I never even met this friend of mine. He died before I was born. It’s a connection in his writing. No, I don’t know him personally; but then again, we don’t really know most of the people we deem as friends. And most people have only just been acquainted with my friend, having watched Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby.
Not too long ago, I read Jean-Jacques Rousseau sum up his life in his autobiography Confessions: “The sword wears out its sheath, as it is sometimes said. That is my story. My passions have made me live, and my passions have killed me.” I don’t know if F.Scott Fitzgerald ever read that, but I must believe that he would have most definitely agreed. I have taught American literature for many years now, reading and teaching the letters, novels, and short stories of Scott Fitzgerald. He was different, no doubt. He was a drunk, for sure. He was terrible at finances and relationships, definitely. And he was never in consideration for Father of the Year, but he was a pioneer of American literature. He never knew the depth of his contribution, dying before his genius was evident to the masses; however, I do believe that he knew that he had a gift, and I often wonder what he would think of his fanfare at this point . . . (he would have relished in it). He and Zelda would have made a sad but comical reality television show, an alcoholic writer and a suicidal wife attempting to run over each other in restaurant parking lots and boiling the purses of dinner guests while attending a party.
Since the release of the latest interpretation of Gatsby (most never read the novel, only watch a movie and regurgitate information found on the Internet), there has been a storm of accusations aimed at the author for the belittlement of women. This could not be further from the truth. One could argue that Scott Fitzgerald championed the female in a time he called “The Jazz Age.” After all, while stationed in Montgomery, Alabama, the boldness of a young woman drew him in like a moth to a flame. She was not in line with the ladies of early 20th Century. She was loud, outspoken, and decisive . . . while, at the same time, impulsive. He became obsessed with this daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court justice. And Zelda Sayre would call the shots. Reflections of their life would be displayed over and over in Scott Fitgerald’s letters, novel,s and a few short stories. Since it is The Great Gatsby that has drawn the fire, the defense must be made there. Books, lectures, and papers have been written to the depth of this novel, so there’s not room to have a full critique. If Scott Fitzgerald is in the business of using his work to degrade women, let’s take a quick look at his female characters.
Daisy Buchanan: lounging among the musings of the ultra rich, this central character is waited on and has the world at her fingertips. She has a choice. She decides between money or love or both. She holds the power to reject or accept.
Jordan Baker: Nick states, “Oh, you’re that Jordan Baker.” She is a professional athlete. She is intelligent and a confidant of Gatsby’s.
Myrtle Wilson: She is a dominating wife. She orders her husband around. A promiscuous woman, Myrtle has vibrant audacity. Yes, she is physically abused by men, but that does not detract from her inner strength and wanting more out of life. whether is it morally correct or not.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Some of the finest closing lines ever penned, they reverberate the echoing theme that resounds in Scott Fitzgerald’s novels. He believed in the “green light.” WE all run faster and stretch out our arms . . . men and women alike. His female characters were well spoken, not confined to attending to children and cooking. The women of The Great Gatsby were definitely in the light and not confined to the shadows in support of their man. Scott Fitzgerald beat against the current, and it is with his representation of the past that we can see the ongoing progress of women today.