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Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course Literature
and this is The Great Gatsby.
This novel barely makes it to 200 pages even with rather large print
and yet it’s so magnificently complex and rich
that we can’t possibly do it justice in two videos,
so today we’re gonna focus on a specific question: Is Gatsby great?
Mr. Green, Mr. Green. No.
Oh it’s so cute when you think you’re entitled to your opinions,
Me from the Past,
even when they’re entirely uninformed opinions.
As penance for being such a little Hemingway [language, Mr. Green!]
about this stuff,
you will one day have to host a show about the glorious ambiguity of literature.
[intro music]
[intro music]
[intro music]
[intro music]
[intro music]
So a while back we discussed the Aristotelian tragedy of Romeo and Juliet,
in which people of high-birth are brought low by weaknesses of character.
Shakespeare introduced some ambiguity into that story arc,
as you’ll remember: There was bad luck involved in their demise,
and their mistakes, such as they were,
weren’t so grievous as to render Romeo and Juliet unsympathetic.
Also, as in many tragedies, Shakespeare used heightened, poetic language
to help us care about Romeo and Juliet
and root for them instead of just holding them up as examples
of what terrible things befall you when you’re naughty.
Now, obviously, Gatsby isn’t a work of poetry,
but Fitzgerald found himself with similar problems.
As many a high schooler has pointed out,
the characters in The Great Gatsby aren’t terribly likable,
and the story just isn’t moving or compelling if you’re reading about
a bunch of people you hate,
some of whom get what’s coming to them and some of whom don’t.
Fitzgerald handles this problem by heightening the language
and giving it pace. [some handle it by imagining Robert Redford in his prime]
I mean, you can basically tap your foot to The Great Gatsby
from the very first sentence:
“In my younger and more vulnerable years,
my father gave me some advice I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”
It’s got a beat and I can dance to it. [current restraint is a great move]
And the descriptions are jarringly, magnificently beautiful, too:
Daisy voice sounds full of money;
the fading glow on Jordan Baker’s face is
“like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk;”
at the end of the novel,
Nick imagines the first European explorers of New York, writing,
“For a transitory, enchanted moment
man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent,
compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired,
face to face for the last time in history
with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”
Putting aside the fact that Fitzgerald failed to foresee that humans would
one day walk on the moon, not to mention create fake fake flowers, the
descriptions here are lush and beautiful.
So the language of the novel elevates
Gatsby’s triumphs and tragedies to the stuff of real epics, which
gives Gatsby a kind of unironic greatness.
Stan! Can we just decide if these are
physical digital flowers or digital digital flowers?
[instead only try to realize the truth- that there is no flower]
Remember, you do not have to be good to be Great.
[kinda like The Matrix trilogy on the whole]
And as the critic Matthew J. Bruccoli notes, Gatsby
“is truly great by virtue of his capacity to commit himself to his aspirations.”
[lovely, if a bit circumlocution-y]
I mean, we celebrate achievement born of hard work and clarity of purpose
because there’s a greatness in that success that you don’t get by,
like, lounging around and using your pool all the time.
Remember, there’s exactly one person at Gatsby’s parties who doesn’t get drunk:
[the teetotalling] Gatsby.
I mean,
he’s a bootlegger who doesn’t drink, a swimming pool owner who doesn’t swim,
a man of leisure who never engages in a single leisure activity.
But as Bruccoli further points out,
there’s plenty of irony in the titular description of Gatsby as Great.
“The adjective indicates the tawdry and exaggerated aspects of his life:
Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up and see the Great Gatsby!”
I mean, he’s part magician, and— in a world of wealth—
he’s part carnival curiosity.
Bruccoli notes that Tom Buchanan describes Gatsby’s famous yellow car
as a “circus wagon.”
[sure makes for a looker of a chalkboard]
Okay, let’s go to the Thought Bubble.
One thing Gatsby has in common with
Romeo and Juliet is that they’re all obsessed with controlling time,
which of course continues passing anyway.
Like, Juliet tries to force night to come quickly and dawn to stay away,
because only under cover of darkness can her marriage thrive.
Similarly, Gatsby doesn’t just want to marry Daisy:
He needs her to say that she never loved Tom Buchanan at all,
as if he can erase the past five years. [definitely a red flag]
What they’ll do about Daisy’s baby is a fascinating question
that Gatsby seems wholly uninterested in,
but anyway,
Gatsby’s dream is that he and Daisy will —to quote Nick—
“go back to Louisville and be married from her house—
just as if it were five years ago.”
Nick’s perfectly sensible response to this idea is,
“You can’t repeat the past.”
[also, Very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present]
And then Gatsby utters his most famous line:
“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can.”
And then he says,
“I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before.”
Romeo and Juliet want to extend the present into forever
because they know their future is bleak;
Gatsby believes the key to the beautiful future is
a perfect restoration of the beautiful past.”
Thanks, Thought Bubble.
Okay, a brief aside before we return to Gatsby’s questionable greatness:
The idea of restoring the past to create a beautiful future
is of course not unique to Gatsby,
which is why no candidate for President
can ever get through a speech without mentioning some previous President,
whose glorious leadership the current campaign intends to channel
so as to make it morning in America again.
It’s also why Americans fight so much
about what the Founding Fathers would think of us, when in fact,
what they would think is probably,
“You guys are dressed funny. Also, how come this room is so bright
without any windows? Furthermore, why is this screen talking to me?”
Now, of course, this nostalgia isn’t unique to the United States,
but you also have to remember that Gatsby is the ultimate self-made man,
having both literally and figuratively made a name for himself.
And this combination of aspirational impulses and the urge to
restore life to some immaculate past does strike me as very American.
That’s what makes the tragedy of Gatsby so much more interesting and complicated
than the Aristotelian model of tragedy.
Instead of being a person of high birth, Gatsby is a person of low birth,
albeit one born into a world that claims not to care about
or even believe in such things.
And instead of experiencing a reversal of fortune due to a weakness of character,
Jay Gatsby…
well, that’s where it gets complicated actually.
I mean,
Daisy Buchanan was driving the car, but Gatsby chose to take the fall for her.
But, he’s also doomed just because
he lives in a social order that’s happy to drink illegal alcohol,
but condemns a sober bootlegger.
Oh, it’s time for the Open Letter?
[slides over to jump into the glory that is that yellowy green mess of a chair]
An Open Letter to Prohibition.
But, first, let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today.
Be booze, be booze, be booze,
Touchdown. It’s mystery liquor.
[oh boy]
Alright, the game here is simple.
I drink the mystery liquor and try to guess what it is.
Southern Comfort?...No?
What is it?...Jack-
-that’s too easy, Meredith.
Jack Daniels. Anybody could get Jack Daniels.
Dear Prohibition, You were crazy.
I mean, for the rest of American history,
our Constitution is gonna be this weird document that is perfectly normal
until the 18th Amendment, which suddenly bans alcohol,
and then the 21st Amendment,
which is suddenly like, “No, no, no. Terrible idea!”
[not unlike the Hammer Pants phenomenon]
It’s almost like legislating morality doesn’t actually increase morality.
[see what he did there?]
But Prohibition, in you,
Fitzgerald found the perfect metaphor for American hypocrisy and debauchery.
We are not very good at tolerating naughtiness in America,
but we love being naughty. [for reals]
In short, Prohibition,
you were a terrible idea, but a fantastic metaphor,
so thanks for that.
Best Wishes, John Green
So, is Gatsby doomed by his romanticization of Daisy,
by his refusal to accept that
he just wasn’t born to be one of the gold-hatted men of leisure,
by his belief that any means justifies— if you’ll pardon the pun—
Daisy’s end?
Yes, yes, and yes. But more than that,
the great Gatsby lives in a cold world that cares nothing for justice,
a world that makes claims to fairness
but really only further rewards those who have already been rewarded.
I mean, who even survives this novel?
Only the idle rich: Jordan Baker, Daisy and Tom Buchanan, Nick Carraway.
They survive, and they are allowed to go on being careless.
As Nick writes,
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy— they smashed up things and creatures
and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.”
They aren’t cruel, or malicious, they’re just careless—
they don’t care too much about Myrtle or Gatsby or their daughter
or even each other.
To live without a care in the world is supposed to be the dream, right?
Everyone wants a care-free life.
But Fitzgerald shows us the horror of this care-free life,
how the Tom and Daisy’s inability to care
is in some ways more monstrous than outright cruelty would be.
It’s not like Romeo and Juliet,
where the lovers are sacrificed and then Verona is healed.
Nothing is made whole by the tragedy of The Great Gatsby.
I think that’s why some readers find the novel depressing and hopeless,
even amid all the lush language and witty turns of phrase.
But I don’t think it is hopeless. Remember that line from the first chapter:
“Gatsby turned out all right in the end, it was what preyed on Gatsby,
what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams…”
As individuals, and as a collective, the tragedy isn’t in dreaming;
it’s in chasing an unworthy dream.
So in the end, is Gatsby great?
I’m interested to read your comments, but here’s my takeaway:
Jay Gatsby was a great man.
But great people especially must be careful about what they worship.
Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week.
Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller.
Too far!
Our script supervisor is Meredith Danko.
The associate producer is Danica Johnson.
The show is written by me.
And our [crazy great] graphics team is Thought Bubble.
Every week, instead of cursing, I say the name of a writer I like.
[or that the rest of us find particularly amusing]
If you’d like to suggest writers, you can do so in comments
where you can also ask questions about today’s video that will be answered by
our team of English Literature experts. [everyone say hello to Stan's mom!]
Thanks for watching Crash Course and as we say in my hometown,
don’t forget NASA uses the 1998 movie Armageddon as a training film.


Was Gatsby Great? The Great Gatsby Part 2: Crash Course English Literature #5

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VoiceTube 2012 年 12 月 21 日 に公開
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