Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Dysfunctional Reading of "The Great Gatsby": Psychoanalysis

I think a psychoanalytical reading of “The Great Gatsby” can be useful. Revealing possible character motivations and finding connections between backstory and character is certainly worth doing. That said, I didn’t love Lois Tyson’s job of it. First, one thing that stood out to me that I did like: “Gatsby and Myrtle are psychological tokens in the Buchanans’ marriage, (so) it is symbolically significant that Tom and Daisy, in effect, kill each other’s lover” (46-47). The connection between Myrtle and Gatsby is one I’d noticed, but not one I’d thought too much about. Her pointing it out led me to considering it further, and I realized it was very strong and worth analysis. There were a few other points she made that I liked, and certainly most of the characters have plenty of unresolved issues, but many of the points Tyson made were stretched or misinterpreted.
On the whole, I disagree with her interpretation of Gatsby in terms of his relationship with Daisy and his overall significance as a character. She says that from a psychoanalytic perspective, Gatsby is no romantic hero; for evidence, she says, “Although Gatsby believes that his ultimate goal is the possession of Daisy... [she] is merely the key to his goal rather than the goal itself (47).” She sees Daisy as nothing but a human representation of Gatsby’s goals of self-improvement, a token of the wealth and lifestyle he desired growing up. She writes, “The financial achievements Gatsby planned for himself revealed their ultimate psychological payoff, however, only upon meeting Daisy... Daisy is, for him, not a flesh-and-blood woman but an emblem of the emotional insulation he unconsciously desires” (48). While certainly he does harbor much ambition growing up, Daisy becomes not just a goal but the goal of his rise through society. Most of what he did to gain wealth and class (bootlegging during prohibition, interacting with characters like Wolfsheim and his associates) was done only after and because of his meeting and love (or obsession) for Daisy. Moreover, I don’t think Gatsby really does desire the “emotional insulation” she mentions. While she supports her arguments for that with other characters more effectually, I don’t think she provides enough evidence for that being the case with Gatsby. Most readings of the book would indicate that Gatsby is truly devoted to Daisy; that he truly loves her, and that he truly desires emotional intimacy with her. Because of the bulk of evidence for that and lack of evidence for her viewpoint, that interpretation seems more correct to me. She mentions Fitzgerald having a hard time with writing their relationship in the Eggs and little else.
            Overall, I think she intentionally stretched various points of evidence, leaving out some events and characteristics that don’t support her thesis. While some of the points (especially of symbolism) are valid and certainly worth analysis, her desire to make the book conform to a set of psychological ideas and methods of interpretation leads to her missing the opportunity to further examine those areas in favor of analyzing a few things, especially a fear of commitment. In general, I don’t like psychoanalytic criticism--I see it as the psychobabble she insists it is not early in the chapter. Perhaps that made me hostile to the reading, but I really think she misused the evidence provided by the book for a set of points which she seems to have decided on beforehand.
            Finally, a question for my many loyal readers: What character or relationship do you think seems to have the most unresolved Freudian issues?

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