Thursday, November 29, 2012

You are what you own response

            Lois Tyson's Marxist reading of the The Great Gatsby is a strikingly accurate depiction of how the characters represent the Marxist theory. Tom Buchanan and Daisy are the most obvious examples of commodification within the novel.Both characters world is driven by money; all people and objects are given a sign-exchange.
           Tom Buchanan starts by displaying commodifiction within his relationships with woman. For example, his desire for Daisy who gives him a high social rank. Tyson says, "his marriage to Daisy Fay was certainly and exchange of Daisy's youth, beauty, and social standing for Tom's money and power and the image of strength and stability they imparted to him." (pg 70). This expert shows Tom's want for social dominance and he uses the image of Daisy on his arm to acheive it. Next he displays commodification by having an attraction to woman of the lower class.Tyson comments, "he 'markets' his socioeconomic status where it will put him at the greatest advantage- among woman who are most desperate for and most easily awed by what he has to sell." (pg 70). Tom surrounds himself with woman like Myrtle Wilson to reinforce his self-worth; not only to others, but also to himself. He proves his high social status to himself by getting reactions from lower class people. Daisy is not so innocent herslef, she too displays clear signs of commodification within her personality.
         Daisy's most clear act of commodification is her refusal to love Gatsby after she finds out he is not wealthy or from old money. Tyson comments, " based on a commodifed view of life. She would never have become interested in him had she known that Gatsby was not from 'much the same strata as herself...and fully able to take care of her' and when she learns the truth during the confrontation scene in the hotel suite, her interest in him quickly fades." (pg 72) This quotation proves that Daisy is more interested in her social status and self wealth than her true love.This is apparent again when Daisy accepts the earrings from Tom Buchanan. Tyson says, "Daisy's acceptance of the pearls- and of the marriage to Tom they represent- is, of course, and act of commodification; she wanted Tom's sign-exchange value as much as he wanted hers." (pg 71). This expert also proves that sign-exchange value is more important to Daisy than most other things in her life. She is willing to marry a man who, in reality, she does not love, but has convinced herself to love him based on his sign-exchange value and how it will impact hers.
            Tyson's Marxist reading of The Great Gatsby is precise in the way she depicts each character to be influenced by the Marxist theory. Daisy and Tom Buchanan seem to be the most obvious two, however, Nick, Myrtle and George have all been greatly influenced by the Marxist theory as well.

HOMEWORK 11/29/12

Ellis Govoni
Christie Beverdge
Critical Theory
November 29, 2012

In Louis Tyson’s feminist reading of the Great Gatsby, she explores the lives and actions of the main characters in the novel in a feminist perspective.  In Louis Tyson’s opinion, in the “Roaring 20’s” Women were supposed to fallow a patriarchal role and let the men take care of them and care to their needs, while they stay home and take care of the children and the home. Will it is obvious that Daisy follows this idea; she does not follow the traditional patriarchal role. In fact she only follows the role for whom ever has the most wealth and who can better provide for her, in this case it is Gatsby and Tom do a very bad job at keeping her a good respective women. However with the often sexist and condescending nature of men in this time period, perhaps the women of the novel (Daisy, Myrtle, Jordan) are just following their natural inclinations. This is shown clearly in Nicks quote the so-called “reliable narrator”,  “…Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply.” This implies a feminine weakness in the woman at the time, from a mans perspective.  The Great Gatsby is filled with quintessential feminist taboos, that furthermore support the theory of the reckless new woman.

1) Where does the sexism even come from.
2) Why would F. Scot Fitzgerald deiced for the main women to disobey the status quo

Even Feminism Can be Fallacious: Feminist Reading of The Great Gatsby

Lois Tyson's feminist reading of The Great Gatsby is largely dependent upon a logical fallacy. Because the patriarchy involves negative feelings towards women, especially 'New Women,' she equates negative descriptions or characteristics of women in literature with a reinforcement of the patriarchy.One's gender, race or religion cannot make them immune from criticism; in any group, there are people that are unlikeable, obnoxious, pretentious or have any of a myriad of other negative criticisms. If a book is dedicated to or largely focused on flaws it shows as only present in a specific group, it is clearly advancing a sexist, racist or similar agenda. But a novel having many unlikeable characters is not sexist just because some of those characters are female. Tyson writes that "[t]he novel abounds in minor female characters whose dress and activities identify them as incarnations of the New Woman, and they are portrayed as clones of a single, negative character type: shallow, exhibitionist, revolting and deceitful" (122). Few women are shown in a sympathetic light, but that is just because few people are. The book is a critique of the culture to which they belong. Fitzgerald hated the attitudes that prevailed in the over-privileged, and he was no kinder to men. Further, Fitzgerald almost certainly saw the movement of which they were ostensibly a part as not truly being a step forward. A society built on dulling the senses with alcohol in order to drown the overwhelming sense of meaningless that consumed their luxurious lives is not sound, and the actions it encourages, the behavior of those that take part, are valid to critique. Apparently liberated, these New Women were objectified in many of the same ways that they had been before. Social moors against such sexual and behavioral freedom condemned both men and women, but encouraged the view of the burgeoning Women's Lib movement as made up of degenerates who wanted the breakdown of society. Tyson simply never mentions his overall condemnation of the Jazz Age elite, instead focusing just on the negative light cast on the women. Their status as liberated females in an oppressive age does not protect them from all criticism, but condemning criticism on essentially those grounds is a censorious and absurd view of The Great Gatsby.

One other major fallacy permeates the reading. The idea that the assorted fates of the characters is dependent on their morality, as though Fitzgerald were God, intentionally punishing the wicked and helping the good is ridiculous. The assertion that, for example, Myrtle was killed because of her status as a sexually free New Woman completely ignores the actual significance of the events. Discussing the reasons for what she sees as Fitzgerald's targeting women, Tyson writes, "all three women violate patriarchal sexual taboos: Jordan engages in premarital sex, and Daisy and Myrtle are engaged in extramarital affairs. That the novel finds this freedom unacceptable in women [italics mine] is evident in its unsympathetic portrayals of those who exercise it" (124-125). Jordan is, to me, one of the less repellent characters. Her fate is not particularly unhappy; she and Nick even part relatively amiably. Myrtle, while worse than Jordan, is not entirely unsympathetic. Certainly, Tom's portrayal is infinitely more so. Before becoming indirectly responsible for Gatsby's death, Tom's sins amount mostly to infidelity, the same as Myrtle though for somewhat different reasons. To say that Myrtle is shown negatively because of her infidelity completely ignores the fact that male characters, Tom most notably, are treated the same way for the same reasons. Furthermore, the opinion that adultery is wrong is not patriarchal or sexist if it is applied equally to men and women, and Nick is, if anything, harsher in his view of Tom than Myrtle.

Both of these fallacies essentially rest on a double standard that Tyson holds. Based on her reading, she seems to think that criticizing a woman is inherently patriarchal and sexist. Tyson illustrated this belief in a personal anecdote, one of a series of much more serious and legitimate stories: "And when I noticed that one of my professors seemed extremely uncomfortable whenever I approached him and would quickly leave whatever group he was talking with when I came near, it didn't occur to me that it might have something to do with my being the only woman in the graduate program in philosophy ... or with my being a head taller than he was" (129). Yes, it might have. On the other hand, maybe it's because he didn't care for Tyson on a personal level; being found unsympathetic and unlikeable in real life is no more proof of discrimination than it is if the same occurs with a character in a novel. Of course, equality includes acknowledging the flaws in individuals rather than glossing over them because of race or sex. The Great Gatsby is not hesitant to point out the flaws in every character and, ultimately, the society that supports them.

There are plenty of other points I could write about, but these flaws are the ones which most caught my attention during my reading. But ultimately, while there are without doubt instances of sexism which you could even argue that Nick supports or accepts, Tyson seemed to find the novel patriarchal in large part because of a double standard which depends on glossing over flaws in women in the same way that society ignored the flaws of men. Finally, a question: Does a novel accurately reflecting contemporary opinions on race and gender mean that it supports those opinions if it does not then explicitly condemn them? That is, might the sexism present in the book serve as a critique of it in the same way that the book treats the excesses of the very rich?

Feminism- The Most Difficult Theory to use for Analysis

When first thinking about Lois Tyson’s Feminist reading of The Great Gatsby, none of the harsh, condescending, or confused thoughts which have previously surface, come into my mind.  While I may not fully agree with Tyson’s explanation of Feminism, I believe I have a good grasp on it, and believe that it is one of the harder theories to apply and glean information from a text.  Everything that Tyson said made sense, I just often found it had little meaning.
    For instance, Tyson talks about how Myrtle is seen as aggressive, sexually active, and loud.  While this is an indisputable fact, I have trouble figuring out what Tyson is trying to point out.  This is an issue I have with feminist theory in general, while I can identify “feminist traits,” terms and thoughts, I have trouble viewing the text from a different perspective.  Anyway, if we get back to the point of Myrtle, Tyson points out that, “It is important to note that, in addition to being negatively portrayed... these transgressive women are punished by the progression of narrative events.”  What Tyson is forgetting is so are the men!  Tom is stuck in a loveless marriage, (just as Daisy is) Gatsby is killed, and George kills himself.  I do not believe that these women were being portrayed because they were women, but because all the characters are aggressive, and end up having to “pay,” by the end of the story.
    What further upset me was that Tyson went off on a tangent about herself at the end.  As she begins to weave her own story into her analysis of Gatsby, it is as if she is trying to glorify her ignorance as a young woman.  I don’t mean to sound cold hearted, but if she wants to tell her story, she should have told it in her explanation of feminism, not in the analysis!  She says, “It should come as no surprise, therefore, that when I first read The Great Gatsby in my early twenties and found the characters- especially Myrtle- heartless, amoral and unsympathetic it didn’t occur to me that the novel had a patriarchal agenda.”  I just do not understand what Tyson is trying to get across, that she has come so far, that with hard work one can improve?  Do not fret Tyson, very few people would have noticed the patriarchal nature of the story, especially many years ago before works such as yours were published- it’s ok!  It just seems like Tyson is trying to a tell a story about herself, just for the heck of it, even though it does relate to feminist theory.  What I believe Tyson has encountered is that when the Gatsby was written, we were in an extremely patriarchal society.  It just seems like she is trying to bash Fitzgerald for writing about people who are women who are mean.  People are people, and sadly some are oppressed.
    Throughout Tyson’s reading, it seemed like Tyson was pointing out facts, but never really gets to a point.  It also seemed to be a distracting tangent when she began rambling about herself, which I found got the analysis nowhere.  So do you believe that Myrtle being overtly sexually active and loud was meant to demean her as a women?    Do you think that classical authors should be looked down upon for writing stories set in patriarchal society?  Do you think the men of Gatsby suffered just as severe punishments for the bad acts as the women of the story?

Tyson Feminist Gatsby

Seth Evans-Diffenderfer
Christie Beveridge
Language Arts 11
28 November, 2012

            While I believe that The Great Gatsby very easy lends itself to being analyzed through a feminist lense, I think Tyson went about her interpretation the exact wrong way. While the novel does support patriarchal gender roles to a certain extent, Tyson herself said that it’s practically impossible to think completely outside of the normal patriarchal way, so of course any writing produced in a patriarchal society will have slight patriarchal undertones. The important thing to note about the novel is Fitzgerald’s obvious attempts to create a novel that would support feminism.
            The character that most represents male oppression of women is Tom Buchanan, made evident in the lines, “Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand,” (Fitzgerald, 37). While is quite obviously describing a situation of male dominance, Fitzgerald in no way condones it. Tom is a despicable character that cheats on his wife and conspires in the murdering of Gatsby. Through his alienation of Tom, the symbol of patriarchal society, Fitzgerald shows his feminist views.
            The description of Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s lover, solidifies Fitzgerald’s feminist agenda, “there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smoldering. She smiled slowly and, walking through her husband as if he were a ghost, shook hands with Tom,” (25-26). Myrtle at this point is cheating on her husband, if this were a truly patriarchal book, her description would serve to demean her, but instead they portray her moving through her husband, demonstrating her independence from him.
            Honestly, I think there’s definitely a place for feminist criticism, it’s a lot more real world applicable than psychoanalysis for example, but Tyson did a sloppy job with her interpretation. Normally, when reading Tyson’s interpretations, I start out perhaps disagreeing to a certain extent, but end up completely convinced through her evidence, but this reading of Gatsby was simply not up to par.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Misleading and Easily Distracted: Lois Tyson’s Feminist Reading of The Great Gatsby

Aidan Villani-Holland
Christie Beveridge
Language Arts 5
Misleading and Easily Distracted: Lois Tyson’s Feminist Reading of The Great Gatsby
            Lois Tyson’s Feminist reading of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, much like her description of the lens itself, seems easily distracted. She spends most of the time talking about the current issues in our patriarchal society, and little time talking about the actual book. In the little time she does tough, she seems to be trying to fit aspects of the story into the box of feminism, but they can’t fit. First, Tyson writes on page 122 in reference to Daisy, Myrtle and Jordan, “They are portrayed as clones of a single, negative character type: shallow, exhibitionist, revolting, and deceitful.” She then claims that these characters women. However, this seems much more of a statement on economic status through a Marxist lens; they are rich, and therefore snobby and shallow. Tyson then writes on page 126, “surely, the most unsympathetic characterization of the three is that of Myrtle Wilson. She is loud, obnoxious, and phony.” She then says that this description is created because of Myrtle’s resistance to the social system. Again, this description seems more like a Marxist commentary, but about middle-class this time. Finally, Fitzgerald writes, “making a short, deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.” Again, Tyson this is about sexism. Though this point is less far-fetched than the others, it sill seems clearly about Tom’s character and not sexism.

Did Fitzgerald like the rich or not?
Does it matter what the author intends?
Do you think Fitzgerald was aware of the mild sexism in his book or not?

Feminist response

        Lois Tyson was extremely inaccurate with her Feminist reading of The Great Gatsby. She stretches far from the truth, and twists Fitzgerald's words to prove her point and personal opinion.
        Tyson starts out by comparing all three woman, Daisy, Myrtel, and Jordan to the New Woman stereotype. This comparison has the potential be accurate, until Tyson digs deeper into the characters' personalities. Tyson says, "Despite their striking differences in class, occupation, marital status, personal appearance, and personality traits..." There are no other traits left for Tyson to say are similar
between the three woman! She goes on to discuss how the woman are portrayed in a bad light
 because of how Fitzgerald describes the "New Woman" within the woman characters.
        Tyson is harsh while criticizing Daisy's character. She writes, "That the novel finds this freedom unacceptable in woman is evident in its unsympathetic portrayals of those who exercise it. Daisy
Buchanan is characterized as a spoiled brat and a remorseless killer." This quotation is over the top and inaccurate. Fitzgerald describes the woman in his novel to be like the woman in the 1920s. He based their characters off of society, and it is hard to believe he purposely made Daisy a "spoiled brat" and
 "remorseless killer". Tyson says Daisy is a spoiled brat because of her attraction to Tom Buchanan
and his money; although this is just evidence of the social class structure and expectations in the 1920s.
Tyson also comments on the neglect of Daisy's daughter, Pammy, throughout the novel.
She writes, "Daisy's life does not revolve exclusively around her maternal role." Pammy is mentioned
once at the beginning of the novel, and never brought up again. I believe this is because the child plays no important role in the story. Tyson is suggesting that the neglect of Pammy is more evidence of
Daisy's "New Woman" characterization portrayed in a bad light.
       Over all, I do not agree with Tyson's feminist reading of the Great Gatsby. She leads her
 readers to believe that Fitzgerald was being extremely sexist while writing his novel, and purposely
 made the "new woman" characters have terrible qualities. This accusation is absurd. Also, at the
beginning of Tyson's essay, she looks at Fitzgerald's personal life, which is not an accurate way to
apply the feminist theory to a text. Fitzgerald was married to a "new woman", so why would he purposely portray the "new woman" characters to be terrible people?

My Response to Tyson's Feminist Reading

Overall, I agree with Lois Tyson's close reading of The Great Gatsby. She begins by claiming what a feminist Tom Buchanan is. She supports her point especially well by when she cites, "Nowadays, people being by sneering at family life and family institutions." (Tyson 120) Tom's use of "family life" and "family institutions" here are hinting at the stereotypical way of American family life. In Tom's world, the woman cooks, cleans, and submits. She is not "naughty" like the women portrayed in The Great Gatsby. Lois Tyson indicates a change of women's behavior in The Great Gatsby, "Women could now be seen smoking and drinking (despite prohibition)." (121) This is all in accordance with what Tom was saying, women are going out of bounds in the book. Nowadays, we would say that women drinking and smoking should never be prohibited. Finally, Lois Tyson clearly indicates an reluctant acceptance on behalf of the men about the "new woman's" behavior. Nick says, "Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply." (123) They have now accepted the change in women, the gender role has shifted. The Great Gatsby gave a good representation of the transition to the new woman, from what it used to be, to the way it is now.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

11/14/12 HW LA Ellis

Ellis Govoni
Christie Bevredge
Critical Theory
November 13, 2012

            In Louis Tyson’s Marxist reading of the Great Gatsby, she argues many points that I agree with, however I still have problems with the argument of the label of commodification that is used on Gatsby. In this argument, Louis claims, “…he commodifies his world just as they do (The Buchanans’). In fact, one might argue that he commodifies it more”. Daisy is said to be a symbol or idea, of Gatsby’s commodification. In the reading, Tyson says, “Possession of daisy would give Gatsby what he really wants:  a permanent sign that he belongs to her socioeconomic class, to the same bright spotless airy carefree world of the very rich that daisy embodied for him when they first met.” This seems to be an over simplification of Gatsby’s feelings for Daisy because it seems not to take into account, that Gatsby loves Daisy and she is not just a “sign-exchange value”, as Tyson’s Marxist interpretation would imply. For example, we can see this through the many actions that Gatsby does through out the novel… “Gatsby occupies in his magnificently furnished mansion is his simple bedroom and during the only time we see him there his purpose is to show it to Daisy.” Undoubtedly Gatsby is caught up in the economic climb of his society, but if he were truly commodifying Daisy, he would not have taken the fall for Daisy when she hit Myrtle because there is no logical economic gain to be taken advantage of by going to prison. Regardless of the value of Marxist theory, it seems to be a cold and almost robotic way of looking at literature. 

Marks Off for Marxism

"You are what you own: a Marxist reading of the Great Gatsby" by Lois Tyson looks to put forward the idea that the entire book, instead of glorifying the capitalism it so glorifies, is actually an assault on that same capitalism. The idea that in the book " the American dream not only fails to fulfill its promisebut also contributes to the decay of personal values"(Tyson 69) can certainly be seen, as Gatsby and Tom Buchanan certainly lose their morality with the increase of their wealth. And the idea that Gatsby wants Daisy not for her use value, but for her sign-exchange value. And Tyson talks about how the only people not "well off" were George and Myrtle Wilson. Tyson calls it "The Great Gatsby's most obvious flaw"(Tyson 75). But overall, this theory fails to represent an idea that it IS actually a theory. The essay keeps mentioning parts of the novel that are what it calls "flaws", but it never explains how they are "flawed". Tyson also says that "Nick believes in Gatsby because he wants to believe that Gatsby's dream can come true for himself"(
Tyson 77), but Nick keeps talking about how he despises what Gatsby is in the novel. Tyson continues to talk, but most of it is just commenting on how much the novel actually puts down Capitalism. SO WHAT? All of the other theories actually tell you a so what, whereas Marxist doesn't.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Great Gatsby: Capitalist, or Marxist?

Aidan Villani-Holland
Christie Beveridge
Language Arts 5
The Great Gatsby: Capitalist, or Marxist?
            This section of Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today has confused me not because of the words and concepts, but because it’s so different from the previous couple lenses. I do not think that any critical lens, least of all so far Marxist theory is substantial enough to analyze an entire book without making things up, I actually agreed with the vast majority of what Tyson said. This is likely because The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald lends itself well to Marxist theory because of the importance of money to the story.
            First, Tyson says that the text portrays capitalism in a bad light because of Tom Buchanan. Tyson writes, “The wealthiest man in the novel, Tom relates to the world only through his money: for him, all things and all people are commodities,” (70). I completely agree with this statement, as it is fairly clear. Throughout the entire novel, Tom is loud, controlling, and is always physically moving people around. These behaviors clearly exist to show his dominance that comes from his money.
            Tyson then makes a similar claim about Daisy. She then writes, “And certainly, Daisy is capable, like Tom of espousing an idea for the status she thinks confers on her,” (71). Again, this though is fairly obviously true. At the beginning of the book, Daisy seems like a nice young woman who is just a little dumb, however, as the story continues, it’s clear she’s shallow, and only concerned about socio-economic status. Thus, she gives up on Gatsby the minute she finds out he’s not part of her class.
            Finally though, Tyson also says that the text has a flaw in that it also glorifies the wealthy and puts down the less wealthy, when she writes, “-Is a powerfully chilling image of the life led by those who do not have the socioeconomic resources of the Buchanans,” (72). This passage is referring to the dark, description of, “the valley of ashes,” which is where the Wilsons live.  The Wilsons, like the other people in the awful valley of ashes, are not as wealthy as people like Tom, daisy, and Gatsby. While this discrepancy in opinion seems not to make sense at first, I think that since Nick is the narrator, I think this could all be exaggerated in his perception as his opinions change.
            Though they didn’t fit together, Lois Tyson’s ideas in this section were sell supported and made sense. They were also surprisingly non-condescending. All together, I would say that I agree with her on this one.
            Do you think only one of these sides is true?
            Which one did Fitzgerald mean to imply (if only one)?
            Did Fitzgerald mean to imply anything about money?
            Does it matter if he did or not?

Lois Tyson- Champ at Complicating ideas behind Simple happenings

It is my believe that Lois Tyson’s writing style suffers from on major blemish- she convolutes simple ideas.  This shines particularly bright in her Marxist reading of The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It goes without saying that Marxism is a particularly difficult lens to master, and to teach it is even more difficult, but some of the concepts and examples which she presents are so simple, but presented in such difficult ways that the reading makes no sense.  It is my goal to critique her in a helpful manner, and hopefully decode the literary detritus which we sometimes read. 
    A prime example of her overcomplicated ideas is Tom’s interest in Myrtle- or lower class women.  While Tyson could have said something along the lines of, “Tom was interested in women of a lower class than himself because he was almost guaranteed to be fawned over,” she states that, “Tom’s consistent choice of lower-class women can also be understood in terms of his commodified view of human interaction: he “markets” his socioeconomic status where it will put him at the greatest advantage- among women who are most desperate for a most easily awed by what he has to sell.” (Pg. 70) While this interpretation or wording certainly sounds better, and reads better for those willing to digest the information, it seem to me that Tyson is working hard to apply Marxist vocabulary to everyday phenomena.  Maybe this is what Marxism is- the application of “deep” theories on occurrences we already have labeled in lay men's terms, but if this is the case, I would prefer Tyson to acknowledge this, instead of ignoring the simplicity and continuing on.  Granted- I agree with her point, just once I get past the construed and buried nature of it. 
    While still obscured by Critical Theory jargon, I believe Tyson has a much stronger point by drawing similarities between Nick, Gatsby and Communism.  It is illustrated throughout The Great Gatsby that Nick and Tom are different, and that somehow, Nick and Gatsby’s backgrounds are somewhat similar.  As talked about in the first section, Tom is basically the god of Capitalism- but later in the chapter, we begin to see how Nick and Gatsby are “the people” of communism.  For simplicity sake though, let us only look at early on Gatsby, because as he ages, and gains wealthy, it becomes incredibly difficult to draw similarities between his excessive wealth and communism.  Tyson notes that Nick, “At the age of thirty, and still being financed by his father...” (P. 77) What I extrapolated from this, was that Nick was a symbolization of those being supported by the government, who would later give back to the government, and his “community.”  This is the communist way!  I wish that Tyson had made a stronger link between these two parts, but I believe that this was an example of her finding a valuable nugget in the text that was actually, “legitimate,” and not a complete “pull.” 
    Finally, I should mention a point I thoroughly disagreed with.  The Great Gatsby’s  closing line, “ Beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (Pg. 78) is known for being deep, and seeming existential, so it would only make sense that Tyson would try and bring sense to the line with Marxism.  Unfortunately- it seemed fluffy.  Tyson claims that this symbolizes how capitalism is, “Bearing us ceaselessly back under capitalism’s spell.”  Say what?  Capitalism is the current, which we are beating on against?  Sure, I guess this does makes sense, but there is no way this is how Fitzgerald intended it.  I also have to wonder if I’m not misunderstanding what Tyson is trying to say, bringing me to my final point.  Write clearly and concisely.  If Tyson did this, her readings would be far more “accessible” and be easier to interpret, and then make it better to build off of.  Tyson, I beg of you, write sentences which do not require rereading over three times. 
    While I believe Tyson has some excellent points, I strongly believe she is often trying to contrive the text to fit the Marxist lens, as opposed to trying to view the text through a pre determined lens.  It does not always seem like she really believes what she is saying, making all points feel somewhat shaky.

Do you believe connections were created between Nick and communism on purpose in The Great Gatsby? How do you think Fitzgerald would respond to a Marxist reading of his book?  Would he agree?  Would this lens be the one he would appreciate most, or do you believe he would want to read the book through a different one?  If so, which?  Would he care? 

Lois Tyson: Enemy of Senator McCarthy

The Great Gatsby touches on many issues of economic inequality and socioeconomic status. The juxtaposition between the valley of ashes and the Eggs, as well as the differences between East and West Egg; the distinction between the characteristics of old money, new money and no money; and the depiction of Gatsby's rise to wealth from his humble origins. Lois Tyson's Marxist reading of the book examines these and other elements, both for how they support and contradict Marxist theory. While the substance her points are made of is valid, I think that the ways in which she says it runs counter to Marxism are inconsistent and overblown, as are some of the ways in which she thinks it is a pro-Marxist work. Rather than focus on my thoughts on Marxism itself, I'll try to keep to looking at her reading.

I think the point Tyson makes that I agree with the most is on Tom Buchanan's extensive commodification of everything around him. Tyson writes, "Tom relates to the world only through his money: for him, all things and all people are commodities... Tom uses his money and social rank to 'purchase' Myrtle Wilson and the numerous other working-class women with whom he has affairs" (70). That point could easily be expanded upon by examining the abusive and one-sided relationship that Marx says exists between the bourgeousie and proletariat. Further, it is a prime example of what Marx called the "community of women," wherein women--theirs, their peer's or their worker's--are passed around and treated as property among the bourgeousie. I also appreciated the look at the effects of capitalism beyond the obvious within the novel--how wealth hurts the rich similarly to how poverty hurts the poor. Finally, I appreciated her examination of the American Dream. Pointing to Fitzgerald's description of the almost apocalyptic valley of ashes, she writes that "the only way out of capitalism's 'dumping ground,' as George and Myrtle both finally learn, is in a coffin" (73). But Tyson says that, to a Marxist critic, the book is not communist enough.

As a Marxist critic, Tyson begins, well, criticizing the novel. While there are minor points she made earlier that I disagree with, the bulk of my problem with her reading comes from this section. "The Great Gatsby's most obvious flaw, from a Marxist perspective, is its unsympathetic rendering of George and Myrtle Wilson, the novel's representatives of the lower class" (75). Soon after, she writes that "the novel is also flawed, from a Marxist perspective, by Nick's romanticization of Gatsby" (76). While describing Marxist theory, she describes different types of ideologies, saying "[u]ndesirable ideologies promote repressive political agendas" (56). This seems, at bottom, an attempt to square the circle; criticizing at the same time the idealization of one character and the lack of idealization of others is, if nothing else, hypocritical in and of itself. But when her definition of undesirable ideologies is applied, it becomes apparent that her ideology (or at least the one she adopts for this reading) is repressive. In actual communist regimes, the path toward acceptance of government as pure and holy, opposing the Western, imperialist, capitalist enemies of the people is well worn. Surely, I don't need to go into what happens when that happens, especially when it leads to criticism and even censorship of potentially dissenting voices. Tyson also makes the dubious claim that Fitzgerald's "lush" descriptions of the manses of the wealthy are pro-capitalist. On its face, this may seem accurate, but there are two important points she does not discuss. First; a description of reality is not an ideology. The rich patently do live in extremely luxurious circumstances, and the language in which it is described does not change that. Second; Fitzgerald's naturally poetic and eloquent descriptions do not simply make such luxury more desirable, but add to the juxtaposition with his equally rich descriptions of poverty. As such, these descriptions make the injustices of capitalism more clear. A book describing the luxury of the rich is not inherently pro-capitalist, especially if those luxuries come off more as hollow excess, decaying from within.

There are other, smaller points I agree or disagree with--I like her examination of Daisy's commodification of life, I disagree with her seeing the Buchanans' possessions as having use-value while Gatsby's do not (they do for other people, and his striving towards a specific goal is still a use, not merely sign-exchange value)--but those are the major points which particularly stuck out for me. Ultimately, I think that a stronger case can be made for The Great Gatsby as a pro-Marxist text, though the romanticization of Gatsby and his achievement of some part of the American Dream are a counter to that strong communist vein.

Now, for my readers and admirers: Is the portrayal of Gatsby inherently pro- or anti-capitalist? Are the flaws of the rich and poor, as Fox News might say, "Fair and Balanced?"

Marxist Reading Response

        Lois Tyson's marxist reading of the Great Gatsby was severely lacking in an actual proven point. Throughout her reading, her only point seemed to be that there is money in the Great Gatsby. Woah. First, marxist theory does not seem to be the strongest of theories; it can't carry its own weight. It needs the help of other theories, such as psychoanalytic theory. Tyson shows this right off the bat when she writes, "Rather it is a psychological attitude that has invaded every domain of our existence." (70) Obviously, marxist theory is one of the weaker theories since it needs to draw from others in order to prove a point. Secondly, Tyson cannot seem to prove that Fitzgerald was making either side attractive. Tyson points out, "...the unflattering portraits of George and Myrtle Wilson deflect our attention from their victimization by the capitalist system..." (75) First, Lois Tyson talks about how Fitzgerald makes Tom and Daisy, the higher class society, look bad, and then she talks about how he makes the lower class look bad. Obviously, Fitzgerald was not writing the Great Gatsby to glorify either side since he portrays both spectrums equally unattractively. Finally, Tyson blames the novel for the holes in her theory rather than the theory itself. Tyson shifts the weakness of the theory onto the book by writing, "...the novel is also flawed, from a Marxist perspective..." (76) If you can't prove a point with a book, it isn't the novel or author's fault, you clearly are not using the right theory. Especially compared to her stronger readings, Tyson's Marxist analysis of the Great Gatsby was disappointing and flawed.

Tyson's other theories are so strongly argued, why was she so weak in this department?
What was the point of the essay?

Response to Lois Tyson's Marxist Reading

For the first time, I have agreed with one of Lois Tyson’s analyses. She says that in The Great Gatsby you are what you own and that is 100% true. This adage applies best when looking at Gatsby. Lois Tyson eloquently reiterates that, “Gatsby has risen from extreme poverty to extreme wealth in a very few years.” (73) Gatsby having once been poor and careless, was now feeling like he needed to bend over backwards to impress the  stereotypical high-society bourgeoisie and eventually become one of them in order to win the heart of his lover. To that superficial high class, you are what you own, nothing more. As does Marxism, The Great Gatsby does a great job of separating society into two parts, one of which is clearly viewed as “better” than the other. Tyson proves it with examples, “The Great Gatsby’s representation of American culture, then, reveals, the debilitating effects of capitalism on socioeconomic “winners” such as Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby, as well as on “losers” such as George and Myrtle.” (75) Finally, Nick is envious of Gatsby for his wealth, and all that he has, through the Marxist lens, he doesn’t see how the bourgeoisie can ask for more than they’ve got. Gatsby is incomplete, unlike the stereotypical bourgeois. For Nick, Lois Tyson diagnoses that, “He is in collusion with Gatsby’s desire, and his narrative can lead readers into collusion with that desire as well.” (77) Do you, reader, feel your desires influenced by those of Gatsby because of his position? Do you have sympathy for Nick in that regard?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What's Love Got to Do with It: a response to Lois Tyson's psychoanalytic reading of The Great Gatsby

Grace Seeley
Christie Beveridge
Critical Theory

            In my reading of Lois Tyson’s psychoanalytical interpretation of The Great Gatsby, I found that she made many valid and well-supported points. Although she never gets to the bottom of the characters’ deeply rooted psychological issues, Tyson’s analysis is still valid. However, it would be almost to fully explain any one character’s core issues since there is no information given about the childhood of anyone other than Gatsby. Considering the history about the characters given in Gatsby, it is the deepest interpretation that can be supported from the text. Tyson’s analysis of Daisy, Gatsby, and Tom are spot on.
            Daisy’s existence in a loveless marriage proves her fear of intimacy. She chooses to marry Tom over Gatsby, the man that she thinks she is in love with. At the time, she believed them both to be in near equal economic standing, and yet she did not choose the man whose departure left her with such a dramatic response: “she cried and cried…we got her into a cold bath…she wouldn’t let go of Gatsby’s letter…and she only let Jordan leave it in the soap dish when she saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.” The only fathomable reason for this is, as Tyson explained is “she married Tom to keep herself from loving Gatsby, to whom she had gotten too attached for her own comfort.” Tyson believes that Daisy’s love for Gatsby stems from one place in particular: “Whatever she feels for Gatsby requires the reinforcement of the same social status Tom provides. Tyson’s claim about Daisy’s fear of intimacy is further supported by the lack of emotional relationships in her life. Her marriage is loveless, her friendship with Jordan is shallow, her love for her child is an act, her friendship with Nick is based around Gatsby, and her romantic relationship with Gatsby could be best described as a schoolyard crush. Tyson’s belief that Daisy has a fear of intimacy is well documented and well supported.
            Tom’s fear of intimacy is perhaps the easiest to prove, in large part due to his philandering ways. We find out in the scene where Nick first meets Tom that he is having an affair with another woman. In fact, Tom has been having affairs since a week after the honeymoon, perhaps even earlier. In Gatsby, Jordan explains: “I saw Tom and Daisy in Santa Barbara when they came back from their honeymoon…A week after I left Tom ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night…the girl who was with him got into the papers too because her arm was broken—she was one of the chambermaids in the Santa Barbara Hotel.” The text alone doesn’t prove Tom’s fear of intimacy, but Tyson’s big picture explanation does: “Dividing his interest, time, and energy between two women protects him from real intimacy with either…Daisy represents social superiority…Tom’s possession of Myrtle Wilson…reinforces Tom’s sense of his own masculine power.” Although this alludes to castration anxiety, there is not enough evidence within Gatsby to prove this. Moreover, Tom’s affairs are more of an attempt to exert his power by possessing people, since all material things are easily accessible to him. Therefore, Tom’s affairs can be explained by his fear of intimacy.
            Tyson’s examination of The Great Gatsby’s characters is the deepest that you could synthesize based on the short text that is Gatsby and the lack of depth in the cast. Her work is logical, well supported, and systematic in its approach. I fully agree with Tyson’s analysis, despite it ruining The Great Gatsby for me as a love story.