Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Where's Harlem? It's right there Tyson.

        Lois Tyson's African American reading of The Great Gatsby was extremely uninformative, far fetched, and filled with useless "evidence". To start with, Tyson did not give any insight on how to read with an African American lens.She focused too much on Fitzgeralds lack of saying the word Harlem and proving he was racist than taking textual evidence and supporting it with the terms she taught as in the previous chapter. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I saw very few of those terms as she tried to convince us that The Great Gatsby is a racist novel.
         Tyson begins the African American reading of The Great Gatsby with five pages of quite useless information that does not do much to prove her point. Tyson talks about how things such as the prohibition, fashion, and cars are mentioned while Harlem is not. She says, "current fashions, though in some ways less important than historical events and the people who made them happen, nevertheless render an important aspect of cultural history by giving us a sense of the era's collective self-perception and attitude towards life." (pg 389.) The fashion choices made by people in the 1920s rendered great importance to their social class. Thus, being why Fitzgerald included a lot of description about people's physical appearances, mainly at Gatsby's parties. Since Gatsby's parties and social status played large roles in the novel, the appearances of people were vital details to add to the story for more context .Tyson also comments on the strong presence of the prohibition. Drinking was obviously a very important part of the 20s, as Fitzgerald understood, thus he gave it a prominent role in his novel. Tyson says, "we see it, for example, in the heavy drinking that occurs at every party depicted in the novel and in the availability of alcohol almost everywhere." (pg 397.) next she says, "Indeed, breaking this law become the fashionable thing to do." (pg 397.) Drinking, is yet another sign of social status, and because The Great Gatsby has a large focus on Gatsby's parties, including comments about the prohibition was a vital component to the story, seeing as it was going on at the same time as the parties. Lastly, Tyson comments on the prominent references to automobiles. Which again, is an important part to the story since Myrtle is killed in an automobile accident. Tyson gives great evidence for why attention to these components are incorporated with such detail; because they are necessary pieces to the story line. African Americans, however, are not. There is little mention of Harlem and the African American society, because they play little to no role in the plot line. So what if the main characters did go to a club in Harlem? That would be an unnecessary detail. The upper class clearly only associated themselves with those of the same class, and payed no attention to those of a lower class. They were too busy showing their self worth to care, Fitzgerald felt the same way, and only provided information about people of the middle and upper class.
         Tyson rants about one single quote from Nick Carraway, commenting on the look African American people gave him as they drove by. It is unfair and absurd to accuse the entire novel of being racist by the mention of African Americans ONCE throughout the whole book. Also, Tyson claims that Nick, even though he is scholarly and "rather literary", is oblivious to the existence of Harlem. No, he is not oblivious to it, he is just not associated with it, nor does it serve an importance to him.
         I do not disagree that Fitzgerald or The Great Gatsby may have been racist, but I also do not believe that Harlem was an essential part to the novel. Tyson's African American reading of The Great Gatsby is filled with filibusters, far-fetched accusations, and information-less ways to read The Great Gatsby through an African American lens.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Honestly, I thought this was one of Tyson's worst interpretations so far. It provided no insight as to how to interpret a piece of literature through an African American lens, and instead devoted multiple pages describing how amazing of a place Harlem was at the time The Great Gatsby was written. Lines such as, "By the early 1920s, the automobile had become the new machine that everyone wanted" (Tyson-400) simply exist to put a date on the events in the book, and yet this sort of information constitutes a solid chunk of the reading. Through this reading, Tyson is also simply pointing out something that should be obvious: the characters in The Great Gatsby are very, very racist. Tom specifically says, "The idea is if we don’t look out the white race— will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved" (Fitzgerald-18). It shouldn't be surprising that Nick doesn't mention Harlem, the characters don't visit Harlem because they do not enjoy African Americans, they are afraid of them. While many upper class members did enjoy Harlem night clubs, there were also many that had negative feeling towards them, which is what Fitzgerald writes in his "representative American novel of the Jazz age" (Tyson-396). Fitzgerald chose to represent this feeling in his novel, possibly because he was racist, but not decidedly.

Blog post 3/5/13 African American Reading

Ellis Govoni
Christie Beveridge
Critical Theory
March 5th, 2013

In Louis Tyson’s reading of The Great Gatsby, in the lenses of African American reading, she seems to make some quite apt points. She refers to the fact that during the time period this story takes place, it is a time of night life; with outrageous parties and music with many interesting people, all of which seem to come from just about all over New York city as well as other countries, except Harlem. This is perplexing because while Gatsby and his distinguished colleagues were throwing these lavish parties, there was not a single mention to the also present “Harlem Renaissance.” This would support a theory of racism within the characters or possibly with in Fitzgerald himself. In a passage written by Louis Tyson, we can confirm Nicks “un-self-conscious racism” in chapter four. In Chapter four, Gatsby and Nick are driving into the city to have lunch and Nick sees “three modish Negros” in a limousine, driven by a white chauffer. The importance of the word modish in this circumstance implies that the modern racist views often thought of black people as being foolish or childish, the opposite of what they were seeing which is why it was pointed out in the first place.   Secondly In Louis Tyson’s interpretation of self aware black people of power, though It seems blunt and very simply, she says, “These black characters— fashionably dressed, riding in a chauffeured limousine, very conscious of their social status in the eyes of others -- are the mirror and shadow of Gatsby.” I agree with this statement because, though the possibly racist tendencies of the characters would suggest other wise, they are both of the same status. This is a very common situation that is found when in context of dealing with something such as race; people do not want to think that they are of the same class as someone of a different race. Then Tyson later goes on to say the only noticeable difference is that Gatsby can hide his past, which would lead to the again unjust assumption that the “Negros” have skeletons in their past or something of that ilk.  Thirdly and finally we come to strange and rather obvious point of being that fact that during all of the great parties that Gatsby hosts, why is it that with such a large populous of talented black musicians and artist, that not a single mention of a black person.

Harlem Hidden by Society

I don’t think Fitzgerald was racist.  Given the time period, he grew up before black people were treated the same as whites.  There was still a strong racist feeling in some parts of the Country, and the KKK was out spreading their ideas in all parts of the US.  I think Fitzgerald was a little worried about promoting Harlem, which would be promoting music produced by black people.  It was just how things were.  Whites, a lot of the time, didn't feel comfortable praising black achievements.  That doesn't mean he was racist, though, in my opinion.  I think the reason that Fitzgerald referred to The Rise of the Colored Empires was, again, because of the times in which he grew up in.  An example of that would be the restrictive Immigration Bill mentioned by Lois Tyson.  America was in a time of worry and prejudice.  Readers: do you think that Fitzgerald, or other people for that matter, should be labeled as “racist” just because of some things that they did “suggest” racism?

Where did Harlem go?

Amber Quinlan 
Christie Beveridge 
Language Arts 
5 March 2013

Through out this reading of African American Criticism, unlike many of the other readings in this book, I agreed with what Lois Tyson was saying. Before reading this theory about Fitzgerald being racist, It didn’t seem like he was being racist. After I thought about The Great Gatsby with this knowledge it seemed racist when Nick refers to the African Americans in the limo,”Three modish Negros.. a limousine driven by a white chauffeur” because he is pointing in out that the African Americas are bring driven around by a white chauffeur shows that Fitzgerald is being racist, but that is not where is stops. If you look though the history and the time period Harlem was a huge part of New York City, like Tyson said. “ The creative output of the Harlem Renaissance was, as we have seen, well known to white New Yorkers and to the Western world at large.... From a historical perspective, such a oversight is virtually impossible.” Thinking about why Fitzgerald did not at least mention Harlem, or where Jazz music came from, can be confusing, because there could be other reasons he didn’t put this piece of history in The Great Gatsby, but after looking at the history and knowing that he knew about Harlem, that makes it seem like he purposely left this out of his book. “Even the time Fitzgerald spent in Paris contributed to his awareness of Harlem... African Americans many of whom were from Harlem, established an expatriate artists’ colony in Paris.” Especially when the book is a representation of this time period, it is hard to think of a explanation as to why Fitzgerald left Harlem out of his book when everything else he had written about was a valid representation of this time period. Are there any other reasons Fitzgerald would have left Harlem out of his book? Are there any other important parts of history that Fitzgerald left out in The Great Gatsby?

Das Racist

I don't normally agree with Lois Tyson, but she surprised me with this look at Gatsby. i had at first been skeptical of the theory, and didn't like the terms, but her application of the theory showed me a different story than the one that Fitzgerald's hand crafted oh so long ago. The main theme of her essay asking where Harlem was really opened my eyes. The Jazz Age in New York revolved around Harlem, but Fitzgerald omits all mention of it, even though, as Tyson points out, "it's the place that was famous for attracting white folks to its nightclubs in droves"(Tyson 396). Tyson points out that almost all of the characters in the story (excluding Mr. and Mrs. Wilson). And you would think Gatsby would be dying to go there, because "it was where they could be seen by the in crowd and drink bootlegged liquor"(Tyson 396). Gatsby was always trying to assume a higher social standing, and Harlem would have allowed him to achieve it (possibly). The blacks are fully removed from the story, except in instances where the high class white folks are being racist, such as Tom when he says "the dominant Nordic race is being threatened by the intermarriage...with persons of inferior races"(Gatsby 22). This reduction of the blacks and ignorance of the importance of Harlem a book that is decidedly Eurocentric. But the one thing that comes to mind is "Did Fitzgerald mean to omit it?"

African American Criticism: Surprisingly Reasonable

Aidan Villani-Holland
Christie Beveridge
Language Arts
5 March 2013
African American Criticism: Surprisingly Reasonable
            Going into the beginning of the, “Where’s Harlem,” chapter of Critical Theory Today, I was skeptical to say the least about how Lois Tyson was going to connect African American criticism to The Great Gatsby. When she started saying it was racist simply because it didn’t mention Harlem, I was ready to be angry. However, her points actually made a surprising amount of sense given the small amount of material available.
            On page 402, Tyson writes, “West 158th street in Manhattan is the location of the apartment Tom keeps for his trysts with Myrtle (32; ch. 2), which means that their taxi has to pass by Harlem, if not pass through it, to get to their destination. It would seem that it isn’t racist to not mention a place, but I had not realized how involved Harlem actually should have been in the story. While it is possible for a character to pass through a place without mentioning it, this practice seems to go against Fitzgerald’s habit of describing everything that happens, in order to establish a sense of setting.
            Later on the same page, Tyson asks, “How then, can narrator Nick Carraway and his friends have missed Harlem? Harlem’s nightclubs, which offered such jazz greats as Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway, attracted white people from all over the city and beyond.” This quote is a summary of Tyson’s main point. Throughout The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald seems to mention every single example of culture during the 20’s except for the nightclubs and other aspects of Harlem that should have involved Nick and his friends. While this is one of her weaker points, it still holds up.
            Finally, Tyson mentions on the next page, the musical comedy, Shuffle Along, which was a huge hit and entirely performed by African Americans. Again, this attempt to make Fitzgerald look racist seems futile at first, but she then describes that, “This means that it was running in the summer of 1922.” Since it apparently, “took New York by storm,” and was running precisely during the time period of The Great Gatsby, this play just seems to perfectly placed not to appear anywhere in the novel.
            Despite my original thoughts, I did come to realize that Lois Tyson actually made some fair points in this section. Each individual point was a little weak, once the three I mentioned as well as many more are combined, it seems absurd that Harlem was not even mentioned once in the entire novel. IT was not uncommon in his time, but from this evidence, it seems fairly clear that Fitzgerald was at least a little racist.

If Fitzgerald was involved in Harlem often, why do you think he omitted it?
Do you think that his omission was truly racist, or that it just didn’t fit into the story?
Could it be that the characters are in fact racist, and not Fitzgerald himself?

But Where's Harlem? No seriously? Where is it?

(Note: The following blog post may contain sarcasm)

Lois Tyson asks, “But Where’s Harlem?” My answer is “Why? I thought this was going to be about African American criticism, not a place in New York that wasn’t mentioned. Unless you’re hinting at a stereotype, in which case, that would make you racist.” I can sympathize with Lois Tyson because it is true that The Great Gatsby is difficult to analyze through an Afroamerican lens. What Lois Tyson should not have done in this case, was fill her chapter full of fluff in order to make it occupy a certain number of pages. “He was a German spy during the war.” And that has everything to do with the lack of African Americans in The Great Gatsby. And then she goes on to talk about the style of the time, and then she states, “No doubt modern times have arrived.” Ok, sweet, this is still very flimsy and vague but I’ll keep reading because I feel like we may get to read about what we’re interested in soon. And then for the last five pages we see that Lois Tyson explains thoroughly that there are just completely no African American people or culture in The Great Gatsby. Nick was a Yale Graduate but he doesn’t know about Harlem? Well maybe he did. I know that if I myself were in the middle of an awkward relationship and trying to stop my friend from practically killing himself over a woman I would not be concerned about listing off the names of New York City’s various districts because it totally has relevance to my situation.

Monday, March 4, 2013

I Think I Found Harlem: Response to African-American Reading of "The Great Gatsby"

While I agree that there is a racist element to The Great Gatsby, I again think Lois Tyson went too far. Before she had brought in external evidence of Fitzgerald's life, she had already concluded that The Great Gatsby is a racist work. I think that, even if other evidence suggests Fitzgerald himself was racist, the novel itself serves to critique racism. In fact, on some level, I think that was Fitzgerald's goal. I appreciated the evidence she gave about Fitzgerald himself (though I question its representation of him), but I did not like how much Tyson strayed from the topic or, again, her wide-ranging assumptions from scanty evidence.

The majority of the essay actually talking about Fitzgerald or race was focused on his personal views and what he said and did in his life. I appreciated her bringing that in, and understood the necessity--with so few mentions of race in the novel, I can see why she needed to flesh out the essay with outside information. While not all of it seemed entirely relevant, I do think she did a good job of making the case that Fitzgerald himself was racist. The amount of time she pointed out that he spent in Harlem and associating with black people undermined that, and not all the evidence really seemed to substantially support that thesis; for example, her discussion of his relationships with Carl Van Vechten and Bricktop both seem to me to contradict her belief in his racism. While she points to his having the (black female) singer Bricktop in his house "as a hired musician, not as a friend and equal" (Stovall 80) being a sign of racism, I don't think it's particularly significant. Instead, it illustrates that he did have an appreciation for music and art produced by the Harlem Renaissance. Regularly hiring a black singer to come to his house is not racist, nor does it seem likely to be something a particularly racist person would do. In general, I suspect there is more to his views on race than what Tyson presents--the vitriolic and extreme letter excerpts, for instance, seem out of the norm for him. Based on the evidence she presents, Fitzgerald certainly seems to have been quite racist. However, this does not prove that The Great Gatsby was.

Tyson really did not talk much about race in the novel. Tyson says: "Although we'll devote several paragraphs to establishing the novel's strong sense of place--and I hope you'll bear with me in this effort--do keep in mind that we'll only be scratching the surface of the innumerable ways in which Fitzgerald evokes this specific place and time" (397). She then spends about 5 pages extensively examining the various parts of life he talks about, from Prohibition and criminals to fashion and culture. While both The Great Gatsby and Harlem are mentioned in this section, they are rarely connected. Indeed, the tangible connections between her essay and its subject are few and far between here. Again, I understand that there isn't a lot within the novel to talk about with this lens, but to spend so much time and text establishing how thoroughly Fitzgerald "evokes this specific place and time" seems disingenuous and reminds me more of a student tightening their margins and upping their font size than an English professor writing an essay within a book. A few brief paragraphs could have done just as good a job as the 5 pages she uses, especially as so much of it seems to be filler like the very long lists of names she repeatedly includes.

Finally, the problem which persists throughout her writing: scanty evidence used to justify large conclusions. I saw this mostly in her discussion of race within "he Great Gatsby, despite the small amount of time spent on that versus time spent on Fitzgerald and the time period. As is evident from the title, "But where's Harlem?: an African American reading of The Great Gatsby," the focus of the part of her essay on race in the novel is on the very few mentions of black people or Harlem. For instance, she writes, "Had Fitzgerald remained true to form in his description of cultural reality, Nick and his friends would have visited ... a Harlem nightclub ... there's no way that Tom and Daisy, who consider themselves so fashionably modern, would have missed Harlem" (404). The fact that they don't does, indeed, point to their racism, but I disagree that it points to the novel itself as fundamentally racist. For one, Tyson's assertion that Tom and Daisy pride themselves on being "so fashionably modern" ignores the deep-rooted struggle between old and new money. Tom and Daisy, rather than wanting to be modern, are deeply in love with the idea of belonging to the aristocracy of old money on the East Coast. Indeed, they both make no secret of their racism. To Nick, Tom says that "'[I]f we don’t look out the white race will be--will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved ... It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.' 'We’ve got to beat them down,' whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun" (Fitzgerald 16). Many prominent white people did spend plenty of time in Harlem, but I seriously doubt that Tom and Daisy would have. Tyson quotes the novel and then goes on: the Buchanans went "'wherever people played polo and were rich together' (10; ch. 1). If Tom and Daisy go where other wealthy whites of the period go to 'be rich together,' they would have visited Harlem on a fairly regular basis" (404). If their goal was just to be rich, they might have done so, but that was not their goal. They wanted to be where people "played polo and were rich together" (emphasis added). I would argue that the first half of that paragraph was just as important as the second; the sorts of people who play polo are the sorts who stay in their mansions, are of old money and only mix with other old money. Similarly, the other characters in the book either have old money, pretend to, or want to. As such, I would be rather more surprised if they did go to Harlem than if they didn't; hip a neighborhood as it was, it was still black and as such unacceptable for the traditional and established families of this novel. This also explains the lack of black characters (like the white jazz musicians employed by Gatsby). Because of their desire to be seen as sophisticated, powerful, wealthy individuals and families, it does not seem surprising that the characters would employ white rather than black people (although, as far as I can tell, the only indication of the orchestra being white is the lack of explicit statement that it is black). In fact, because of Nick's negative reaction to Tom's racist assertions and generally not saying racist things, he seems to be (if anything) less racist than most people in his era.

All in all, I think that the characters of The Great Gatsby are indeed racists, by and large. Fitzgerald himself may have been a racist. But the novel itself is not racist, and even challenges racism at times; Nick's reaction to Tom is the only clear example of this, but as I see it the fairly ubiquitous racism displayed (again, rarely and more by absence of other actions than events) was condemned just as the wasteful, shallow attitudes that characterized the Jazz Age were. As per the usual, Tyson came to some unreasonable conclusions, but I think she did a fairly good job in the wrong areas (that is, establishing the importance of contemporary black culture and demonstrating Fitzgerald's racism).

So, some questions: Do you think the book is racist? The characters? Fitzgerald?
Why do you think Harlem wasn't represented in the book?
Do you think the characters actually would have visited Harlem in real life, or would their upbringing and personalities have kept them away?

Oh, and one last thing: Where's Harlem? Harlem is in northern Manhattan, between the Hudson and Fifth Ave and West 110th Street to 155th Street. I know that New York can be confusing, but come on, Tyson, do a little research; you could have looked at a map instead of asking us.

Fitzgerald, Why Didn't You Mention, "New York's Hottest Club"?

After reading the explanation of African American Criticism, hearing from others about their takes on it, and knowing my previous reactions to Tyson’s analyses, I was expecting to disagree completely with her reading.  After all, how on earth could she apply African American Criticism to a text, which mentioned African Americans so little?  And this is where I had gone wrong.
            Tyson opens the chapter with, “One of the hallmarks of the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald is the strong evocation of sense of place.”  This line carries through her entire analysis of The Great Gatsby but only rang clear in my head towards the end.  Initially, I agreed with her that Fitzgerald illustrates a meticulously thought out setting for the novel, but did not understand how the lens could be used with this.  What hit me though, was I had been blindsided by my lack of knowledge surrounding the Jazz Age in New York, or the Jazz age, period.  It had never even occurred to me that the jazz age was what Gatsby and his fellow nouveau riche citizens were living in, or that this so called Jazz age was a product of African Americans.  At the beginning though, I read that as, “See- Fitzgerald is weaving in African American culture, and is in no way bashing it.”  Going on though, I began to slowly jump on Tyson’s bandwagon.
            What truly got me, was Tyson’s explanation of Harlem, and its role in the lives of young, upper-class New York City citizens in the 1920’s.  As Tyson puts it, “There was no livelier place in all of New York City, especially after dark.  Nightly, thousands of white visitors-most from downtown, some from other parts of the country, a few from cities abroad-made their way to Harlem.”  The fact that the Harlem born Jazz Age was so integral to the plot of The Great Gatsby, and Harlem was, “New York’s hottest club,” but never mentioned in a book which encompassed these themes really threw me off.  It was now becoming clear that Fitzgerald had purposefully excluded African Americans from The Great Gatsby.
            This suspicion was reaffirmed when Tyson quoted a letter, which Fitzgerald wrote.  When someone says,
“The Negroid streak creeps northward to defile the Nordic race.  Already the Italians have souls of blackamoors [black or dark-skinned people].  Raise the bars of immigration [in the United States] and permit only Scandinavians, Teutons [people of Germanic or Celtic origin], Anglo-Saxon and Celts [British, Scottish or Irish people] to enter.”

There is simply no denying that this is racist.  It cannot be argued, or viewed in a different light; this quote written by Fitzgerald to a friend, is outright racist against blacks.  To me, it shows that the exclusion of African American culture from The Great Gatsby was not to highlight the lives of Gatsby and Nick, but to avoid a subject, which Fitzgerald was highly uncomfortable with.  And this is where I gained respect for Tyson.  I did not see it as a stretch to say that Fitzgerald was purposefully alienating African Americans, and because of this, I believe that the application of the African American lens to The Great Gatsby works stellar.
            At first, I did not want to agree with Tyson, partly because of previous readings, partly because of my interpretation of The Great Gatsby and partly because of what I had heard.  But now, I am confident that she hit the nail on the head.  At the beginning, I thought that Fitzgerald had simply not talked about African American culture- it wasn’t relevant, right?  Wrong, turns out, I was completely wrong.  With the historical content, it become clear that Fitzgerald had attempted to rewrite reality, exclude those who weren’t of his “Nordic Race,” and delude his readers into believing that African Americans played a small to unimportant role in New York City in the 1920’s.  Seeing the racism exude from his correspondence could only reaffirm this, and frankly made me cringe.  Tyson- I applaud you for brining such purposeful exclusion and racism to light.

Can the absence of details be analyzed?  Is it fair to judge the author on what they did not elaborate on?  How do you think Fitzgerald felt about the Jazz Age?  Would he have liked it even more had it been a European affair?  How do you think his views changed throughout his life?