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.


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