Episode #1413

American Icons: The Great Gatsby

Originally aired: November 25, 2010

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Friday, March 29, 2013

The Great Gatsby Feature Card_Big

Episodes of false identity, living large, and murder in the suburbs add up to the great American novel.

Studio 360 explores F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and finds out how this compact novel became the great American story of our age. Novelist Jonathan Franzen tells Kurt Andersen why he still reads it every year or two, and writer Patricia Hampl explains why its lightness is deceptive. We’ll drive around the tony Long Island suburbs where Gatsby was set, and we’ll hear from Andrew Lauren about his film G, which sets Gatsby among the hip-hop moguls. And Azar Nafisi describes the power of teaching the book to university students in Tehran. Readings come courtesy of Scott Shepherd, an actor who sometimes performs the entire book from memory.

Originally aired: November 25, 2010


Patricia Hampl and Andrew Lauren

Comments [23]

Jessie Henshaw from Uptown

Kurt, I'm sure you've complained about the emptiness of the reality portrayed in the media frenzies we find swarming around us. May I point out that American culture is NOT about shallow characters, though. We are indeed struggling with waves of money created shallowness, feeding on our addictions it would seem. It does bring out shallowness, but it's a natural vulnerability in our character not an expression of our hearts.

So give us a break. Gatsby is about the shallowness of wild money culture, written as if the people swept up in it were shallow. That the author created an icon is very clear, but that the icon is a cartoon is quite clear too. In reality there are NO actual humans without a soul, or who shrink from real feeling in their unguarded personal behavior.

We have depth, whether our experience lets us act it out or not. That Fitzgerald left it out was obviously intentional. That's what you should be asking about, why'd he leave out our souls?

Was the book more of a trifle, maybe, just seeing the chance to create a eye opening cartoon that runs counter to who we really are? Writers and media hosts have indeed been known to do that often enough, right? Please don't keep using them for the fun of dragging us through our fears and doubts, one after another...

May. 19 2013 02:44 PM
Tony Morgan from Southbury, CT

Although they never met nor even ever heard of each other, Charles Swann (1913, A la recherché du temps perdu--Swann in Love) and Jay Gatsby (1925) lived similarly ill-fated emotional lives—Swann with his Odette, Gatsby with Daisy. Having been born decades apart and in different countries their social difficulties and failed emotional lives appear to cross time and again. The one word which describes them is, I believe, Obsession. This obsession for a woman is related to us when neither man is very young, and told to us by a known third person; in the case of Swann by the author’s character himself (alias Marcel), and for Gatsby the casual acquaintance, Nick Carraway. Both the narrators are purported to be neighbors of the central characters, Proust as a young boy in Combray, Nick as a young man in West Egg—each an invented location. I believe the use of the neighbor conditions permits a knowing distance from which each can observe. In addition, each of our storytellers is able to report what others have to say about our protagonists in a dispassionate and composed manner. The speakers are also permitted to show some sympathy for their troubled subjects while acknowledging their faults.
In addition, neither man wants for money, and they both appear indifferent to their wealth; it is only a means of aiding in their attempt to obtain the object of their obsession. Both these protagonists appear to be intimately connected to persons of note—in the case of Swann they are on the level of the Lord Mayor of Paris and other royalty, while for Gatsby it is Meyer Wolfsheim who is a characterization of the gangster Arnold Rothstein, the man who fixed the 1919 World Series. Quite a difference here, or is it? Anti-Semitism, implied or direct is common to both men; Swann, an acknowledged Jew, and Gatsby their willing associate.

Apr. 10 2013 10:59 AM
eleniNYC from Jackson Heights

I think interpreting Daisy as an "air-head" is really selling Fitzgerald short. Daisy was no "air-head" but great at acting like one. Daisy was also very reserved with her feelings, at least verbally. When she buried her face in Gatsby's shirts and declares them the most beautiful shirts and beautiful colors, tht is a revelation of how she sees Gatsby. She sees the pure soul that he has. She sees his commitment to her. She does carry on an affair with him that Thom learns of and gets very jealous. Her "accidental" running over of her husband's lover, Myrtle, in Gatsby's car, was no accident. Daisy was very angry with Thom. Remember Thom cheated on Daisy even on their honeymoon with the chamber maid. He was arrogant, entitled, self-absorbed, racist and classist. Thom gets even with Daisy for her affair with Gatsby by informing Myrtle's husband that it was Gatsby who ran over his wife and that it was with Gatsby she was having the affair with. Gatsby's death marks the elusiveness of the American Dream, and eerily prognosticates the Crash of 1929. Isn't the book released in 1928 or the beginning of 1929?

I think "Death of A Salesman" is another American Icon

Apr. 06 2013 10:07 PM

Why do I never hear anyone mention the gay things going on in The Great Gatsby? The first place I saw it referenced was in the 1970 Elliot Gould/Candice Bergen movie, "Getting Straight." It that movie Gould plays a graduate student who, during his master's oral exam, cites Gatsby as Fitzgerald's best novel. He's grilled on this by one professor who chastises Gould for not realizing that Nick Carraway is gay. "Carraway was queer for Gatsby?" Gould says. "Did you truly overlook the homosexuality at the core of The Great Gatsby?" the professor says. He previously pointed out how Carraway's sole love interest is Jordan Baker, who's described as lean, athletic, small-breasted and "boyish," and plays golf, "a man's game." Gould melts down at this, shouting, memorably, "It's gonna be a hell of surprise to Sheilah Graham!" when the professor says Fitzgerald wrote the novel in part to cover his own panic over being homosexual.
Indeed, there's an odd sequence at the end of the second chapter that hints at what then may have been called the love that dare not speak its name. Carraway is drunk for the second time in his life and accompanies a photographer, Mr. McKee, who is described as "effeminate," to his apartment. The innuendo and hints begin in the elevator. McKee speaks first:

"Come to lunch some day," he suggested, as we groaned down in the elevator.
"Keep your hands of the lever," snapped the elevator boy.
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. McKee with dignity, "I didn't know I was touching it."
"All right," I agreed. "I'll be glad to."
... I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands."
"Beauty and the Beast ... Loneliness ... Old Grocery Horse ... Brook'n Bridge ...."
Then I was lying half asleep in the cold lower level of the Pennsylvania Station, staring at the morning "Tribune" and waiting for the four o'clock train.

Something beyond getting drunk at a party is happening here.

Apr. 04 2013 07:35 PM
Paul Simons from Philly

Thanks, good work, I came to a better understanding of this novel, which leads me to what feels like a better take on the T.S. Elliot poem from the same era "The Wasteland". And this leads to the recognition of Tom and Daisy on the current political right, still too much money and too little soul. Hard to say if Jay Gatsby was a soulful fellow or not, but he sure tried.

Apr. 02 2013 03:11 PM
grumpy from nyc

When I opened this on my iphone, it started buzzing and a photo of a snow scene took over the screen. What's up with that.

Apr. 02 2013 02:20 PM
JoAnn from Fair Haven NJ

Thank you for this enjoyable show. I have been passionate about The Great Gatsby since I read it in High School(Honors English Senior year) My professor At LaSalle University (Dr. John Seydow )added much to my appreciation. I read the novel about every other year since 1974. Fitsgerald's lyrical prose & Gatsby never cease to amaze me.

Apr. 01 2013 08:29 PM
Kate from Boerum Hill

I loved this show - so much that I listened to it twice or even 3 times
as I kept getting interruptions. It was wonderful to hear Fitzgerald's own voice
and it deepened my appreciation to learn that this poem inspired him
Thank you for this....

Apr. 01 2013 06:10 PM
Eric Hamell

Please learn what the word "alert" means. It is not a spoiler "alert" to say the words "spoiler alert" ONE SECOND before the spoiler, leaving the listener no time to change the station or turn the radio off. This is more properly called a spoiler taunt, as in, "Don't want to learn the ending before you read the book? Screw you!"

Mar. 31 2013 10:19 PM
Lisa from East Harlem

Please give credit where it is due, and correct your broadcast to reflect the fact that Theoni Aldredge designed the costumes (and won the Academy Award) for the 1974 movie The Great Gatsby. Ralph Lauren contributed some of his contemporary menswear designs, but most certainly did not work as the costume designer for the film.

Mar. 31 2013 01:49 PM
Jeremy from Manhattan

I'm surprised that your show on the Great Gatsby didn't discuss this most often quoted passage: "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made." The idea of "carelessness" and "recklessness" permeates the book. It's Fitzgerald's judgment on the Jazz Age, but also on America itself. And it's that observation and its poignance that continues to resonate today. Fitzgerald continues this judgment in his short story "Babylon Revisited," in which the carelessness of the protagonist's past haunts him as he tries to grow up and move on with his life.

On a different note, I found the reference to Ralph Lauren changing his name rather ironic. Lauren provided the suits for the 1974 movie starring Robert Redford. It basically put Lauren on the map--before then, he had been a small time designer. Emulating Gatsby by changing his own name, and then designing suits for the movie, turned Lauren into an erstwhile Gatsby of the late 20th Century.

Mar. 31 2013 12:57 PM
Cynthea KD from Rego Park, NY

Just found this about the house in Great Neck. This is terribly, terribly sad.


Mar. 31 2013 11:49 AM
Julia from Rhode Island

I love this novel. Thank you for talking about it.

I have always been interested in Zelda Fitzgerald, too. It would be great to hear more about Zelda's paintings. They were amazingly brave, could even pass as contemporary today.

Mar. 30 2013 10:35 PM
Michele Kiely from Rockville, MD

I loved today's show on Fitzgerald. I live in Rockville, Maryland (a DC suburb) where Fitzgerald is buried. He never lived here, but he reportedly loved it. His father lived here.

Mar. 30 2013 09:56 PM

To zuzu of NYC: You might also want to consider Keat's Ode to a Nightgale's importance to another Fitzgerald novel that gets its title from a line in that poem: Tender is the Night.

Mar. 30 2013 09:10 PM
Jenny from Studio 360

Zeb --
Thanks for the catch. I've added Scott Shepherd to the list of guests. Unfortunately, I don't think he's recorded the entire book -- you'll have to see the Elevator Repair Service production of GATZ to hear that. (Highly, highly recommended.)

Mar. 30 2013 09:05 PM
zuzu from NYC

Am beside myself with frustration. Dear Lovers of Gatsby, Fitzgerald and producers of this show--you have only to read his letters to Scottie to know the importance of "Ode to a Nightingale" for this book. Yet, I have never heard a Gatsby expert--not today, nor at the Green Room with Leonard Lopate and guests a week ago-reference Fitzgerald's own statements about the connection between the book and the Keat's poem.

Here is what Scott said to Scottie about the Great Gatsby (paraphrased from memory): If you want the whole key to Gatsby, read Ode to a Nightingale. And if you want to really understand Ode to a Nightingale, you must memorize the poem by heart, which he begged her to do. He modeled the entire plot and the prose itself on the sound of that poem read out loud. He attributes his lyricism to memorizing, understanding and loving The Ode. I dare say the green light itself is the Nightingale. The closing lines of the Ode:

"Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that Music:--Do I wake or dream?".....is very close to the last words of Gatsby and contain so much of the meaning for Fitzgerald, of the whole book.

I've taken his advice and have had my children and myself memorize the Ode. And on their own they went on to memorize "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" which I'm sure also has some role in Fitzgerald's thinking about Daisy, memory, obsesession and death.

Hearing Fitzgerald recite The Ode today was ravishing.
Thank you for that.

Mar. 30 2013 06:45 PM
Zeb from Santiago, Chile

I really enjoyed this episode and shared it. I loved the narrator, Scott Shepherd, and I wanted to see if I could pick up an audio version read by him. I don't even see his name mentioned in the show description and guests. Am I missing him?

Mar. 30 2013 05:16 PM
Harry Nudel from soho new york

I caught some of P. Hampl's NPRing of the Great Gatsby, she is sick to the heart, sick to the bone. Gatsby is about the greatness of America, the great plains, the great money, the great hope, the great vitality. NPR is abt the great denial of all these.

Mar. 30 2013 05:08 PM
Jenny from Studio 360

Kerr --
Thanks for your comments. Good note: you're right, we have profiled a lot of books. Actually, we're working on a full hour about "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (novel/play/film) -- that show will air this fall. Thanks for the other suggestions.

James --
Sorry to hear you didn't like this version of the show. It's actually 99% the same show as last time: but we felt it important to add brief references to the new movie coming out (Gatsby's in the zeitgeist once again). You can hear the original version here: http://www.studio360.org/2010/nov/25/

Thanks, both, for listening.

Mar. 30 2013 04:08 PM
James Gatz from Duluth

I love this series, and I really love this particular show.

But I think you recently edited it from its initial broadcast.

It was better before.

Next time, you should repeat the past version.

Mar. 29 2013 02:47 PM
Kerr Lockhart from Teaneck, NJ

Why does the AMERICAN ICON series privilege books over theater? You have included several novels and even a couple of films, but have not touched any plays. I would nominate at least one of the three iconic plays (I do not say best, but well-recognized and frequently performed and taught): A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN and LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. Personally, I would choose SALESMAN for its meditation on the shortcomings of the American Dream which becomes timely over and over again.

Mar. 29 2013 10:06 AM
Kerr Lockhart from Teaneck, NJ

You referred to Eddie Cantor as a "musician." He was primarily a comedian who sang some songs. In his day he was called an entertainer. No musiciam would have called him a musician. Here he is in an early experiment in synchronized sound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Mhpw7gb1fE

Mar. 29 2013 10:02 AM

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