The Great Gatsby, Race, and Passing

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-08-10 01:36Z by Steven

The Great Gatsby, Race, and Passing

English 356: The “Great” American Novel: 1900-1965 (Prof. VZ)
College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina

Christine McSwain

Like most people in the class, I’ve read The Great Gatsby several times, both for class and on my own.  Gatsby is one of those novels that doesn’t get old to me, and I think that’s due in part to the different ways each part of the novel can be interpreted, and how I notice something new each time I read it.  Not long after the Baz Luhrman adaptation of the novel came out, I saw a theory floating around that Jay Gatsby could be read as a black man passing as a white man, and I thought that theory was pretty interesting and did some more research on it.  I think reading the novel with that interpretation in mind brings a whole new narrative out.

The article I’m referencing was published in 2000, thirteen years before the newest adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby was released.  Professor Carlyle V. Thompson argues that Gatsby was indeed black, specifically that “‘Fitzgerald characterizes Jay Gatsby as a pale black individual passing as white.’”  There are clues throughout the novel that allude to Gatsby’s race, including his name change from Gatz to Gatsby, much like freed slaves changed their names to give themselves a new beginning.  There are also mentions that Gatsby’s family is dead, which according to Thompson references that “‘those light-skinned black individuals who pass for white become symbolically dead to their families’”, suggesting that perhaps Jay Gatsby had done the same…

Read the entire article here.

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