In The Great Gatsby, the corruption of the American dream is greatly commented upon, for the characters’ disenchantment with their lives following the perils of World War I leads to their pursuit of frivolity, sexual pleasure, reckless spending, and excess drinking. This parallels the foolishness of the wealthy characters in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” in which superficiality is glorified in the extreme. The similarity between Gatsby’s and “Earnest”’s commentary upon the upper class is driven by the brash actions of its members; however, Fitzgerald provides characters who acknowledge feelings deeper than superficial ones, a quality in his writing which is absent in Wilde’s depiction of this class.
For example, in Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan is very unhappy with her life, and the joy of motherhood has been ripped away from her with the realization that women’s role in life was not to be authentic, but to be objects, to be pleasing to the eye and easy to accept as they are portrayed as perfection embodied. On page 21, she says, “She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool-that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (Fitzgerald 21). Daisy’s emotions about womanhood can be linked to those experienced by Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar, for they both were suppressed by the social dogmas set in place for women by society, when in reality women were vastly more capable that which they were allowed.
This level of social commentary forces the reader out of the oblivion and subtlety of satire, and enters the raw, veracious world of a commentary whose conclusions are not as lighthearted as those expressed in “Earnest.” Too, the unique disillusionment experienced by the characters in Gatsby are based upon political history, for the disintegration of the affected innocence prevailing in the Victorian era found its genesis in World War I; the outgrowth of the type of characters portrayed in “Earnest,” can be found in Gatsby. A preoccupation with the preservation of sexual innosense in both Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar contrasts Gatsby, in which the characters’ innocence has been irrevocably corrupted.
A rare glimpse at everyday life in the 1920s, and in color! I wonder how New York differed from London in society and technology during this period, and how those differences would affect the course of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby.
The esteemed scientist Bertrand Russell’s conviction when discussing his religious views parallel Zooey’s aggressive approach to discussing religion, especially with Franny, who is brought to tears by his callous and selfish discussion of the unknown. Both Russell and Zooey were speaking during the ’50s, a time of extreme conservatism and religious fervor, which likely infuriated them out of an inability to voice their opinions without fear of social ostracism, and resulting in radically expressed opinions. Zooey’s opinions could too be easily found in today’s world, where after the catastrophe of 9/11, a new age of conservatism and Christian fervor could be found across the United States.
Foremost, I would like to comment upon the brilliance of Charlie Chaplin, an innovator and forefather of modern comedy and filmmaking. In “The Great Dictator,” directed by, acted in, and written by Chaplin, he took a lighthearted approach to the monstrosity that is the Third Reich (though he later said he never would have created that movie had he, and all of America, better understood the ongoings of Nazis) and portrayed Hitler with shocking accuracy, especially evident in his speech, in which he imitates perfectly Hitler’s public speaking.
Regardless, this speech is contrastingly timeless yet totally unique to the challenges faced by those living in post-industrial countries. Today we face the same problems posed by interconnectivity which ultimately drives us apart, best evidenced by the lack of human interaction due to the Internet and social media; other aspects of this speech ring righteously in truth today, however this is the most obvious similarity in the eyes of high school students. Too, in the ’20s, as depicted in Gatsby, frivolity and consumerism threatened the foundations of humanity, nearly bringing its destruction. Chapin addresses this truth, saying, “Do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed.”
While in the film Chaplin addresses the Nazi drones, his call to action in provoking individuality for the betterment as a people is faced by Franny. “You are not machines, you are not cattle; you are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. Only the unloved hate, the unloved and the unnatural,” says Chaplin. Franny is also faced with uniformity, though decidedly on a less severe level, in her everyday life and begs for opportunity to convey her individuality and desire to not conform to the world around her. Today’s society can see this desire expressed by the hipster subculture, whose existence thrives on a desire to break social dogmas and express individuality (although I must clarify-I do not condone pretense or condescension, only self-expression).
Allen Ginsberg’s “America” is one of my favorite poems, for, similar to the speech delivered by Chaplin and afore mentioned in this blog, it is as truthful today about our society as it was sixty years ago; though the names and faces have changed, society still battles itself, threatening destruction by its own hands.
Ginsberg poses the question, “America when will you be angelic? When will you take off your clothes,” marking the paradox of the double standard in regards to sexual immorality which existed and still exists in society. Women especially are called to promote themselves as virginal, while men are encouraged to conquer sexually. This topic of innocence was addressed by Holden in Catcher, for he realized this perversity and sought to set it right, freeing children of the burdens of maturity and adulthood; men are encouraged to grow up too fast, whereas women are suppressed in positions of childlike innocence. The Bell Jar’s Esther too felt the weight of this realization and experienced emotional and sexual turmoil due to her responsibility as a “lady” to remain chaste. Franny experiments sexually with Lane, later becoming pregnant with his child, testing the limitations of socially acceptable behavior; Sallinger uses this as a plot device to draw the reader’s attention to this injustice. In Gatsby, Tom Buchanan represents the male counterpart to this double standard, for his cheating upon Daisy is justifiable, whereas her supposed love for Jay is intolerable.
Superficiality and egotism are addressed by Ginsberg, who asks, “When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?” Embodied by characters in Gatsby, Franny detests this egotism, whereas Zooey subconsciously thrives upon it.
Franny and Zooey is a unique revelation in philosophy and religion, and too divulges the dark secrets that come with adulthood, for the contrast between the superficially perfect and lovely childhood and dark and warped adulthood of the Glass children is highlighted. This commentary upon the corruption of innocence is also adressed in Salinger’s other novel, Catcher in the Rye, in which the character of Holden goes to great lengths in a neurotic attempt to prevent growing up. This disillusionment with childhood and naivety is depicted in Lord of the Flies, wherein children experience the harsh realities of the evils in life similar to those depressing Salinger’s characters.
In a strictly textual sense, “Oedipus” is referenced when Bessie, Zooey’s mother, admires the appeal of Zooey’s back, and he recoils, understanding the obviousness of the Oedipal complex in practical application; in both works, the knowledge gained by the character is unbeknownst to the affected, for they are ignorant of the dark realities in life. Relating the superficial to the symbolic, Bessie could not have understood this reference because of her unintellectual past.
Upon learning that The Great Gatsby has been made into a movie, I set about to learn as much as I could about the upcoming film. I was somewhat disappointed in the casting (Spiderman as Nick?), and while Franny and Zooey’s adaption is prevented by the estate of Sallinger, I decided to create my own casting of the novel’s two main characters, as well as to determine the film’s director.
Sofia Coppola, art director and director
Daughter of famed director Francis Ford Coppola, this genius filmmaker, Sofia Coppola is able to allow aesthetic and story telling to coincide seamlessly, and has had experience in the past with translating novels into films (successfully, at that) with The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette. The Virgin Suicides was a hazy glimpse into the past, beautiful and poignant, and Marie Antoinette incorporated aspects of characters into costume design and soundtrack, underrated methods of characterization in film. She would likely take full advantage of picturesque scenes depicted by Sallinger in Franny and Zooey: billowing cigarette smoke, rides in taxi cabs, flashbacks to childhood, short biographical dissolution of characters, narration, fainting, and seemingly endless scenes in bathrooms.
An image from The Virgin Suicides, whose aesthetic would likely mirror that which would be appropriate in Franny and Zooey.
Diane Keaton, Franny
While her talent as an actress was not developed at Franny’s age, Diane Keaton is extremely talented at portraying beautiful, emotionally unbalanced, girls. Her intellectual ramblings and perceptive thinking, featured especially in Woody Allen’s films and notably in Manhattan, would be apt in Franny’s discussion of religion and society, unaware of Lane’s boredom in her trailings. As an actor, Keaton would also be able to identify with Franny’s dependent personality, which relies on human interaction for conclusion rather than reaching and living with subjective analysis, for in Love and Death her character is reliant on men’s physical and intellectual approval. Too, her characters in Annie Hall and Manhattan were inherently sad and ultimately were in pursuit of attaining their ideals in life, identical to the pursuits and motivations of Franny.
Clark Gable, Zooey
Gable’s undeniable charisma contrasts with the course, intelligent, stubborn, and driven characters he is famous for playing. Zooey’s disenchantment with religion and humanity, as well as his abrasion parallels that of Gable’s portrayal of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. Zooey’s heartless and condescending deprecation of his mother and insensitive treatment of Franny would be an easy portrayal for Gable, for many of his dark and inconsiderate characters are motivated by highly sensitive emotions, just as Zooey is, for he acts upon feelings of resentment about his upbringing and displacement of his responsibility. What is lacking in Gable’s demonstrated range of character is one who has true appreciation for beauty, for his range is limited to masculine archetypes; Butler was an aesthete, an aspect of his personality not portrayed with sensitivity by Gable.
“Fashion is the armor we wear to face the realities of everyday life.” Bill Cunningham.
A uniform in fashion is a combination of clothing items by which the wearer defines themselves. For some, this formulaic way in which to dress extends to a color pallet, to others jeans and a t-shirt; at any rate, this uniform provides consistency and reveals more about the wearer than one might think.
One of the best examples of uniforms was captured in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” for they are donned by nearly every character in the film, and most notably by Margot. In it, she singularly wears a long, fur coat, an Hèrmes Birkin bag, and plastic hair clips on a severe bob, and a too-short polo dress. A cigarette hangs off her lips at all times. Each item in her daily ensemble reveals something of her character. The fur coat demonstrates her impracticality and stubbornness, for she wears it in all seasons. The Birkin bag, her wealth and concern for prestige. The plastic hair clips and bob, as well as her polo dress, her emotional immaturity and longing for a time of youth and naivety, the time in her life when she was most successful and happy. The cigarette, her neurosis and addictions, not limited to nicotine.
The Tenenbaum family is in fact similar to the Glass family, about which Salinger wrote not only in Franny and Zooey, but also in other novels and short stories. Both stories follow the lives of a dysfunctional family whose greatest success lay in the past, ruined by the inevitability of age and the disenchantment which comes with a shedding of a child’s ideals and the loss of innocence. This drawn parallel was implicitly stated by Wes Anderson, for he included a copy of Salinger’s Franny and Zooey in the title scene of his film. Seeing as the Tenenbaums all had their uniforms, I thought I might assign one to the character of Zooey.
Despising egotism, Zooey doesn’t look in the mirror to shave; he would likely shave messily, therefore prompting the need for a high collar due to scarring, bleeding, etc. He is loathe to demonstrate self-interest, and would therefore deliberately dress unattractively; however, as a prominent actor, he would be forced to demonstrate an element of style on-screen, which would inevitably influence his manner of dress. Zooey is an aesthete despite his misgivings about vanity and egotism, and would therefore have an artistic approach to creating ensembles. Hyper-intelligent, Zooey would wear a mark of someone who read religiously; he therefore likely needed reading glasses due to the ocular strain. In the past he has been interested in wearing Franny’s shoes, denoting an air of femininity.
And so results in the cumulation of what ought to be mismatched, but is ultimately sophisticated and elegant due to his attractiveness, his charm, and his appetite for beauty. His daily ensemble includes an untucked crêpe-de-chine polo, under which he would wear a featherweight turtleneck, a cotton blend sports coat, a pair of pants in a silk blend, and a pair of dress shoes in snake skin, or a pair of black smoking slippers in velvet. A thin, black, acrylic pair of glasses, a leather tote, a simple pocket square, and a lapel pin in the shape of a flower complete his look.
“Franny,” J.D. Sallinger
“In This Hole,” Cat Power
Your mind blackened by all the thoughts of God.
Applicable to the perspective of Lane, Franny’s collegiate boyfriend, Power writes of a couple bound by the superficiality of their relationship, rather than affection. Lane similarly is more in love with what Franny can offer him, rather then who she is and what she believes.
“Blue Spotted Tail,” Fleet Foxes
Why this frightened part of me that’s fated to pretend?
Franny’s realization of the affected, insincere behavior not only of those around her, but also of herself, is also marked by an understanding that she cannot escape conformity, that she is indeed fated to pretend.
“My Sweet Lord,” George Harrison
Hare krishna, hare hare.
The method of incessant prayer which fascinates Franny is marked by the repetition of a phrase meant to awakened a spiritual consciousness is not unique to Christianity; in a song about a pursuit of the Lord, Harrison cites “Hare Krishna,” a method of meditation similar in concept to that which Franny practices.
“The Penalty,” Beirut
This was an island, and I could not stay for I believed them.
Franny’s spiritual awakening is similar to that which Zach Condon experiences, for it shakes the core of who she is and ostracizes her from those around her, for the outside world in itself is isolated from her realization.
“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” Arcade Fire
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.
Wanting to abandon her old way of life, that which she lived before her spiritual awakening, Franny sees the verity of the world; similar is the call to action made in “Sprawl II,” a song written about escaping the monotony of the suburbs.
“Awake My Soul,” Mumford & Sons
How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes, I struggle to find any truth in your lies.
A literal reference to Franny’s fainting spell, the physicality of having woozy eyes or fainting is not brought upon by bodily malfunction, rather by a recognition of lies being told respectively by a lover and by society.