The Great Gatsby: an American novel

A refracted vision of America

The Great Gatsby is like a mirror of the America of the 1920's. America in the Great Gatsby is a fundamental notion and the novel cannot be studied without the historical context of the time.

The novel reflects the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties and the opposition between East and West.

The Great Gatsby emphasizes the strange association between materialism and spiritualism, which is crucial to the Puritan ethic. Gatsby is seeking wealth because he is pursuing an idealistic vision.

A corrupted vision

The Crack Up (1937) is a collection of short stories by F.S. Fitzgerald where he tried to catch the mood prevailing in the 1920's.

The mood was characterised by hedonism, the search for pleasure: "America was going on the greatest gaudiest spree in history". Spending money in order to be part of the show means society is more based on appearance than substance.

The time of the action is the summer of 1922. America, after World War 1, has become the most prosperous and thriving nation in the world. It is the period of the Golden Boom (America has sold weapons and has become rich) and widespread corruption is at its apogee.

Bribery was a frequent practise. It has been shown by historians that after the Civil War, corruption was nothing compared to the Roaring Twenties. Even if 1850's carpetbaggers took advantage of the situation of that time, it was far less important than in the 1920's.

Corruption also marks the weakening of spiritual and moral values. After the butchery of World War I, disillusion had set in and therefore isolationism was striking rich.

In the 1920's, political circles were also corrupted. Warren Harding, president from 1921 to 1923, was marked by a series of scandals. In the summer of 1923, the president died in mysterious circumstances.

The 18th Amendment of the Constitution, voted in January 1920, laid down that producing and selling alcohol would be forbidden. The Prohibition, also known as "the noble experiment", triggered an increase in delinquency.

Al Capone belonged to that context. In people's collective mind, the image of the bootlegger was worshipped and admired because the bootlegger was the man who dared to resist, to rise against the law.

The historical background

The Great Gatsby is based on a series of events published in the newspapers. F.S. Fitzgerald did not invent all the facts : he shows to shape and create a character who was emblematic of his time.

In The Great Gatsby, apart from Gatsby, we find characters based on real figures such as Meyer Wolfshiem, who is actually Arnold Rothstein, a master of the New York underworld.

In Chapter 4, at the metropole, the guy shot down was based on reality, it actually happened before the novel was written: he was gunned down because he had ratted on Becker, the corrupt NYPD chief.

The results of the 1919 baseball championships were fixed. In the text, Meyer Wolfshiem is responsible for tampering with the results while in reality, it is all Arnold Rothstein.

In chapter 4, we learn that Wolfshiem lives above the laws : "they can't get him old sport. He's a smart man". Arnold Rothstein was nicknamed "the brain", "the bankroll", "the Morgan of the Underworld". A Morgan is a magnate, a nabob, a tycoon in the capitalist 19th century.

Gatsby's models in real life

One of Fitzgerald models for Gatsby came from a trial that took place in New York: the Fuller-McGee case. Edward M. Fuller, one of the two men, had been a neighbour of Fitzgerald's in Long Island.

The Fuller-McGee case concerned illegal speculation. They both had been partners in a brokerage firm. Yet, it was soon discovered that they had cheated people. Later on, it was proved that Fuller and McGee were acting for Rothstein, the head of the New York underworld.

We can suspect Fitzgerald is to Fuller what Nick Carraway is to Gatsby.

Gatsby has earned a lot of money very quickly, more or less illicitly. He also polished his manners: "it took me three years".

Gatsby is said to have had a hand in "the drug business" and in "the oil business" : there is no precision and his business remains quite vague.

The clue to the truth is that Gatsby must have earned a lot of money through shady dealings and illegal transactions. This is spelt out at the end of the book, after Gatsby's death, when Nick answers the phone call: "Young... in trouble. They picked him up when he handed the bonds over the counter".

We can therefore conclude that Gatsby has been involved in the trafficking of bonds.

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NAS Synology : regarder les vidéos du NAS directement sur la Freebox en DLNA

J'utilise mon NAS Synology tous les jours et l'une des fonctions que j'affectionne particulièrement est de pouvoir regarder des vidéos directement sur la télévision, en passant par la Freebox Revolution.

NAS Synology : regarder les vidéos du NAS directement sur la Freebox en DLN photo

Il existe plusieurs manières de regarder les vidéos stockées sur le NAS sur la télévision : depuis la Freebox, depuis un navigateur avec VideoStation ou depuis votre mobile avec l'application DS Video.

Lire des vidéos avec fichiers de sous-titres depuis la Freebox

Il suffit de se rendre dans le menu Freebox > Disques et de sélectionner votre NAS, qui s'appelle par défaut "DiskStation" chez Synology.

La Freebox affiche la liste des fichiers vidéos, films, séries tels qu'ils sont sur le NAS, ainsi que les fichiers de sous-titres au format .SRT s'ils sont présents sur le NAS, si vous avez suivi le tutoriel NAS Synology : lire des vidéos avec des fichiers de sous-titres en DLNA sur la Freebox.

Si le fichier de sous-titre porte le même nom que le fichier vidéo auquel il se rattache, alors la Freebox le chargera automatiquement. Vous pouvez alors le désactiver en appuyant sur la touche Menu verte de la télécommande Free.

C'est la méthode que j'utilise au quotidien mais il faut avoir prévu de télécharger les bons sous-titres, s'être assuré que le nom ne diffère pas et les avoir mis dans le même répertoire que le fichier vidéo... cela demande un peu de manutention avant de pouvoir se caler dans le canapé.

Lire des vidéos avec sous-titres chargés à la volée depuis le NAS

Une seconde solution consiste à lancer le fichier depuis le webdamin du Synology : démarrez l'application VideoStation et sélectionnez le fichier à lire.

Allumez ensuite votre télévision et le Freebox Player pour qu'il soit détecté par l'application VideoStation.

Si vous cliquez sur la petite icône Réglages du lecteur vidéo, il est possible de charger des sous-titres à la volée dans la section Sous-Titres :

Synology : regarder les vidéos du NAS sur la Freebox photo

Il ne vous reste plus qu'à sélectionner la destination vidéo vers laquelle envoyer la vidéo en flux DLNA dans la section Source. Ici, nous choisissons Freebox Player en DLNA:

Synology : regarder les vidéos du NAS sur la Freebox photo 1

Il suffit de cliquer sur le bouton lecture et la vidéo sera directement projetée sur la télévision par le biais du Freebox Player.

Lire vidéos et sous-titres depuis l'application mobile DS Video

Je vous ai gardé le meilleur pour la fin : vous pouvez lancer les vidéos du Synology et activer les sous-titres à la volée depuis l'application mobile DS Video, à installer sur votre téléphone portable.

DS Video est une application gratuite, à télécharger : DS Video pour Android (Play Store) ou alors DS Video pour iPhone (AppStore).

Synology : regarder les vidéos du NAS sur la Freebox photo 2

C'est le meilleur des deux mondes : plus besoin de courir sur l'ordinateur pour lancer la vidéo. Il suffit de :

  1. lancer DS Video,
  2. se connecter au Synology avec votre compte habituel,
  3. ne pas activer HTTPS (très important),
  4. choisir la vidéo à lire,
  5. régler les options : sous-titres, sortie vidéo vers le Freebox Player.

Et profiter ! Plus besoin de quitter le canapé cette fois ;-)

Introduction to The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald: from the Lost Prairies to the Realist Jungle

Both the novel and the American society correspond to the beginning of a modern era. America is a direct consequence of the age of reason (18th century). Indeed, the first settlers intended to escape the tyrannical power of absolute monarchs.

The novel is also the result of a revolution :

  • social revolution: when the middle-class asserted its cultural autonomy
  • idealogical change that put the single individual at the centre of the world

Yet, there are profound contradictions:

  • America did not offer favourable conditions for the birth of the novel. The notion of class, and love and marriage are central to the novel.
  • the 18th century and 19th century novels are about chasing a husband.
  • the European novel favours a plot with a domestic story and marriage E.g.: Pride and Prejudice, Madame Bovary.
  • the American novel avoids treating passionate relationships, focuses on male characters, and turns away from Society to Nature. E.g. Moby Dick, The Last of the Mohicans.

American novels dream of the innocence with the first settlers bu Puritanism and the notion of guilt proved to be fundamental in American literature. This feeling of guilt included the rape of nature and the exploitation of the Natives.

The Lost Prairie

The early 19th century can be described as an American Epic. James Fenimore Cooper's The Leatherstocking Tales gave America legend and myth.

The two main themes are:

  • the settlement: how pioneers got used to a new life in the American wilderness;
  • the frontier, which can be described as an ideal boundary between two cultures: the "civilized and cultivated" society, and "wild and lawless" tribes. The frontier is also a limit pushed further westward.

Settlers and trappers and the Great Prairies

The central character found in Cooper's Tales is a trapper surviving by catching small animals: Natti Bumppo. He's a white man who has lived with the Natives and respects them. He's suspicious of progress. He's a typical American hero - a poor lonesome trapper.

The notion of solitude is significant. According to Alexis de Tocqueville's De la Démocratie en Amérique, democracy is about a world of lonesome men owing their allegiance to no none, men who are neither servants or bondsmen. Self-reliance is key although man is constantly watched by God's invisible eye (puritan view and the sense of guilt).

The Frontier is a virgin land, the New Eden, the biblical Promised Land. The utopian territory is soiled and tarnished, corrupted : by invading those new virgin lands, the conquerors brought along their greed for money, their lust for power, and their selfish appetite. As a consequence, their adventures are bound to damage what they most cherish, respect and admire.

The land is turned to a battlefield opposing white men against themselves and against Native populations. The dream of purity and innocence turns into a sanguinary and bloody battlefield.

East and West, North and South

The East represents industrialisation, urbanisation, corruption and sin while the West represents the last rampart against encroaching civilisation, the last space of innocence and purity.

The North is Yankee, modern and industrial while the South is Dixieland, with the colonial south, agricultural and colonial area with the cotton fields There is a clash between conservative (South) and modern/liberal (North).

We can see these oppositions in very famous pairs of characters: Cooper's Natty and Chingachgook, Melville's Ishmael and Qeequeg, and Twain's Huck and Jim.

The Prairie's posterity

Novels have often recounted a flight or escape towards a mystic and idealised West. In Grapes of Wrath, a bunch of dislocated farmers are making the same journey as their ancestors, their eldorado being California.

In the 1920's - 1930's, America had become a modern country and the far west was still very much synonymous of freedom and anarchy. American novelists are like their books, escaping their familiar environment (Huck escapes with a runaway slave for instance).

In the 1920's, American writers left America for Europe, they were the writers of the "Lost Generation": Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Francis Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein all came to France to write about America.

In the 1950's, the writers of the "Beat Generation", such as Jack Kerouac, went to California : San Francisco was then identified as the ideal of freedom.

Yet, the journey is not always physical. It can be symbolic, a retreat from society by getting isolated: Emerson went to Concord, Thoreau went to Walden, at the fringe of society.

The realist jungle

Urban America was depicted in Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times.

America is going to deal with metropolis in a simplistic and manichean vision which opposes the Prairie, synonymous of innocence, with the City, a place of evil and corruption.

This innocence was destroyed by immigrants as men broke what has been their dream. The vision of the city reminds us of biblical references: buildings and skyscrapers are reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, their dreams of going beyond and transgressing human limitations.

Romance is the universe of the prairie whereas the novel, with its elements of realism, deals with the shabbiness and ugliness of the city.

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