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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.

The American Civil War started with the secession crisis on April 12, 1861 and ended up with the assassination of Lincoln and the abolition of slavery on May 9, 1865. It transformed the political, economical and social life of the nation.

It first began with a constitutional struggle and then became a test of federal authority but soon took a broader dimension. The initial belief it would be short proved tragically to be mistaken. The seceding states fought to achieve independence and yet, they closely modeled the government of their Confederacy on the American one. Lincoln’s administration responded with a crusade to preserve the union and expanded its war aims to include the destruction of slavery and the liberation of all black slaves.

In the end, the Union had been preserved and questions left unresolved had been answered at a very high cost in human terms: 600 000 lives, which is still the largest number of fatality in any American war (it was worse than Vietnam).

The Civil War: the story of a secession

The secession started in South Carolina, which withdrew from the Union. It was a direct response to Lincoln’s election. That decision was taken in December 1860. In less than 6 weeks, the other 6 states of the “Lower South” had also seceded: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.

That decision was not really surprising because there was a Southern nationalism and a popular ideal in the South that has existed in the 1850’s: the South had its own destiny and could exist as a separate nation. Some Southerners argued that their section would prosper more outside the Union once free of taxes and tariffs, which increased the costs of their goods to foreign purchasers. There was also a general atmosphere of anxiousness in the South, full of conspirational theories by 1860: Southerners were paranoid toward the North, perceiving the growing trend of abolitionism as a threat to their way of life.

The last event that quickened the War was the political victory of the Republican Party: Lincoln was elected in 1860 without winning any of the Southern states. It was perceived as a provocation.

On the 4th of March 1861, Lincoln took the oath and became President. Less than a month passed before the creation of a Confederacy from the part of the South.

In February 1861, a new national entity was created: the Confederate States of America, composed of Southern states. They selected Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi cotton planter as their leader. The feeling of secession was not general. There was still a strong opposition (especially from businessmen) to preserve the Union.

In the winter 1860-1861 lots of schemes for re(conciliation) were proposed but they failed. In his inaugural address a s President, Lincoln appealed the South to stay in the Union. He said he would not interfere with slavery but would not allow them to break the United States by seceding. The South did not answer.

On April 12th 1861, the Confederate States opened fire on Fort Sumter (South Carolina). It marked the beginning of the Civil War.

On April 15th, Lincoln proclaimed that an “insurrection” existed in the South. Since army regulars numbered only 60 000, Lincoln called on the Loyal States to raise 75 000 militiamen to serve for 3 months. Soon followed a call for 42 000 state troopers for 3 years. Later, the congress authorized the President to enlist 500 000 volunteers for 3 years.

The call to arms rallied support of Lincoln in the North but also tested the loyalty of the states bordering slave states. As a result, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina seceded, strengthening the Confederacy.

The capital of the South was moved from Montgomery to Richmond. In 4 other slave states – Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland – unionist sentiments proved strong enough to avoid secession. After the Northern and Southern calls to arms, volunteers rushed forwards in thousands in both sides. The decision was hard to make and it sometimes split whole families (3 of Lincoln’s own brothers-in-law died for the South). The first month, the Union blockaded harbors in the South to prevent the Confederation from selling its cotton abroad and from obtaining foreign supplies.

The Forces in opposition

The superiority of the Union was great in terms of human and physical resources. The population of the Loyal states was 20 700 000 people while the total population of the 17 states composing the Confederacy was 9 100 000, of whom 3 500 000 were black slaves.

The roads and railways, factories and businesses, banking capital and investment and food suppliers were vastly superior in the Loyal states. The North grew more food crops than the South and had more than 5 times the manufacturing capacity (including weapon factories). So the North seemed to be far more superior than the South before the War.

In order to offset the North, the South expected to rely on cotton factories and industries. Moreover, the North had to face a major difficulty: the only way the North could win the War was to invade the South, which only had to hold out and to wait till the North grew tired of fighting. One major asset of the South was the number of trained military leaders who had attended West Point and who organized the Southern army. Furthermore, most battles took place in the South.

In terms of morale, the Confederate soldiers were defending their land/home and fought with spirit. The South denied they were fighting mainly to preserve slavery: most Southerners had no slaves and were poor farmers. They were attached to the land, fighting for their independence from the North, just as their grand-parents had fought for their independence against Britain. It explains how valiant they were.
The War took place in 2 areas: Virginia and the Mississippi Valley. Lincoln settled on 3 objectives:

  1. the capture of Richmond
  2. the blockade of the harbors of the Confederation
  3. the control of the Mississippi River

“On to Richmond !” was the motto. In Virginia, during the first year, the Union army knew defeat after defeat and was thrown back with heavy losses. The Confederate forces had 3 advantages:

  1. the topography: land and rivers
  2. the distance for forces to reach the battlefields : they had to travel dozens of miles while the Union forces had to travel hundreds
  3. the quality of the leaders with Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson, nicknamed “Stonewall” for he stood firm against unionists and did not move an inch. They showed much more skilled than the Union generals.

The North’s early defeats in Virginia discouraged its supporters. As a consequence, the flood of volunteers began to dry out. The first defeats took place in Bull Run and in Antietam in September 1862. Antietam was the bloodiest single day battle of the War with 4 500 casualties and 18 500 people injured.

In the Mississippi Valley, the Union forces had more success. In April 1862, an officer called David Farragut sailed Union ships into the mouth of the river and captured New Orleans. At the same time, other Union forces were fighting their way from the North. By Spring 1863, the Union armies were closing in on an important confederate stronghold called Vicksburg.

On July 4th, after much bloody fighting and a siege lasting six weeks, Vicksburg capitulated and surrendered to the Union army led by General Ulysses S. Grant. That fall was a heavy blow to the South because Union forces now controlled the whole length of the Mississippi. They had split the Confederacy into two and it became impossible to Western confederate states like Texas to send anymore men or supplies to the East.

Yet, by 1863, many Northern abolitionists were tired of the war, sickened by its heavy cost in lives and money. General Lee believed that if his army could win a decisive victory on North soil, the popular opinion might force the Union government to make peace. In the last week of June 1863, Lee marched his army North into Pennsylvania. A Union army blocked his way at a small town named Gettysburg.

The battle which followed was the biggest ever fought in the US: it marked a turning point for the Confederacy. In three days of fighting, more than 50 000 men were killed or wounded. On the 4th day, Lee broke off the battle and led his men back into the South: the Confederacy had suffered the most terrible defeat of the South, from which it would never recover.

Another important event is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on November 19th 1863. Lincoln had realized in 1862 that the North would only win the war if he could arouse more enthusiasm for his cause. That is why he issued the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, which declares that -from January 1st 1863-, “all persons held as slaves…shall be then…forever free”. All slaves were to be free, but only if they lived in the States belonging to the Confederacy. It changed the purpose of the war: first it was a struggle to preserve the union, then a struggle to abolish slavery.

A Northern victory

By 1864, the Confederacy was running out of almost everything: men, equipment, money, food. The union armies moved in to end the war in Fall 1864. In November, the Union army led by General Sherman began to march through Georgia. Its soldiers destroyed everything on their path: they burnt crops and buildings and torn up railroad tracks.

On December 22nd, The Union army occupied the city of Savannah and split again East from West. Then Sherman turned North, marched through the Carolinas as he made for Richmond. “Total War” is the worst aspect of the war for it consists in inflicting horrors to the civilian population. The reason is obvious: to quicken the end of the war and to break the South’s will to resist.

Richmond was already in danger with Grant’s army: by March 1865, Grant had almost encircled the city. On April 2nd, Lee was forced to abandon it in order to save his army from being trapped and marched South, hoping to fight from a higher position. But Grant followed close behind and blocked him.

April 9th 1965: Lee met Grant in a tiny mini village called Appomatox (Virginia). Lee surrendered his army and Grant treated the defeated Confederate soldiers generously. After they had given up their weapons and promised never again to fight against the USA, Grant allowed them to go home: “the war is over. The rebels are our countrymen again.” (Grant).

Conclusion

The war put an end to slavery everywhere in the USA and contributed to the elaboration of the 13th Amendment in the American Constitution. Finally, the war decided that the US was one nation whose parts could not be separated. But it left bitter memories. The US weighed other wars later but all the wars it was engaged in took place outside its own boundaries. The American Civil War caused terrible distractions at home. In this war, more Americans died than in any other war before or since: 635 000 casualties.

Voici la cinquième et dernière saison de Hell on Wheels sur AMC.

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Le chemin de fer n’est toujours pas achevé et Cullen Bohannon se trouve toujours avec la Central Pacific Railroad.

Il est toujours déterminé à finir sa tâche, rallier la Californie à l’Utah, et espère toujours retrouver sa famille. Enfin, s’il arrive à ne pas se faire tuer ou à ne pas croiser les mauvaises personnes sur son chemin !

Cette dernière saison de quatorze épisodes sera diffusée en deux parties : sept épisodes durant l’été 2015, puis sept autres épisodes en 2016.

Voici la quatrième saison de la série Hell on Wheels sur AMC.

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Cette saison se centre encore et toujours sur l’expansion vers l’Ouest de l’Union Pacific Railroad.

Des conflits entre le gouvernement et des entreprises, des ranchers, des colons et la ligne de chemin de fer éclatent.

Tous ces intérêts différents entrent en compétition les uns avec les autres pour le contrôle de la ville de Cheyenne, dans le Wyoming, l’un des noeuds les plus importants de la ligne de chemin de fer en 1867.

Après l’annulation l’année dernière, Eastbound and Down renaît de ses cendres pour une quatrième saison sur HBO et normalement (!) ce devrait bien être la der des der!

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Kenny Powers est maintenant père de famille, avec sa femme April, deux enfants et une maison dans une banlieue paisible.

Tout va pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes lorsque lors d’une soirée avec un de ses anciens équipiers et actuelle star de la télé pousse Kenny à sortir de l’ombre pour retrouver les feux de la rampe.

Hell on Wheels est de retour pour une troisième saison sur AMC.

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Cullen Bohannon revient au centre du show et abandonne son désir de vengeance pour sa famille pour continuer l’expansion vers l’ouest de l’Union Pacific Railroad, tout en combattant Thomas “Doc” Durant pour le contrôle.

La tagline de cette saison est : “Outlaw In Charge”.

Voici la seconde saison de Copper, diffusée sur BBC America.

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February 5, 1865. Five Points remains a bedlam. Young men are dying and disappearing at an alarming rate and a career criminal is terrorizing the Sixth Ward. With pressures from Tammany Hall raining down upon the police force, Detective Kevin Corcoran and the coppers of the Sixth Ward must follow the guidance of returned ward leader, General Brendan Donovan.

Meanwhile, Doctor Matthew Freeman visits his mentor and is presented with an attractive offer that will cause a rift in his marriage.

Uptown, Robert Morehouse and Elizabeth Haverford make plans for their wedding and Confederate spy Kennedy’s execution. In the tombs, Francis Maguire is set to learn his fate.

True Blood nous revient sur HBO pour une sixième saison.

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On revient sur la réincarnation plutôt gore de Bill mais personne – même Sookie, Eric ou Jessica – ne sait vraiment qui ou ce qu’il est. D’ailleurs personne ne désire vraiment s’approcher pour le découvrir.

Pendant ce temps, Alcide prend le pouvoir comme pack master et découvre qu’il y a quelques privilèges associés à cette position. Andy doit gérer le fait d’être papa.

Le gouverneur de Louisiana déclare la guerre aux vampires. Et Jason fait de l’autostop avec un étranger plutôt louche.

Southland est de retour sur TNT pour sa cinquième saison.

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John se retrouve en conflit avec son nouvel élève-officier, qui est un vétéran qui revient d’Afghanistan. Pendant ce temps, Lydia essaie de jongler entre le fait d’être mère et le travail d’inspecteur.

Ben s’associe avec un groupe de policiers plutôt louches et Sammy se retrouve impliqué dans une bataille juridique cauchemardesque pour la garde de son enfant.

Cette saison comprendra 10 épisodes et accueille de nouveaux policiers (récurrents) dans les forces de police de Los Angeles avec Chad Michael Murray, Lesley Fera, Derek Ray, Anthony Ruivivar et Yvette Saunders.

Et voici le retour de Dexter Morgan, notre tueur en série préféré, sur Showtime pour la septième saison de Dexter !

Après avoir assisté au meurtre de Travis Marshall par son frère, Debra essaie de se réconcilier avec lui tout en luttant pour dissimuler leur responsabilité dans le crime.

Pendant ce temps, l’inspecteur Mike Anderson connait une mésaventure malheureuse, Quinn et Batista commencent à enterrer la hache de guerre et LaGuerta met la main sur des preuves qui la pousse à reconsidérer l’affaire du Bay Harbor Butcher.

Voici la première saison de Copper, une nouvelle série produite et diffusée par BBC America.

New York City, 1864. Nous sommes après la guerre de Sécession et Kevin Corcoran, un immigrant irlandais au service de la police, enquête sur des crimes qui se sont déroulés dans la zone des Five Points.

Cette série de 10 épisodes qui se focalise sur un jeune policier irlandais dans les communautés immigrantes du New York du 19ème siècle est co-écrite par Tom Fontana (qui a travaillé sur OZ, Homicide: Life on the Street, St. Elsewhere) et Will Rokos (Monster’s Ball, Southland).

J’ai regardé le premier épisode de la série The Newsroom, actuellement diffusée sur HBO, et – sans avoir réellement accroché aux personnages ou à l’histoire – j’ai tout de même bien apprécié ce petit moment :

La vidéo est constamment retirée de YouTube et ne peut être intégrée sur des sites tiers donc en voici une version kinétique :

[Jenny]
Hi, my name is Jenny, I’m a sophomore and this for all three of you. Can you say in one sentence or less – what – (laughing in background) you know what I mean: “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”

[Emily Kathleen A. Mortimer – As Sharon]
Diversity and opportunity.

[Debate Moderator]
Louis?

[Louis]
Ah freedom and freedom, so let’s keep it that way.

[Debate Moderator]
Will?

[Jeffrey Warren “Jeff” Daniels As Will]
The New York Jets.

[audience laughs]

[Debate Moderator]
No, I’m gonna hold you to an answer on that. What makes America the greatest country in the world?

[Jeff Daniels]
Well, Louis and Sharon said it. Diversity and opportunity and freedom and freedom.

(audience member holds notebook)
IT’S NOT. BUT IT CAN BE.

[Debate Moderator]
I’m not letting you go back to the airport without answering the question.

[Will]
Well, our Constitution is a masterpiece. James Madison was a genius. The Declaration of Independence is for me the single greatest piece of American writing.

[Will]
You don’t look satisfied.

[Debate Moderator]
One’s a set of laws and the other is a declaration of war. I want a human moment from you.

IT’S NOT

[Debate Moderator]
What about the people? Why is it?

[Will]
It’s NOT the greatest country in the world, Professor. That’s my answer.

[Debate Moderator]
You’re saying?

[Will]
Yes.

[Debate Moderator]
Let’s talk about…

[Will (Speaking to Sharon]
Fine. Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paycheck, but he gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money. It costs votes. It costs airtime. And column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin’ smart then how come they lose so goddamn always?

[Sharon]
Hey!

[Will (to Lewis]
And with a straight face, you’re gonna sit there and tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The U.K. France. Italy. Germany. Spain. Australia. BELGIUM has freedom. (laughs) Two hundred and seven sovereign states in the world, like, a hundred and eighty of them have freedom.

[Debate Moderator]
All right…

[Will]
And you, Sorority Girl, just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know. One of them is there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy. Twenty-seventh in math. Twenty-second in science. Forty-ninth in life expectancy. A hundred and seventy-eighth in infant mortality. Third in median household income. Number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies.

Now none of this is the fault of a twenty-year-old college student, but you nonetheless are without a doubt a member of the worst, period, generation, period, ever, period. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I dunno what the fuck you’re talkin’ about. Yosemite?

(Audience surprised.)

[Will]
Sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. And we never beat our chest.

We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy.

[pause]

We reached for the stars. Acted like men.

We aspired to intelligence. We didn’t belittle it—it didn’t make us feel inferior.

We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t, oh, we didn’t scare so easy. Ha. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men. Men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.

[pause]

Enough?

Petite précision pour la sorority girl : America is not a country, the USA is.

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