Squalid Cash Interpretations

In the Sunday Times I ran across this curious bit of literary insight by Jackie Collins, the author of such gems as The Stud, The Power Trip, Thrill! and Hollywood Husbands.  Commenting on her favorite love stories, Collins remarked,
The Great Gatsby has always been a standout as far as love stories go. Jay Gatsby is such a mysterious and sexy character, and as a reader one can feel Daisy’s yearning to be closer to him, yet he always manages to pull away. Creating sexual chemistry on the page is organic, and I think F. Scott Fitzgerald had it down.
Reading this, I couldn't help remembering the first time I taught Gatsby.  I was assigned a room full of bored undergrads who were  fulfilling a literature requirement during summer semester.  Half of them had failed Intro to literature in the spring, and the other half were international students, most of them engineering majors from the state university up the road.  One of my Saudi students said that he and his roommate had discussed the novel and were appalled by the lack of morality exhibited by the major characters, including Nick, the narrator. 

"This book does not speak well of America," he said shaking his head. 

My American students were surprised by this.  "I didn't see that at all," one young woman responded.  She was adamant that the novel was a love story.  "Think of all Gatsby did for Daisy," she argued.  "He loved her.  He did it all for her."

Somehow I could never get either side in this debate to see that the novel was both a love story and an indictment of what William James called our "exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS."   Jay Gatsby wasn't a noble hero with a fatal flaw.  He was a nobody whose flaw was to be deluded about nobility. 

I suppose in their own way Collins' novels do oddly echo The Great Gatsby.  They afford readers with an exculpatory "tsk-tsk" at the same time they license their fantasies of success.  I doubt, too, that the new Gatsby movie--with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role--will do much to capture the novel's schizophrenic attitude toward success. None of the other film versions has ever pulled it off.  

In Hollywood, only love stories get the green light.


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