I carry a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in my car’s glove box. Why? Out of the desperate hope that one day someone will be sitting in my passenger seat when they pop the handle, see the book and say, “Why do you have a copy of The Great Gatsby in your glove box?”
The problem has always been what to answer. I mean, there’s always the look. You know the look. It’s the “you better believe I carry a copy of The Great Gatsby in my glove box ’cause I’m gangsta’ like that” look. Apparently girls do not like this look or really the concept of keeping quasi-symbolic reading in the car. Then, the other day it hit me. I’ve got an answer now. Ahem, “Aaron, why is this book in here?”
In response to your question, allow me to unfold the greatest undiscovered literary analysis of all time. This is why The Great Gatsby is about Duke.
There are spacious lawns and buildings playing host to nightly get-togethers of people perfectly unbeknownst to each other, guests especially. We’re all really just strangers out there, absorbed in our own things, combining briefly in the night under pretexts of some fabulous party and then returning to our clearly defined, day-lit, regular worlds.
What about West Campus, plopped down in the middle of Durham, N.C., the proverbial less-fashionable West Egg of Fitzgerald’s world? It’s modeled after Princeton, right? Just as Gatsby’s house was a copy of some stuck-up long-standing tradition, our campus wishes to reflect the very things we both love and hate—those New England, East Egg, Ivy League schools. There are similarities in our founding and manufactured identity, also. How nouveau-riche was James B. Duke? About as nouveau-riche as Jay Gatsby. Can anyone say tobacco money?
What about the “valley of ashes” that exists between Long Island and New York City where George Wilson and his wife Myrtle live? All I can think about is the way that we drive through the streets outside our three-foot wall looking at the advertisements for detached gods (read: Parizade, Shooters, Bully’s) without ever really stopping to give our neighbors, the people of Durham, a hand. Sure, we’ll buy gas (or alcohol, which during the ’20s was prohibited—oh irony!) from them, but we end up acting like Tom Buchanan does to his mechanic Wilson: frustrated, disrespectful and altogether uninterested. At least we’re not cheating on Durham’s wife.
How many Jordan Bakers do you know? In the past few years we’ve had one of the best women’s golf team in the nation here, if that’s any coincidence. But go deeper than that. Find all of the people who wouldn’t have a problem leaving the top of their convertible down during a rainstorm because they wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences. Yup, I see a few.
And who out there is pursuing the dream that Gatsby did? Make the money, create the persona, get the girl (or guy?) and live happily ever after. Or do enough of us see that the dream he chased was false? Have you ever made a strict schedule for self-improvement, pledging constantly to clean up your act, change your ways and commit yourself to your goals? Gatsby did.
Then there’s our debate about shirts—pink shirts, “fine by me” shirts, shirts that fit effortlessly… Gatsby had tons of shirts. Wonder if he popped the collar. Or is that more of an East Egg thing?
Haven’t you felt the loneliness felt by all of the characters as you wander through those beautiful Gatsby-esque gardens or quads, sometimes covered by large party-tents? All of the faces are familiar but not too familiar. There are memories or flashes of unrecoverable times scattered though nights of going from room to room, inviting others in and watching them leave.
There is a member of the Class of 2007 named Tom Buchanan and there are more people here from New York than I’ve ever seen before. But am I stretching it? Is there really no connection between The Great Gatsby and Duke? I’m getting the feeling like I’m back in AP English trying to argue that Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” was really about the League of Nations. Wait. What’s this? Of course!
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Nick Carraway is an investment banker.
Aaron Kirschenfeld is a Trinity sophomore. His column usually appears every third Monday.