Friday, October 19, 2012

Another Thought on the Great Gatsby

There used to a popular TV show that featured a young single Mom and her involvement with a secret agent and the agency (CIA I assume). It was called the Scarecrow and Mrs. King. I liked this show in part because I liked Kate Jackson who played the Mom and Bruce Boxleitner who played Lee Stetson, the "Scarecrow." I also liked Billy Melrose, the boss, who was played by Mel Stuart. The show was of course unbelievably unbelievable, pure escape.

I was bothered by one small item in the show. In TV, sometimes a point must be gotten across in a fast and cheap way and there are ways that this is done. The show kept trying to suggest that Lee Stetson was a suave kind of Jame Bond guy. As a fan of the show, I just don't think they ever made that work. I suppose women certainly thought he was attractive. He was certainly muscular and in good shape, but suave just never seemed to stick to Stetson. Boxleiter was more of a John Wayne kind of actor than a Sean Connery type. Personally, I thought Boxleitner was magnificent along James Arness in the TV series "How the West was Won."

The Scarecrow and Mrs. King TV show attempted to convince the audience that Stetson was suave by visual evidence. They kept putting him in tuxedos. That's how TV sometimes works with character development. Books on the other hand are expected to work a little harder at such things.

More than anything else in a novel, I like a good story. But even the best authors often do not illustrate character traits through action. They may use narrative explanation or other characters' "projections."

In the Great Gatsby, the secret of just who is Jay Gatsby is central to the story and keeps the reader interested. I suppose somethings are revealed in time, but the actual stabs at character development in the book are some of the more interesting aspects of it and perhaps some of Fitzgerald's best writing.

The character of Nick Carroway serves as the narrator and he is an astute judge of character in many ways. He states right up front that his father told him that before he criticizes anyone, he should remember that "all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." But Nick is sometimes judgmental in his narration to others in the book.

Nick gives us his impression of Gatsby's smile a short time after their first meeting. I think it is a wonderful piece of writing. Nick does not let it rest after he says some positive things about Gatsby, but I did think these particular lines that Fitzgerald hung onto the mysterious Gatsby provide a means of understanding what it would have been like to have been around the mystery man.

Nick's response to Gatsby's smile:
...It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced-or seemed to face-the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

Although Carraway sense of wonder at Gatsby smile instantly evaporates, in this short section, we feel what it was like to meet Gatsby first hand and it serves as beautiful means of character development without Gatsby doing anything more than smile.

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