Like Pale Gold – The Great Gatsby Part I: Crash Course English Literature #4

Like Pale Gold – The Great Gatsby Part I: Crash Course English Literature #4


Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course Literature. So the two books most often cited as the “Great
American novel” are The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and this slender beast, The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The US is a country founded on the principles of freedom and equality;
Huck Finn is a novel about slavery and radical inequality. We’re also a nation that believes
in the American Dream. We pride ourselves on our lack of aristocracy and the equality
of opportunity, but Gatsby is a novel about our de facto aristocracy and the limits of
American Opportunity. I mean, Daisy Buchanan- Mr Green, I hate everything about this stupid
collection of first world problems passing for a novel, but my hatred of that Willa Cather-ing loser
Daisy Buchanan burns with the fire of a thousand suns! Ugh, me from the past, here’s the thing: you’re
not supposed to like Daisy Buchanan, at least not in the uncomplicated way that you like, say, cupcakes. By the way, Stan, where are my cupcakes? Stan: It’s not your birthday or Merebration. Ah, stupid Merebration, coming only once a
year. I don’t know where you got the idea that the
quality of a novel should be judged by the likeability of its characters, but let me
submit to you that Daisy Buchanan doesn’t have to be likeable to be interesting. Furthermore,
most of what makes her unlikeable — her sense of entitlement, her limited empathy, her inability
to make difficult choices – are the very things that make you unlikeable! That’s the pleasure
and challenge of reading great novels, you get to see yourself as others see you,
and you get to see others as they see themselves. [Theme Music] So today we’re going to focus on the American
Dream and how it plays out in the Great Gatsby. Spoiler alert, some petals fall off the Daisy.
So let’s begin with the characters. From the first chapter, we know three things
about our narrator, Nick Carraway – By the way, get it? Care away? It’s not that sophisticated,
he could have done better. 1) Nick grew up in the Midwest then moved
to New York’s West Egg, and then something happened that made him move back to the Midwest. Also, 2) He is prone to the use of highfalutin
language as when he introduces Jay Gatsby by saying, “Gatsby turned out alright in the
end; it was what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that
temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations
of men.” That dream, by the way, with all of its foul dust, is the American Dream. Finally, 3) Nick is rich, and he got rich
not by working but by having a rich ancestor who paid someone off to serve in the Civil
War on his behalf which allowed Nick’s ancestor to spend the Civil War making money. So how’s
that for equal opportunity? And then there’s Gatsby, about whom we learn
absolutely nothing in chapter 1, except for the aforementioned foul dust floating in the wake of his
dreams and that he had an “extraordinary gift for hope.” This extraordinary gift for hope is the essential
fact of Gatsby and also many romantic leads from Romeo to Edward Cullen to Henry VIII,
who might have given up on several of his wives but never gave up on the idea of love! All of these people share a creepy belief
that if they just get the thing they want — the thing being a female human being —
then they’ll finally be happy. We have a word for this;
it’s called objectification. Then you have the aggressively vapid Daisy
Buchanan, Nick’s distant cousin who lives across the bay from Gatsby and Nick in the
much more fashionable East Egg. Daisy Buchanan is crazy rich — like polo pony rich — thanks
to her marriage to Tom Buchanan. Tom is a former football player and a life
long asshat who Nick describes as “one of those men who achieves such an acute, limited
excellence at twenty-one that everything afterwards savors of anti-climax.” Listen, if you’re
under 21 it might be difficult to apprehend the depth of that burn, but trust me, it’s
a burn. So soon after the novel begins, Daisy and
Tom ask Nick to come over for dinner, where the golfer Jordan Baker is also there, and they have
this awful party. And there’s this great moment when Tom goes on a racist rant and says, “We’re Nordics and
we’ve produced all the things that make a civilization,” Which is hilarious because none of those
people has actually produced anything. They didn’t make the fancy furniture they’re
sitting on, they didn’t grow or cook the food they’re eating, they don’t even light their
own freaking candles! Anyway we also learn that Tom has a mistress and that Daisy might
not be as stupid as she’s letting on, because she looks at her young daughter and famously
says, “I hope she’ll be a fool, that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a
beautiful little fool.” Now look, it’s difficult to argue that Daisy
is a good person — after all, in the novel’s climax she allows Gatsby to take the fall for something
she did — but she’s a product of a much older American system, one that, for instance, allows rich people
to pay poor people to go fight the Civil War for them. Oh it’s time for the open letter? I never
noticed this chair was gold before, Stan. It makes me think of wealth. And to a lesser
extent, decay. An open letter to the Heroic Past. But first, let’s see
what’s on top of the secret compartment today. Oh, it’s a champagne glass, I love champagne.
Stan! There are champagne poppers in here! You put explosive miniature champagne bottles
in my champagne glass instead of champagne!! Dear Heroic Past,
Like champagne poppers, you’re always a little bit underwhelming. (POP!). The thing is, Heroic
Past, which of our pasts was so heroic? Was it the part where we owned other human beings?
Was it the part where we fought over the right to own other human beings?
Was it Gatsby’s Jazz Age, with its fast cars, deliciously illegal alcohol and rapidly expanding
stock portfolios? I mean, the amazing thing about the Great Gatsby is that Fitzgerald
didn’t know the Great Depression was coming, but his book sure reads like prophecy. The truth, Heroic Past, is that we may thing
we want to recreate you, but what we actually want to do is we want to recreate you without
all the problems we don’t remember. And that’s how you ruin your life over a girl
you dated for a month five years ago. Best wishes,
John Green From that dinner party, it’s clear that wealth
consumes the rich, but there’s also a moment where it becomes clear that wealth consumes
the poor. Daisy tells a story about her butler, that he used to polish silver for a big family
in the city night and day until the caustic silver polish ruined his nose. Alright, let’s
go the the Thought Bubble. So whenever Nick is hanging out with the mega-rich
Tom, the parties are always awful and everybody always wants the kind of status and wealth
that Tom Buchanan has, which is hilarious because of course Tom is a horrible asshat who makes
Paris Hilton look, like, charming and grounded. But then we get to go to some awesome parties, at
Gatsby’s house on West Egg. And even though Gatsby has the annoying habit of saying “old sport” all the time and trying to sound upper-crusty, he’s totally charming. He has a “smile that makes you feel he is
irresistibly prejudiced in your favor,” to quote Nick. The first party at Gatsby’s house also contains,
despite being set during Prohibition, the greatest drunk-driving scene in the history
of American literature in which a guy gets in an accident, like, three seconds after
getting into his car, and even though the wheel has fallen off the car, he keeps trying
to drive it. To Fitzgerald, that had become the American Dream by the 1920s: everyone
wanted enough money to buy fancy cars and enough whiskey to crash them. But Gatsby, tellingly, doesn’t drink. He’s
never even used his pool, well until the very end of the novel. All the money he’s acquired
and all the parties he throws, are about one thing and one thing only: winning back Daisy
Buchanan. There’s a flashback in the novel to Gatsby’s first meeting with Daisy and when
you hear Gatsby tell that story it’s very telling that it’s hard to understand whether
Gatsby is falling for Daisy or for her mansion. But when they finally reunite years later
and Gatsby has a mansion of his own everything is yellow: Gatsby’s car is yellow, his tie,
the buttons on Daisy’s dress; at one point Nick, who’s third-wheeling it big time in
this scene, describes some flowers as “smelling like pale gold.” What does that even mean?! Thanks, Thought Bubble. So the most famous
color symbol in The Great Gatsby is the Green Light at the end of Daisy’s dock that Gatsby
is always looking out at from across the bay. Gatsby just wants to reach across the bay
and get to that Green Light and if he can he believes he will have the girl and the
life that has driven his wild ambition. Nick calls that Green Light at one point “an
enchanted object”, and that’s what symbols really are in both literature and real life.
So yes, the Green Light is a symbol in Gatsby but this isn’t only stuff that happens in
novels. We all have enchanted objects in our lives. On the night that I got engaged I drank
champagne with the woman who is now my wife and I still have the cork from that champagne
bottle – I’m lying. I couldn’t afford corky champagne it was twist off champagne, but
I still have the bottle cap. So just as the Green Light is an enchanted
object, gold and yellow are enchanted colors in Gatsby and also, for the record, in real
life. I mean think of golden opportunities, or golden ages, or your golden youth, or the
golden arches. Unless you’re at McDonald’s, gold is the color that conflates wealth and
beauty. But while in our culture the yellow color
of gold is seen as telling us that wealth is beauty and beauty, wealth – in the novel
The Great Gatsby it’s a bit different. In the novel yellow is the color not only of
wealth but also of death: Myrtle Wilson’s house is yellow, the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg
— which stare over so much death in the novel in so many ways — are ringed in yellow glasses,
Gatsby’s car — that fatal missile — is yellow. Now that may seem like symbol hunting to you,
but I’d argue that it’s really important to understand that Fitzgerald is using gold to
decouple the ideas of wealth and greatness, and instead he’s associating richness with
corruption and amorality and finally death. In the roaring 20’s and today wealth was seen
as profoundly good; it was seen as an end that justified most means. Wealth was the
American Dream. But the foul dust that trailed in the wake of those dreams – the casual destruction,
the cyclical violence, the erosion of altruism — make it clear that at least to Fitzgerald,
wealth isn’t simply good. The last chapter of The Great Gatsby is one
of the saddest passages in American Literature, showing how difficult it is to distinguish
between guilt and innocence, and how intractably unfair our society is — even if we don’t have
barons and duchesses. I mean, some people argue that Gatsby couldn’t
live the American Dream because he didn’t come by his money honestly, but who in the
novel did come by their money honestly? And you can argue that Gatsby fails because
nothing is ever enough — it’s not enough for Daisy to love him, she must also say that she never
loved Tom. But this is America, man, when was enough
ever enough for us? We invented super-sizing! I mean — we invented the stretch limousine,
we invented the Hummer, and then we invented the Hummer stretch limousine! We all believe,
as Nick says at the end of the novel, “that if we can only run faster, stretch out our
arms farther, then one fine morning…” We’ve come to believe in this American Dream
not just in the United States but throughout the world. We understand that much will be
lost in pursuit of this dream – not just that butler’s noses will be ruined – but that vast
valleys of ashes will pile up outside of our cities as we consume ever more stuff. We know
this is unsustainable, we know that these parties can’t last forever, and that we won’t be able to drive home in our three wheeled cars; but still we press on. Next week we’ll consider whether Gatsby’s
quest, and ours, is a heroic one, but for now I just want to encourage you not to dismiss
the characters in this novel simply because they may seem different from you. At one point
Nick recalls all the people who would go to those great parties and sneer most bitterly
at Gatsby on the courage of Gatsby’s liquor. Let me submit to you that those of us who
would sneer at Gatsby do so on the courage of his liquor, because the truth is, we all share his ambition. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller. Our script supervisor is Meredith Danko. The associate producer is Danica Johnson.
The show was written by me and our graphics team is Thought Bubble. Every week when I might otherwise curse, I
use the name of one of my favorite writers. If you’d like to suggest writers, you can
do so in comments where you can also ask questions about today’s video that will be answered
by our team of literature experts. And now I will leave you to observe the abundant
metaphorical resonances of this chair, but thanks for watching Crash Course and as we
say in my home town, don’t forget to be awesome.

100 Comments

  1. I have never felt filled with so much estrogenes than after watching a video by this annoying John Green. Not a single thing he ever says is funny at all.

  2. Was Fitzgerald a dry, a wet or a hypocrite? I can't tell if Fitzgerald's stance is black or white. I hate grey. Is he a nick carraway or Gatsby?

  3. 4:29 Reminds me of the Gilderd Age. I'm bridging Literature and U.S.A History. The Great Gatsby is so great!!! The Roaring '20s is one of my favorite times of history. This video really does cover alot of the traits and hidden messages that are found in humans all over the world, past, present, and future!

  4. A lot of people talk about all the characters in "The Great Gatsby" being unlikable, but I'd say that if you look into them a bit more, they're actually the some most realistic fictional characters in a novel. They are very flawed, but when looking at it from an angle, you can feel sympathy for even the worst characters. While Gatsby has an illegitimate business, I still think he's a sympathetic character. There's so much going on all at once that I can see why it can be easy to dislike the characters, but really its their conflict that drives them into doing what they do. Their complicated stories make them realistic, and in some ways, likable.

  5. Ironic isn't it how "The Great Gatsby" and the novels of the "Lost Generation" criticized wealth and religion at the same time, when one of the biggest facets of religion teach to "be grateful"
    which is the "moral of the story" of the Great Gatsby

  6. Hey!!This video was super exciting, to be honest. Could you also please do a critical review on the other Shakespeare plays like Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night.

  7. I'm still so bewildered that this guy wrote the Fault in Our stars and Paper Towns. Doesn't fit the archetype of young teen love story

  8. I enjoyed that, thank you… I have to admit I have arrived here off the back of watching the Redford/Farrow ‘Gatsby’, But even though this was a vapid adaptation It still left me with lots of questions and meandering thoughts about who Gatsby really was and what he was truly after. So, again, thanks for helping out.

  9. im sorry, but i dont agree at 3:03 that gatsby objectified daisy or that just because you desire love that you are objectifying a woman. gatsby was loved by many, but not in the way he wanted. he desired a different form of love, of which he felt could only be satisfied the one woman he so honestly loved, daisy. he loved her so much, and died for her. i think it’s disingenuous to say he only liked daisy for her wealth…. or wished to objectify her….

  10. me: had 3 weeks to read the book for my AP English.

    me: forgets about it.

    me: watches this the day before the due date

  11. This is my first comment onYouTube. I really love this video. It provides me with new power and motivation to continue reading these classic literatures. Thank you Mr. Green

  12. I'm starting to comprehend the linguistics of literature so thanks to my better understanding, Nick's burn of Gatsby was actually funny. Ha ha!

  13. Apparently, people with bigger foreheads have bigger brains. The reason people with smaller foreheads might struggle in school is because their brains get smashed and squeezed together due to the lack of space. LOL

  14. I have a test on this tomorrow and I highkey have not read the book so thank you John Green for saving my english mark by making this dull read funny

  15. I never liked the great Gatsby, but it wasn't because I considered all the characters to be unlikable. I can understand that it's written like that. But after reading it and rereading it a few times I just think the book is very poorly written.

  16. I really appreciated hearing Green's interpretation of Gatsby. The standard English class interpretation is that it has something to do with illusions and money and materialism. It seems to me to be about two brain-dead social gadflies (Tom and Jordan), and geeky Jay Gatz who has lived his whole life hoping to recover what Daisy represented, and thinks he has found the perfect formula to manipulate the appearance-loving brain-dead types, who include the people at his parties, into accepting his shadowy pretensions to wealth and class. In the process, he hopes to win back Daisy, and this time he actually succeeds at repeating the past … only to reach the same ending, but with consequences now so extreme that his death is merciful. Daisy does love him, but Tom owns all of her mind save the little part that actually sees how shallow she really is. And Tom succeeds again in spurring Myrtle's husband to revenge with superficial claims that Gatsby left Myrtle to die "like a dog". Adding insult to injury, Gatsby knows that he has done just that, in a desperate effort to control appearances in order to save his unworthy beloved. So Daisy's brilliance has been smashed, but she will go on with her life using outrageousness and glamour to distract from her unfixable interior mess. And the popping of Gatsby's illusions gets matched by the bullet- popping of his air mattress in the pool.

  17. I have my IB Lit exam in about 8 hours so I've been watching as much as I can about our 4 books (Timbuktu, The Great Gatsby, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Handmaid's Tale), to try and cram for paper 2…

  18. In this case Mr. Green, is it wrong for me to want to work on a steam tourist railroad in a historic town since I am a railroad and old time enthusiast? with what was mentioned about Gatsby.

  19. I have an essay exam on this book tomorrow starting at 9am and I have not read a single word and it is 1:30am rn. Rip

  20. “That’s the pleasure and challenge of reading great novels: you get to see yourself as others see you & you get to see others as they see themselves”. John, you nailed it!

  21. I want a remake of the Great Gatsby but where Nick Carraway is played by John Mulaney.
    "My neighbor wasn't quite a cannibal, but close to it."

  22. I think that Gatsby knows he is holding on to something that isn't real. There's a part near the end of the book where Nick describes him as holding onto a hope, which is why he couldn't bring himself to tell him the truth/persist in giving him advice. I saw a video a while ago of a psychologist talking about Gatsby (I can't remember what it was called, it was around 5 mins long), and he said that most of Gatsby's actions are based on shame and grief.
    Shame, because it was his poor upbringing that led him to believe that he needed to act like a rich person, and grief, because of losing Daisy and feeling unworthy, was what caused him to make the decision to create a persona around himself. As well as this, the psychologist pointed out that Gatsby knocked over the clock when he was meeting Daisy again, symbolising his desire to stop time.
    Taking this into consideration, what you see is a man who knows that what he hopes in isn't real, but has already wasted so much time trying to turn back to the past, that bringing himself back into the present would be utterly life-destroying. I think this adds to the tragedy of the book, because it alludes to a belief that no-one can actually be as hopeful as Gatsby seemed, or as Nick described him, as his hopes are built on an idealised version of what his life would be like with Daisy, or a situation where he has turned this idea of being with Daisy as something that would bring him the "perfect" life, regardless of her flaws or her love for Tom. Although Gatsby is portrayed as a bad person, it would still be comforting for those around him to see the hope he felt.

    I also think that there is reason to believe that Nick isn't necessarily a trustworthy narrator. Even before he's introduced Tom, he describes him as arrogant and harsh, showing that he isn't necessarily "reserving all judgements" as he had said before. There are also points where he describes a girl who he was in a relationship with, which was apparently serious enough for people to think they were engaged, but dismisses it as not really serious, and repeatedly downplays it, in order to justify having other romantic interests, as well as calling himself "one of the few honest people he knows", which, if someone said in real life, would probably make them seem at the very least self-righteous, if not untrustworthy. Most honest people would prefer phrases such as "I try to be as honest as possible" or "I think the truth is very important", which don't make that person seem as though they think they are better than everyone else, but make it seem as though honesty is just important to them. He also doesn't tell Gatsby that other people had seen the crash, and doesn't persist in trying to tell him to run away as people would trace the car, but justifies himself as being a good person by giving him the advice in the first place. I think the book is really meant to be read as Nick's memory of the events as they happened, rather than an objective, factual account. I think it's supposed to be read as you would read an autobiography or memoir in real life; you would take into consideration the fact that the author doesn't remember everything, chooses to leave out certain memories they have, and wants to paint themselves in the best light they can. Rather than simply being a simple observer, I don't find it completely outlandish to assume that Nick would've had a more active role in the way things played out, if not by actions, then by his lack of actions.

    EDIT: I was extremely tired when I wrote this (of course I'd be watching videos about literature for no reason at 3am) so sorry if any of the quotes or ideas are wrong but I think it probably took ages to write this so I don't want to delete it lol

  23. Ah yes, 11th grade high school, the year this book was assigned to us in AP Lit. The summer after sophomore year hadn’t even started yet and we were already given our first assignment, requiring us to read the entire book before we start on it.

  24. Read this in 10th grade english. It spawned the best essay I've ever written, which was four and a half pages on why Nick wasn't straight and was more than likely gay for Gatsby. Got an A on it. No regrets.

  25. You seemed to analyze all the wrong points very patronizing put down it's okay to like Daisy it's a boring analysis from your angle

  26. I will take the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn over The Great Gatsby easily. Very easy to read and hilarious. I could barely tell what was going on in the Great Gatsby. Truly, truly difficult to read and understand.

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