Friday, 26 February 2016

Reinventing the self : Gatsby and Blakely

 An integral part of Gatsby’s narrative is the reinvention of the self. We learn from Nick’s anecdotes that James Gatz had unsuccessful, farming parents whom raised a son that disconnected himself from them. His young years amounted to trawling the south shore of Lake Superior clam-digging and salmon fishing to buy merely food and rent. For James Gatz, America was not delivering an endless possibility of self improvement.

However, James Gatz meets Dan Cody and presents himself as the, ‘quick and extravagantly ambitious’ (chap.6, p91) Jay Gatsby. Cody is a man made filthy rich by the business of precious metals and so represents an embodiment of the American Dream that Jay Gatsby wishes to replicate.

Gatsby goes on to pursue money and material wealth. He successfully reinvents himself as a rich ‘business’ man with high social standing and popularity. Part of Gatsby’s American Dream is to become a ‘somebody’, a person that people want to emulate. A characteristic his parents never had.

Although, Gatsby’s reinvention is somewhat problematic - It is via illegal acts of bootlegging that he enhances his wealth and similarly, social class. Also, it can be said that the reinvention of his self is just a function of his quest to retain the love of Daisy which rather contradicts the typical American Dream of self-improvement.

In 1998, Sara Blakely was a fax machine sales trainer and stand up comic in Georgia. Dissatisfied with the way she looked in a new pair of trousers she cut the feet off of some pantyhose and wore them underneath instead of regular underwear. Today you can find ‘Spanx’ almost anywhere in the world and Blakely is now a billionaire. But it wasn't easy for Blakely to become an advocate of the American Dream.

Making the $5000 prototype almost bankrupt her and she was turned away by numerous investors. But her self-determinism and unrelenting want to progress and succeed piloted her eventual success. She told one buyer at Niemen Marcus that if he gave her 10 minutes of his time she would fly to Dallas and she was even her own model!

The journeys of Blakely and Gatsby have some distinct similarities. Both unhappy with their lot they knew that they had the ability, via hard work and determination, to reinvent themselves. And so they did. Their stories are indicative of the strength of the American Dream narrative in both literature and film ect. but more also reality.

Despite the notion of the American Dream dying out, it is clear that some Americans still rate its validity to the extent that they will risk their livelihood for something much greater. In both the case of Blakely and Gatsby, the something greater is wealth and I think for a lot of Americans money and material wealth is a great indicator of success. Moreover, the something greater incorporates the ascent to celebrity which can be just as - if not more - appealing to the modern American. Whether it be a party at the Kardashian's house or one at Gatsby’s mansion, an arena in which someone might climb the societal ladder is the appealing pot of gold at the end of the American Dream rainbow.

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