So let me explain this theory for those of you who haven’t heard it before already.
The Great Gatsby is a story of a man that makes his fortune bootlegging and throws countless magnificent parties all in hopes of attracting the attention of his old flame Daisy.
But it’s really a story about insurmountable class barriers. Daisy will never be with Gatsby, no matter how much she claims to love him. No matter how hard Gatsby tries, he will always be stuck on West Egg, only able to admire the ‘green light’ of upper class american romanticism from afar.
Themes of insurmountable class barriers permeate the entire novel right from some of the famous opening lines:
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
And so here’s the theory:
Jay Gatsby was black, passing for white (“High yellow”)
Lower class vs upper class. Old money vs new money. East Egg vs West Egg. White vs black. Don’t believe me?
- Early in the novel, Daisy’s beau Tom goes on a full fledged rant about the oncoming threat of the rise of the black race in society
- Another reference to race is made when Nick and Gatsby pass by a limo driven by a white chauffeur with “three modish negroes”
- Numerous references are made to Gatsby’s notably dark skintone in comparison to Daisy’s lighter skintone
- “I would have accepted without question the information that Gatsby sprang from the swamps of Louisiana or from the lower East Side of New York. That was comprehensible. But young men didn’t— at least in my provincial inexperience I believed they didn’t— drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound.”
Not only was the insurmountable barrier between him and Daisy one of class and upbringing, but also one of race.
What we take for granted as Gatsby’s whiteness is actually a omission of detail rather than a specific indicator that he was white.
From the article Was Gatsby Black?
Thompson adds, “When I ask people what basis there is for Gatsby being white, I get silence. I have asked students, colleagues. They don’t know. They cannot give me any evidence to back up the speculation. And why haven’t people made this argument so far?”
Of course as with any theory or reading of a classic text, there’s room for disagreement:
Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli has one answer. “Because it’s mishigas! If Fitzgerald wanted to write about blacks, it wouldn’t have taken 75 years to figure it out. If that’s what Fitzgerald wanted, he would have made it perfectly clear in April 1925. Great works of literature are not fodder for guessing games. This kind of thing is bad for literature, bad for Fitzgerald, bad for ‘The Great Gatsby’ and bad for students who get exposed to this kind of guessing game.”
But why shouldn’t we play a guessing game with it? We don’t have Fitzgerald around to verify any of these details so why not have a bit of fun with the text? It’s a very modern reading of the text and it makes it not only more relatable but more heartbreaking.
Everyone has their own reasons why they can’t be with their own Daisy.
Why shouldn’t Gatsby be black? And why can’t he really be with Daisy?
In this discussion about whether or not Beethoven was black, the point is made:
Another tight question along these lines: Was Jay Gatsby black? Again, it’s probably not literally the case (as Fitzgerald intended it) –- but what’s much more interesting is everyone’s utter inability to take it seriously as a legitimate reading of the text, which it is.
The great thing about this theory is that if you’re at all familiar with the passing novel or “tragic mulatto” trope, The Great Gatsby mimics their structure pretty and given how popular they were in American literature, there’s no way Fitzgerald wouldn’t have been aware of and possibly read some of them.
I’d say the only real problem with this theory is that the thing standing between him and Daisy would have to be that she knows he is black and that would only be an issue in regards to why he would tell her in the first place
EDIT: truthfully, my only real personal problem with this theory is that there are plenty of great novels about passing, written by black authors (including some who had the ability to pass but didn’t like Charles Chetnut) and we should be talking about those books
“You can’t change the past. Why of course you can” takes a WHOLE new meaning now…
I hated this book but this has to be the best analysis I’ve ever read on it.
I’m interested in this.
Blond hair has been glorified, vilified, you name it. Currently, when we reference white people, we use “blond” as a shorthand for “white.” However, when you look at certain populations on the border of what we consider to be Asia and Europe, along with “mixed” individuals in general, we find that this actually isn’t always the case.
However, the prevailing cultural knowing in America is that people who aren’t under the umbrella of “white” can’t possibly be blonde - and even some individuals under that white umbrella can’t possibly be blonde. (Italians are the easiest example to point to, but I’ve even heard this about white Jewish individuals, as well.) With the popularity of hair dye, this becomes more complicated. Tumblr is littered with horrific stories of WoC getting penalized at school for “breaking dress code” by dyeing their hair blonde or lighter, while white girls commit the same action unpunished.
The same misconception of “whites only” hair color is also held regarding red hair. Because the genetics of red hair aren’t moderated by the same mechanism as black-brown-blonde, this is even more baffling. It is completely, 100% possible to have a “full Asian” individual with red hair — they simply produce more eumelanin (brown/black pigment) than phaeomelanin (yellow/red pigment). Because two mutated M1CR receptor genes are required for obviously red hair, and because having one results in no visible red hair, it’s also possible for the mutated receptors to remain dormant in PoC populations and form in a “100%” PoC child.
The erasure of blond PoC is interesting. They do indeed exist. (Notable populations exist in the Pashtun and Vanuatu, specifically.) The discussion also inevitably breaks down into the concepts of genetic/racial purity of bloodline, which becomes even more problematic.
I understand the reasoning behind rejecting blond hair as attractive. Blond hair has been maintained as the pinnacle of white beauty standards for a few decades now. (That’s another thing I’d like to research - I know that the “average American woman” wasn’t always considered blonde. When the shift occurred and why would be interesting to discover.) However, because blond hair is something that many - more than we’re led to believe, anyway - PoC naturally have, it’s interesting that blond hair has, in the West, become so whitewashed.
I think it would be interesting to see a reclamation of sorts regarding this, though. There are mixed individuals, myself included, who are routinely denied their identities and heritages in part because of their natural blond hair. This also brings in the delicate and complicated balance of being a white-coding* PoC, but I’d like to see it done well.
I dunno. This would be an interesting thesis project. I’d be astounded if someone hadn’t already done something along these lines.
*Note: I don’t use “white-passing” because, as someone made a really awesome point on this site before, passing is an action the self undertakes. When the concept was created, it was in reference to Black individuals in the United States who were light enough to decide to actively pass as white, usually for specific functions, like going to the movies, using a “whites only” area, etc. Many “white-passing” PoC don’t actively choose to pass as white; they’re coded white by those around them. The act of passing is highly variable, as is the coding of whiteness by other people onto one’s self. “Coding,” to me, places the responsibility of the creation of whiteness where it belongs: on those designating the individual. The individual can benefit from that coding, but the individual, unless choosing to attempt to pass, is not actively inciting this. (However, they should still own up to white-coding privilege full-stop. The post I referenced [and can’t find damn it] just made a really good point regarding the warping of the original meaning of the concept.)
- *racial concept is studied at the Masters and PhD levels and has been researched for several years and experienced for centuries and documented*
- 17 year old white anti-sj tumblr blogger: that is complete bullshit just to make white people look bad. you all always make this shit up to seem more oppressed. you're oppressing yourself. now i'm going to talk about this even though i actually have no clue what i'm talking about, never been exposed to the history of this and don't know anything about the present experiences as a result of implications of historical racism *rabbles on about bullshit for 5 years never backing down from uninformed stance refusing to learn anything*
Just because you choose not to recognize certain issues, or because you claim you “don’t see race”… whatever safe statements like THAT mean; does not mean that racial discrimination is not a very real problem. Just because it’s not an issue for you, doesn’t not mean the issue doesn’t exist for other people. Stop trying to hinder others from advocating and bringing awareness. If you’re not going to join in, stay silent.
To the misinformed, read the following and let it marinate in the crevices of your mind.
1. Latin@s don’t have a certain look. Ever heard/said this: “You’re Latin@! I thought you were Black!” or *looks at hair type, facial features, and/or skin color* “You’re not Latin@! You just wanna be.” We all don’t have an olive skin tone. There are a range (light to dark) of skin tones, different facial features, and different hair textures (kinky, wavy, curly, straight, a mix of all four, whateva).
2. Black people do not have a certain look. Ever heard/said this: “You don’t look black,” “So, you’re black? I thought you said you were Latin@,” or “You’re Latin@. You just wanna be Black when it’s convenient.” Black is a race. Latin@ is not a race. (Someone that simply identifies as Black can also be mixed-race).
3. There is no special kind of Black. Ever heard this: “You don’t look black black” or “I’m black, but not black black.” -_- Black is Black.
4. Black does not only refer to African/Black Americans. It refers to all people of the African diaspora. Africans were sent to the Americas and the Caribbean in the trans-Atlantic slave trade by you know who. (That’s a wholeeeee ‘nother post).
Ever see that box on a form next to these words: “Black (non-Hispanic)” or “Hispanic (non-Black).” Bunch of bullshit to further separate people and/or cater to the Latin@s that despise their blackness. (Again, a wholeeeee ‘nother post).
yes yes yes yes
So I wrote a little couple of paragraphs and asked people to both give me the race of the characters and why, as well as their own race and location.
Results from this:I read Ellie as white-passing, not sure on exact decent maybe half-black? I read Toni as black (only black women can do extensions worth a damn, or really hair worth a damn). Ellie is self projection, with no given keys as to race I project on to her that which is closest to myself. Toni is due to what was already mentioned with her dialogue choices. (White/Otherwise unsure)“Hey girl,” “leaning in real quick to give her friend a kiss on the cheek and a one-armed hug.” ““You look tired as hell,” ““**I cannot** with this new job.” ” everyone ELSE’S work isn’t done”“If Bossman” “he needs to pay me manager money” etc (Black American)And Toni strikes me as Latina. Sorry, my other reply got cut off. Clarification on Ellie, non-white mixed more so than half-white, but either could ring true for her. (Biracial, White/Trini (Black Trini? Indian Trini? Multiracial Trini?))I read the name Ellie as being white and Toni being Latina. But the way they talk seems really similar, like they’re both from the same area. (White—Irish)Well, since the characters are ambiguous and I had to pick a race. I read Toni as Black because she did hair. And I read Ellie as Chinese because, I’ve recently been looking up a bunch of Chinese Actors for a race bending photoset. (Black American)Ellie reminds me of a friend, that while she is a dark-skinned WOC, she has a lot of Whiteness in her. Ellie seems to me to be the type to ‘present’ Whiteness at the job as a survival technique. (Biracial, White/Trini (Black Trini? Indian Trini? Multiracial Trini?))Honestly, there are no real indicators for Ellie’s race besides her use of “Mama” (because that’s not something many white people use unless they are American southerners), but her diction makes me think she easily moves in white circles. (Black, Igbo —Nigeria and US)elli is latina and toni is black. elli’s manerisms and how she is written strikes me as ways latinas (including myself) react to things esp about work. Toni does hair and extensions so i automatically felt she was black. (Latina—Honduras)Actually, Ellie said, “I cannot with this new job” without ironic internet use, she’s using this casually in a manner that indicates she’s black. Among other things in that paragraph… (Black American)Toni is Latina to me because the name strikes me as a nickname or something, and she also seems like a transplant in the way that her cultural surroundings have been supplanted and replaced with AA culture. Hence the extensions work and speech patterns. (Biracial, White/Trini (Black Trini? Indian Trini? Multiracial Trini?))I read Ellie as biracial, but both sides poc, I think because they speak like you blog? I am trying with Toni but I over thought it and lost it and I don’t think my answer would work anymore. (White, NE US)dirigiblepumpkins replied to your post: dirigiblepumpkins replied to your post: What race…Latina, because (same as Ellie) she sounds like someone I know. (White, NE US)Ellie is black. The way she is around Toni makes me think Toni is …prolly also black, or a woc. (Black American)dougthethug7 replied to your post: There is a reason I am doing this that I will point out in a minute, but if everyone who replied with a reason pls give:Ahhh. Ellie - definitely AA. Toni could be anybody… except white. Ellie grew up in America, but now I’m thinking there’s something more to her cause of that cheek kiss? Toni could be from from anywhere but she speaks like she grew up here. (Black American)Oh. Welp. Someone can’t read. Then there are definitely no real indications of Ellie’s race. I still think she’s mixed or white-passing for the same reasons, though. (Black, Igbo —Nigeria and US)“He needs to pay me manager money” from Ellie rings black to me. I rarely hear non-black ppl use that kinda phrasing. I can’t really place Toni, but her using ‘Mama’ feels like POC. (Biracial Black/White—US)honeypits replied to your post: arara i’m getting all kinds of answers now i need…i read them both as latinegr@s cus of the hair thing and they way they spoke. I’m latinegr@ myself.In a nutshell:Most people thought both were PoC.A few thought Toni was Black because she did hair.Many thought Ellie was biracial, white-passing or surrounded by whiteness somehow.Many thought Toni was Latina.The most assured answers given for both were that both were Black.Only one person read either of them as completely white and they were white. This person also said both appeared to be from the same area.One person read Ellie as Chinese due to something they were doing at the moment.Though most of the responders were Black, the not-Black people gave similar answers.Now the big thing: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?It means that even without physical markers, something as simple as a CHARACTER OCCUPATION can give an indication of race, and the way a person talks can give an indication of their usual surroundings.It also means that despite physical markers…the same things can give indications of race. If we reject colorblind ideology, why do some people still think any differently about that?
I wonder how tumblr would make sense of places with no race system? Greece has no race system. To call someone “brown” or “white” makes absolutely no sense. We don’t say λευκοί and καφέ in reference to people, it is absurd because it is not grounded in social forces. People refer to your ethnicity. The way race exists in the U.S. is simply not a biopolitical phenomenon in Greece; there is no census that organizes you according to a race. In fact we don’t even have a word for race, we borrowed it from the Italians: ‘ratsa’, to refer to racism ‘ratsismos’. More commonly you’ll hear Greeks refer to a phylli (your ‘type’) which is more an ambiguous allusion to an ethnicity. Golden Dawn doesn’t talk about whiteness, Golden Dawn talks about the ETHNOS. The supremacy of the ETHNOS, not of races. And there is no word for ‘nation’ in Greek, the nation-state is simply the ‘kratos’, that is to say “the state.” And ‘ethnos’ is the rough equivalent of ‘ethnicity’ not ‘nation’. Don’t you think racism would function a bit differently in a country with an entirely different biopolitical discourse? Once you have your Greek passport you are Greek, not ‘white’, not ‘brown’. The problem is that racism in Greece has nothing to do with the kind of racism operating the U.S. Greeks have been more racist against Albanians than any other people in the country, for twenty years now many Greeks have been awful to the Albanian immigrants, and yet Albanians are generally lighter skinned than Greeks. Yet they enjoy no ‘light skin privilege’ in Greece. Golden Dawn hates them just as much.
That’s why I think people who don’t know what they are talking about should butt out of the conversation. The situation can’t be properly assessed using the same concepts.
“don’t play the race card,” you start to say. but it is already too late. my Race Card is face-up in attack position. you scream as your body is sucked into the Shadow Realm