The idea of writing about race in The Great Gatsby is interesting. I have read this novel a few times now and have never thought of it in terms of race, but race is always present, in any novel.

First, though, I needed to find out what “race” means. Is it culture (or just linked with culture)? Is it the psychical attributes? As I learned from PBS,org, “…humans have not been around long enough…to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface differences, we are among the most similar of all species”– and despite what Tom’s “scientific” book “The Rise of the Colored Empires” might say, when we talk about race then, we mean a, “…classifications of humans into populations or groups based on various factors, such as their culture, language, social practice or heritable characteristics.” I point this out because the issue of race has alway fascinated and confused me, and I think that is what draws me to postmodern theory that shows how these terms are socially constructed and not just naturally inherent. With this in mind, I think that race can be looked at in The Great Gatsby in the same manner it can be looked at in Hughes’s poetry: Hughes addresses race… well, how? Is it that Hughes is black? or is it because Hughes writes about Harlem? or both?

I think it is both. Hughes’s race comes out when he writes about Harlem, jazz, blues, bee bop, and the culture that informs him, as a black man in Harlem–That is to say, Hughes writes about his ‘culture, language [and] social practices.’

Fitzgerald, as some people have pointed out, speaks about race by not speaking of it (but he does speak about the “white race”), and in doing so, it makes “white” the default, normalizing race. However much Fitzgerald does not directly invoke race, race is implied when Nick talks about his Ivy League days, when Gatsby says he went to Oxford because it is well known that there were no “colored” people at these ivy league schools at this time, we might also wondered if there were any colored people at Gatsby’s parties, and we can infer, with people like Tom going to these parties, that the only colored people there were walking around with silver trays with drinks on them for guest; And while Nick has a Finnish woman as a servant (and why is her race invoked?), we never learn the race of the “eight servants, including an extra gardner” that prepare Gatsby’s mansion for the party. Why does Fitzgerald feel it important to name the race of Nick’s maid but not the eight servants?

I believe the novel addresses race more in these subtle moments than in the obvious ones, such as Myrtle’s aside about the “shiftlessness of the lower orders”, the “These people” (36), which is interested that “shiftless” is used to describe “these people” when it is the rich Tom, Daisy, and Myrtle who wander around shiftlessly and amorally.

Another subtle moment of race in the novel is the extravagant buffet of the party: “…hors d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold” (44). Food is, I believe, one of the biggest signifiers of race. If this party were given by my family, there would be a whole roasted pig, congri, white rice and black beans; if this were a party in Harlem, the food would be bar b q, pigs’ feets, watermelon– the point of this (reading it again what almost feels like racist comments) is that Fitzgerald takes the time to write about the actual food that is displayed, which is intricately linked to race and class. Just as the location is linked with race; just as having Daisy come over for tea and lemon cake (Gatsby’s big plan to meet her again) is linked with race because this activity is itself a very “white.”

These moments are peppered through out the novel. In telling the reader that Klipspringer plays rag time jazz, Fitzgerald is making a comment about race because this is not the jazz that Hughes is writing about in his poems. In other examples, Fitzgerald mentions a person’s race (the Greek who sees Myrtle struck by Daisy, for instance), and then other times he doesn’t. While there are plenty of moments that Fitzgerald ignores race, there are also plenty of subtle moments he does.

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