Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Hi there I’m John Green this is Crash Course English 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. [plus a case study for the awkwardness of editing classics for a modern audience] We’re also a nation that believes in the American dream: [lottery jackpots & lawsuit windfalls?] 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 Cathering loser Daisy Buchannan 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? [Stanimal, off-camera:] It’s not your birthday or Merebration. Ahh, stupid Merebration only coming once a year! [let's go for it quarterly. cupcakes...] I don’t know how 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 Buchannan 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 some of the exact same 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. [BEST] [intro music] [intro music] [intro music] [intro music] [intro music] [EVAR] 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? 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 high-falutin 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. 3. Finally, three, 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 is 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 a quote “extraordinary gift for hope.” This extraordinary gift for hope is the essential fact of Gatsby and also many romantic leads— from Romeo, to [sparkly glowy] Edward Cullen to Henry the VIII, who might have given up on several of his wives, but never gave up on the idea of love! [oh how love can make you lose your head] all of these people share a creepy belief that if they just get the thing they want— the thing being a female human being— [so literal, the objectification] then they’ll finally be happy. We have a word for this; it’s called objectification. [like i said] 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 Buchannan is crazy rich— like polo pony rich— thanks to her marriage to Tom Buchanan, Tom is a former football player, and lifelong asshat, [tech classification] 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 may 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, that 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 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.” [so Daisy invented Toddlers & Tiaras?] 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. [lovely segue there, Johnny] 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. 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, [or did he?] but his book sure reads like prophecy. The truth, heroic past, is that we may think 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. [at least it was in the service of a valiant cause. i don't mean that] Alright, let’s go to 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, [crusty is right] he’s totally charming: He has a smile that makes you feel he is irresistibly prejudiced in your favor, to quote Nick. [must start signing letters w that line] 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 in 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. [spoilers] All the money he has 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 the 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, his tie, the buttons on Daisy’s dress.