Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyIf personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament.” — it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

Though it probably caused the New York Times excruciating pain to admit this, a staple of the conventional American literary canon is undermining some contemporary educators' preferred method for "engag[ing] racially and ethnically diverse students in reading [through] books that mirror their lives and culture." As it turns out, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby "resonates powerfully among urban adolescents, many of them first- and second-generation immigrants, who are striving to ascend in 21st-century America."

Here is the impression Gatsby has made on Jinzhao Wang, a 14-year-old immigrant from China:
Jinzhao WangShe is inspired by the green light at the end of the dock, which for Jay Gatsby, the self-made millionaire from North Dakota, symbolizes the upper-class woman he longs for. “Green color always represents hope,” Jinzhao said.

“My green light?” said Jinzhao, who has been studying Gatsby in her sophomore English class at the Boston Latin School. “My green light is Harvard.”
As a member of that class of "first- . . . generation immigrants, who are striving to ascend in 21st-century America," I heartily endorse Jinzhao Wang's sentiment. The vast fields of this Republic, rolling on under the night into the vast obscurity beyond the city, are ample enough to hold and to fulfill the dreams of every ambitious young person who is willing to gamble on the dream that is America.

I wish only that the architects of contemporary immigration law and policy in the United States would remember the splendor that has gripped every newcomer to this continent. As Fitzgerald wrote in Gatsby's concluding chapter:
[F]or a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.


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