Preview, ATC's Online Newsletter
No. 3 - Spring 2012
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s New York
Like all great authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald combined elements of the real world in which he lived with his own fictitious creations to create his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. He drew inspiration from everything from the real geography of Long Island to real people that he encountered or read about; however, he always cleverly made them his own. For instance, did you know:
- Fitzgerald clearly sets The Great Gatsby on the East Coast and references Manhattan, Queens, the Long Island Sound and various other geographically-specific areas in the novel. However, the main locations in which the principal characters’ homes exist, East and West Egg, are both fictitious. Most scholars believe that Fitzgerald based them on real places on Long Island at the time, modeling the less expensive and socially-acceptable West Egg on Great Neck (where he lived at one point), and the more fashionable East Egg on Manhasset Neck.
- The symbolically relevant Valley of Ashes referenced by Fitzgerald was, indeed, an actual location in Fitzgerald’s day. Known as the Corona Ash Dump during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. It literally was a burning site for disposal of trash, ashes and even possibly manure. There also appears to have been a small community near the Ash Dump during Fitzgerald’s day, potentially even with a gasoline station such as the one owned by George Wilson. Whether a billboard similar to that of T.J. Eckleberg’s glasses existed is unknown. In reality, in the late 1930s, in preparation for the World’s Fair in New York in 1939, city leaders had the area turned into a public park dubbed Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which exists to this day.
- Scholars of The Great Gatsby believe that Fitzgerald based his character Meyer Wolfsheim on real-life gangster Arnold Rothstein (1882-1928). Rothstein was closely associated with a securities fraud called the Fuller-McGee Case in 1922, which might explain part of the source of Gatsby’s wealth. It is interesting to note that Fuller of the Fuller-McGee Case was a resident of Great Neck, Long Island. Wolfsheim's real-life mirror, Rothstein, was involved in LOTS of different illegal activities, and though sources vary in their estimation of his role in the actual fixing of the World Series of 1919, he certainly profited from the game’s outcome--along with profiting from various other illegal enterprises. He was murdered on November 5, 1928, reportedly for refusing to pay a gambling debt for a game he claimed was rigged.
- Many scholars of The Great Gatsby believe that Fitzgerald created the name of Gatsby’s mentor, Dan Cody, by combining the names of Daniel Boone and Buffalo Bill Cody, both significant figures in Old West history and mythology. Both men were iconic figures of the intrepid spirit of the American West who were self-made men pushing themselves to greatness. The actual facts of the lives of both men are also often overshadowed by their mythology, perhaps as Gatsby’s mentor, and in turn Gatsby, will be.
- The book mentioned in The Great Gatsby by Tom, The Rise of the Colored Empire by a fictitious author named Goddard, is a reference to a real-life book and author of Fitzgerald’s era. The actual book was titled, The Rising Tide of Color against White-Supremacy by Lothrop Stoddard, published in 1920. This book postulated that population growth among “colored” peoples would result in the demise of the “white” race. Fitzgerald must have made the determination that using the actual book title and author was an unwise choice, but he left the allusion specific enough that readers would easily recognize the real-life source. He did not, however, object to directly naming the title of Simon Called Peter by Robert Keable published in 1921, a novel he reputedly did not like and associates with Tom and Myrtle’s New York apartment.
- Accounting for George Wilson’s movements in the final part of the novel, Fitzgerald says he went “to Port Roosevelt and then to Gad’s Hill,” but some historians believe these locations did not really exist on Long Island at the time (or at least are not identifiable on maps from the era). Therefore, they are either names Fitzgerald picked himself or colloquial references that were not included in mapmaking. Interesting to note is that in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, Falstaff and gang perform a robbery at Gad’s Hill in Kent (already known as a robbers’ hangout in the 16th century) before Prince Hall steals their ill-gotten gains. Gad’s Hill Place in Kent later became the country home of 19th century novelist Charles Dickens.