“The Great Gatsby” and The Plaza Hotel

i. Write a paragraph in the style of F.Scott Fitzgerald– and using Fitzgerald’s style of narrator describe a location in New York that gave you a new understanding of the novel. Briefly say what this new understanding is.

The Plaza Hotel (Booking.com, The Plaza)

Visiting The Plaza Hotel brought me new insight into the world that characters of “The Great Gatsby” were living in. The luxury and almost excessive wealth was extraordinary on the outside and inside. I wrote this scene in the style of F. Scott Fitzgerald with Nick narrating. The scene is set at The Plaza Hotel and can fit into the narrative where the characters actually visit The Plaza Hotel, however, it is more focused on the place and the world they were living in rather than the conflict that is occurring at this point in the novel.

Luxury to the point of excess.  The Plaza hotel reflected East Egg like a mirror, a mirror with a shining gold frame.  It stood grandly overlooking Central Park watching with an air of superiority, judging like Doctor T. J. Eckleburg though with rather different values.

Like everything else in Tom and Daisy’s life, it practically screamed money.  An American castle! If those walls could talk imagine the stories that they would tell.  Probably lies. They would exaggerate the smiles, the laughing, the happiness. We crowded at the entrance, blocking the doorway and trying to sort out a room.  “We all talked at once to a baffled clerk and thought, or pretended to think, that we were being very funny…” (120). Perhaps the walls were not the ones lying.

“Don’t you just love it, Nick?” Daisy laughed sweetly.  Her golden hair gleamed in the bright lights of the magnificent chandelier.  She looked up at the ceiling and twirled gracefully, the light falling gently on her charming smile.  Gatsby watched on, utterly convinced of her perfection.

“It’s gorgeous” I replied.  I wasn’t sure if I meant it but to suggest otherwise would be to imply some level of discomfort at the vast amount of wealth being wasted on a single building.

The clerk returned with complimentary drinks and a room key and directed us towards a white marble staircase with an intricate golden iron railing weaving upwards.  Sipping the sparkling champagne I led us towards the stairs. At my side I watched as Gatsby offered Daisy his hand but she had moved just out of reach.

We reached our floor but Gatsby stood gazing upwards.  “How high do you think it goes, old sport?”

“There are a few more floors but our view will be excellent from here,” I replied as I checked the fancy twisting gold numbers of the nearby doors searching for our room.

“But it would it be better from higher up” Gatsby stated, still staring upwards.  I had the distinct feeling that no height would be high enough for Gatsby.

The room was as splendid as every other part of the outrageously extravagant hotel.  An elaborate rug covered the floor space with pale blue velvet couches lining the room and a white table holding more drinks and fresh white lilies.  Everything was lined with gold. The rug, the couch bases, the table legs, the frames, the stunning chandelier. We lay lazily upon the impossibly soft couches, waiting for what would unfold.  Tom popped open another Champagne bottle, we watched as the truth came pouring out.

Works Cited:

Booking.com The Plaza. The Plaza Hotel. Web. 6 Feb. 2019.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.

“True West” and “Death of a Salesman”

6. The American Dream Blog *Choose any of the performances that you have seen to write this post. Remember you cannot write this post about a performance for which you have already written a blog. Choose one of the performances that you have seen and detail what you think it suggests about the American Dream. In your post, make sure that you compare the musical with the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.

“True West” and “Death of a Salesman” both focus on the idea of the American dream.  For brothers Lee and Austin, in “True West”, this idea of the American dream is combined with the idea of reality and fiction.  Throughout the play Lee and Austin lose their ability to recognise what is fiction and what is reality. As the story unfolds reality and fiction blur together, this is visually shown in the performance through the paralels between Lee’s cowboy story and the action that plays out between the brothers.  Similarly, Willy from “Death of a Salesman” loses his grip on reality. Willy cannot handle the fact that he and his sons have not achieved the American Dream. Willy begins to lose his grip on reality as he descends into madness, talking to himself, and reminiscing about Biff as a child when he was full of hope and potential.

“True West” Cover Design (Broadway.com)

“True West” focuses largely on the idea of truth and implies that the modern American society is simulated.  This idea is expanded upon by Bran Nicol “[w]e experience the world through TV news or ‘reality TV’ shows” (4). This idea is also portrayed through the action that unfolds which parallels Lee’s fictional Wild West script.  Visually this is portrayed clearly when Austin rides on Lee’s back as if he were a horse.

The idea of reality and fiction melding together is further emphasised through discussions about the West and whether it is real or not.  Saul claims that Lee’s script has “the ring of truth” and that it says “something about the real West” (11). Words like “actual”, “authentic”, “real”, and “truth” are repeated throughout the script to draw attention to whether or not something is real, here the audience is asked to question the reality of the West. Crank argues that these words “are repeated and debated in the play until they are stripped of their meaning” (85).  Austin’s response to Saul’s comments, “Why? Because it’s got horses? Because it’s got grown men acting like little boys” (11) highlights the way reality and fictional depictions of the West have combined into a perception of the West where it is difficult to know what is real and what is not.

“Death of a Salesman” Cover Design for Exam paper (Teachers Pay Teachers)

Arthur Miller also contemplates the American dream but from the standpoint of a father.  Willy is a salesman who has worked hard his entire life and “done everything right” but ultimately ends up jobless with little money and then takes his own life.  When his family attend Willy’s funeral Biff claims that “he had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong” (110) further stating that “he never knew who he was” (112).

Biff, like Lee, seems to see through the illusion of the American dream, while Happy and Austin try to play the game.  Biff doesn’t know what to do with his life and wants to find something that he loves. When Biff fails to impress Bill Oliver he steals a pen and leaves.  Biff later reflects that in that moment he had a realisation “Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!” (Miller 104-5). Lee also refuses to play the game, instead he lives out on the dessert and steals when in town.

Happy and Austin both strive to achieve the American Dream but both are disillusioned throughout the play.  When Biff asks Happy if he is content, Happy replies with a story about his boss who “just built a terrific estate on Long Island.  And he lived there about two months and sold it, and now he’s building another one. He can’t enjoy it once it’s finished” (17). Miller’s name choice stands out as ironic as “Happy” is not happy. This name choice can also serve as a societal commentary on the idea that if a man is successful then according to the American dream he should be happy. Happy knows that the American Dream of wealth and success will probably not bring him happiness yet at the end of the play he is determined to continue towards achieving the American Dream, exclaiming that “it’s the only dream you can have – to come out number-one man” (131-133).   Austin also loses his interest in the American Dream as he works hard without reward. The play does not end with Austin returning to the Dream but rather he turns completely against it wanting to abandon his life and go to the desert. The final scene has Austin losing all grip on reality and attacking his brother with a telephone cord.

“True West” and “Death of a Salesman” both explore the idea of the American dream in similar ways. Both stories have two brothers, one who is striving to achieve the American Dream and one who can see through it and does not want to get caught up in it. They end quite differently with the brothers in “True West” completely losing their grip on reality whereas the brothers in “Death of a Salesman” end up both disillusioned by the dream but with Happy still holding onto it for his father’s sake. Both texts portray the American Dream as an unattainable and unsatisfying dream.

Works Cited:

Broadway.com. “True West” Cover Design. Web. 6 Feb. 2019.

Crank., James A. Understanding Sam Shepard. Columbia: South Carolina University Press, 2013. Print.

Miller, Arthur, 1915-2005. Death Of a Salesman. New York :Penguin Books, 1996. Print.

Nicol, Bran. The Cambridge Introduction To Postmodern Fiction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012. pp 4. Print.

Shepard, Sam, 1943-2017. True West. London ; New York :Samuel French, 1981. Print.

Teachers Pay Teachers. “Death Of A Salesman” Cover Design For Exam Paper. Web. 6 Feb. 2019.

“To Kill a Mockingbird”

Blog on To Kill A Mockingbird Write a blog post that compares the portrayal of one character from the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird with the way the character is presented in the stage version. Do you think the director and actors have altered the character in any significant way and if so does it change the way we understand the narrative or specific theme from the text?

“To Kill a Mockingbird” Book Cover (Amazon)

The film version and play version of Atticus are portrayed very differently changing both the character and the narrative.  Atticus in the film is idealistic and hero-like with immeasurable amounts of politeness and respect as well as an ability to always stay calm.  Alternatively, Atticus in the play is much less hero-like, he does what he is obliged to as a lawyer, and he loses his temper even resorting to violence.  

The film is very much from Scout’s perspective as she learns about the moral truths of the world.  Having the film from Scout’s perspective also explains why Atticus is so idealistic and hero-like because that’s how Scout sees him.  Changing Atticus in the play meant that it was him, rather than Scout, who seemed to be learning an ethical lesson. While Scout learns a considerable amount about judgement, she learns from a place of innocence while Atticus learns to change his previously held beliefs.  This is clear from his original declarations about everyone being “fundamentally good” and telling Tom Robinson that he “should have faith in the system” to his final decision to go along with the lie that “Bob Yule fell on his knife”. Atticus in the play still preaches about being polite and respecting everyone and condemns his own actions when he loses his temper with Bob Yule.  

Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson in Court, 1962 Movie. (Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock)

The way humour is used can also detract from Atticus’s polite respectful character as his humorous lines are often saying the things you wish were said but not something that Atticus would say.  When Atticus makes smart-ass comments the audience laugh along and agree with him therefore making Atticus relatable, likeable and engaging. Contrastingly, Atticus in the film is engaging and likeable for holding and living out such high moral values.  Atticus is less hero-like in the play and is instead more relatable. This occurs because of a shift in perspectives as the play attempts to include the perspectives of multiple characters. This decision makes the story more inclusive and helps deconstruct the white-saviour complex of the film version.  It does however change Atticus’s character and the overall narrative.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway (Getty Images)

Atticus learns an ethical lesson through the case itself as he comes to realise the level of blind racism in his town and loses confidence in the justice system.  The second major way that Atticus learns an ethical lesson is through Calpurnia. Calpurnia is angry at Atticus for his “your welcome” comment when he takes the Tom Robinson case, she explains that it was like a reminder that she should be grateful.  Calpurnia is also angry at Atticus because he teaches Scout and Jem to treat everyone with respect because “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”. Calpurnia is angry this because some people, like racists, don’t deserve respect and because he teaches them to be respectful “no matter who you disrespect when you do it”.  Here she explains that when you show respect to people you also show respect to their beliefs, showing respect to people like Bob Yule who are so blatently racist means you also disrespect the African American people.

Although Atticus has decent values and some faults in both the film and the play, these different mediums explore and emphasise different qualities that he possesses.  The changes made to the play version make Atticus the fool who learns rather than the hero that teaches

Works Cited:

Amazon. “To Kill A Mockingbird” Book Cover. Web. 6 Feb. 2019.

Getty Images. “To Kill A Mockingbird” On Broadway. 2018. Web. 6 Feb. 2019.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York :Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.

Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock. Atticus Finch And Tom Robinson In Court, 1962 Movie.. Web. 6 Feb. 2019.

“America Today” and “Catcher in the Rye”

“America Today” By Hart Benton

iii. Choose a painting that you have explored at The MET (or The Moma or The Whitney) and discuss how it has amplified your understanding of the literary themes and forms that we have been exploring in the 19th Century Literature of New York.

The magnificent painting “America Today” by Hart Benton captures America in the 1920s.  “America Today” not only shows a diverse range of experiences during the 20s but also a diverse range of people.  The huge painting depicts scenes of dancing, visiting the cinema, eating, travelling, working, and begging. Benton contrasts the wealthy couple who dance to jazz music against the begging hands of poor people.  These images show how the perceptions and realities of America can differ. Benton criticises society’s exaggeration of the idealistic American lifestyle and ignorance of the poor. Benton also criticises the American dream as he portrays the faces of the wealthy couple in shadows with grim facial expressions.  Thus suggesting that although the wealth and lifestyle of the American dream can be achieved this may not bring happiness. Finally, Benton condemns the partying and excessive spending that is going on alongside so much poverty. This also foreshadows the Great Depression which Benton knew would follow the 1920s as he painted “America Today” in 1930-1931. 

Benton focuses largely on the progress made during the 1920s.  This is shown through the presence of transport including multiple ships, a horse and carriage, trains, and a subway scene.  Another major focus is on steel as a hugely important resource to development. Benton states that steel “is the very focus of my picture”.   This is further emphasised by Benton’s use of his friend Jackson Pollock who poses in the work scene.

Jackson Pollock in “America Today”

The criticisms Benton presents in “America Today” are similar to Holden Caulfield’s constant complaints that everything is “phony” in “Catcher in the Rye”.  Holden cannot stand the phoniness that he perceives in everything around him. Holden also fears adulthood as he views adulthood as the beginning of corruption and the loss of innocence.  This corruption and phoniness that Holden fears is echoed in Benton’s painting which portrays the illusion of the American dream.

Holden clearly recognises the faults of American society condemning the corruptness of adults, the falsehood of many characters, and the distorted perception of truth in a society full of lies.  These ideas reflect the personal experiences of JD Salinger who had fought in some of the worst battles of World War Two. This means that he saw first hand how corruption could ruin young lives and completely take away their innocence.  

Horses on the Carousel in Central Park where Holden and Phoebe visit in the final scene

The only characters that Holden does not criticise as being corrupt are children and the nuns.  Holden seems to consider the nuns as honest and genuine while he criticises his aunt who is “pretty charitable” but “when she does anything charitable she’s always very well-dressed and has lipstick on and all that crap.”  This reflection implies that Holden’s aunt may be volunteering for credit and recognition more than to help people who need it, Holden elaborates that he “couldn’t picture her doing anything for charity if she had to wear black clothes and no lipstick while she was doing it.”  It is this type of “phony” behaviour that Holden can’t stand.

Benton’s painting is very colourful and vibrant.  In his own words, the “murals include the synthesis of the colour and tempo of the jazz age”.  Mirroring the jazz age adds to the depiction of the 1920s era when Jazz music was on the rise. Jazz is also often associated with blues music as they both originate with African Americans though the blues often has a darker undertone.  This painting can be seen to have a similar dark undertone as it criticises the wasteful ignorant lifestyle of the rich in comparison to the helpless poor people.

New York in particular is known for jazz music, in “Catcher in the Rye” Holden interacts with jazz music in several of the places he visits particularly Ernie’s nightclub where Ernie plays the piano.  Holden admires Ernie’s musical talent but criticises his fakeness saying “he’s a terrific snob and he won’t hardly even talk to you unless you’re a big shot or a celebrity or something, but he can really play the piano”.  This scene shows both the realities and illusions of America, the talent is real but it is wrapped in falsities of character.

Works Cited:

Benton, Thomas Hart. America Today. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1931. Print.

Benton, Thomas Hart. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition.

Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951.

“The Book of Mormon”

5. Blog on the morality of Broadway *Choose any of the performances that you have seen to write this post. Remember you cannot write this post about a performance for which you have already written a blog. “The narrative of the American musical critiques the very capitalism that it relies on to make a profit to survive. Therefore, this is a hypocritical industry that smugly challenges the power that comes with success, while enjoying the financial rewards and fame associated with Broadway”. Discuss this statement in view of one of the musicals studied on this course.

“The Book of Mormon” is a musical that mocks other musicals, American ignorance and capitalism.  Despite this mocking, “The Book of Mormon” is an American musical that benefits from capitalism.

The success of Broadway relies on capitalism yet “The Book of Mormon” chooses to heavily criticise it.  Broadway and musicals benefit from capitalism in regard to recognition, opportunities, wealth and power.  

“The Book of Mormon” at the  Eugene O’Neill theatre

Capitalism is criticised in “The Book of Mormon” for a number of reasons.  The first criticism is for turning everything into business. This is evident from the very first scene where the Elders are knocking on doors trying to gain followers.  The second criticism is for advocating extreme competition. This competition is most evident in the song “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” where Elder Price seeks success and recognition.  This kind of individualism is criticised by the musical as it does not reward Elder Price. Thirdly it is clear from Elder Price’s illusion of Orlando and Nabulungi’s illusion of Salt Lake City, which represent the American dream and Heaven, that both are illusions that depend on people’s perceptions.

Capitalism is constantly referenced through dialogue and visual representation. Cunningham’s comments such as “join now and we’ll throw in a free set of steak knives” show how capitalism has a role in all of society even turning religion into a sort of business.   There are also physical references to capitalism through props and costumes. The African people wear old American clothes such as a sports jersey. This is especially evident when the Ugandan people conduct a performance of what they have learnt about Mormonism.  This scene shows the Ugandans wearing American branded clothing and using Starbucks cups. When Elder Price sees what he thinks is Orlando, there is a McDonalds and Starbucks in the background. Orlando is an idealistic place that signifies both Heaven and the American dream but it is ultimately an unattainable goal.  It is interesting that Orlando, the place of dreams, is completely immersed in capitalism.

Many of the songs in “The Book of Mormon” follow the rhythms of other famous musical songs. For example “I Believe” is a parody of “I have confidence in me” from “The Sound of Music”, “Orlando” is a parody of “Tomorrow” from “Annie”, and “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is a parody of “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King”.  Referencing these famous musicals and many more can be seen as a celebration of the musical genre. The high-energy of the actors, the upbeat music and the use of elaborate colourful sets, costumes, and props can be seen as an exaggeration of the perception of broadway and the musical genre. This is particularly evident in the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” song where the Devil appears in a sparkly red outfit, famous villains of history appear, and Elder McKinley returns in sparkly red with a feather scarf and a top hat.  The musical is very over-the-top in many ways, this can be seen as mocking the genre and, more specifically, the audience who watch it.

“The Book of Mormon” links capitalism to Americans ignorance of Africa by showing how fiction and stereotypes perpetuated by the media have distorted Americans perceptions of Africa.  Furthermore, capitalism promotes individualism, this encourages people to focus on themselves and their own success rather than the people around them or people in need. American ignorance is humorously presented throughout the musical.  Elder Cunningham’s different names for Nabulungi are subtly scattered right through the musical. These names such as “Jon Bon Jovi”, “Nala”, “Nativity scene” and “Necrophilia” provoke laughter from the audience. These names are also quite offensive but rather than attacking Nabulungi they serve to criticise Americans for their ignorance to Africa and simple things like African names.  “The Lion King” is referenced numerous times throughout the musical as the sole source of information that Americans have about Africa. This shows how the media has shaped Americans perception of Africa and how fiction and reality have morphed together to form their views. Although the musical mocks Americans and the audience themselves, their parody songs and happy ending can be seen as a kind of celebration of musicals and religion.  

“The Book of Mormon” celebrates the musical genre and religions ability to provide hope and inspire good morals in people.  “The Book of Mormon” also mocks American ignorance of Africa. Finally, “The Book of Mormon” criticises capitalism for promoting extreme competition and encouraging people to strive for unattainable goals of success that often lead to dissatisfaction.

Works Cited:

Parker, Trey et al. The Book Of Mormon. 1st ed. New York: Newmarket Press, 2011. Print.

Greenwich Village and Washington Square

This post is about the places Greenwich Village and Washington Square in relation to the novel “Washington Square” by Henry James.

Washington Square Park, fountain, and surrounding buildings

“It was here, at any rate, that my heroine spent many years of her life; which is my excuse for this topographical parenthesis” – Henry James Washington Square

Washington Square Park

Open Question: What does Washington Square say about class through its’ depiction of characters and references to places?  Draw on my experience of seeing these places.

The title “Washington Square” immediately introduces and establishes the importance of the setting.  Henry James begins the narration with a “topographical parenthesis” (14) introducing the characters in relation to their setting.  The setting serves to separate and contrast the characters who live in different locations. James discusses New York in detail and links the place with American ideals.  One of these ideals is earning money through a respectable means, in America “to play a social part, you must either earn your income or make believe that you earn it” (1). Dr Sloper’s career as a physician is “a profession in America [that] has constantly been held in honour” (1).  This is further implied by the company he keeps including that of his wife, Catherine Harrington. “Miss Catherine Harrington, of New York” was “one of the pretty girls of the small but promising capital which clustered about the Battery and overlooked the Bay” (2). Introducing Catherine in relation to her home implies her respectable class and her desirability.  This effectively sets up both of their characters classes as well as that of their daughter, also named Catherine.

View from Washington Square Park showing the development throughout the City leading to the Empire State Building

After Catherine Harrington’s death, Dr Sloper and his daughter Catherine move to Washington Square.  In 1835 the City was expanding in industry and business and people moved with it. New York is described as always moving and improving, in 1835 “the tide of fashion began to set steadily northward” (13).  This move to Washington Square and the reasons for it, reflect the growth of New York in business, industry, and population. Dr Sloper’s ability to make this move imply his wealth and high class. This movement of the city is still visible as you stand in Washington Square and look down the road that leads through the city.  Each street has more modern looking buildings leading all the way through to the Empire State Building.

Dr Sloper’s sisters are also introduced in relation to their homes.  Mrs Almond, the “preferred” “lived much farther up town… in an embryonic street with a high number” (14) meaning that although she does not live in the current hot spot she lives in a growing area of respectable decency and with much potential.  This area is described to have a “rural picturesqueness” that has “now wholly departed from New York street scenery” (14-15). It is certainly true that it is difficult to imagine the farm-like area described in any part of New York as it is now with everything so built-up and modern-looking.  Once widowed, Lavinia is invited to stay at Washington Square, an offer she accepts “with the alacrity of a woman who had spent the ten years of her married life in the town of Poughkeepsie” (5). Lavinia readily moving implies that she lived in a less prosperous place compared to her siblings. Lavinia’s presence in Washington Square serves to show her limited options and dependence as a widowed woman.  

Mr Townshend is introduced as “a great stranger in New York” (18).  As previously stated, James links New York with American ideals including earning money through hard work.  By immediately stating that Mr Townshend is not living in New York, James can be seen foreshadowing Mr Townshend’s dishonourable intentions.  Alternatively, Mrs Montgomery, Mr Townshend’s sister, is admired by Dr Sloper. Despite her small house in a less desirable area, Dr Sloper is impressed by her hard work and tidiness.

Works Cited:

James, Henry. Washington Square. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Print.