Literature, Money and the Anxiety of Authorship in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
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Scott F. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has received the attention of a huge number of critics. To date, its thematic and formal aspects have been explored from so many analytic perspectives amassing in the process such a daunting volume of critical literature for new readers who wish to carve a new research space. However, notwithstanding the intimidating bulk of literary scholarship already woven around it, The Great Gatsby like the Sphinx never ceases to invite, or to use Althusser’s word, interpellate the reader to try to solve its hidden mysteries. This research responds to this interpellation by exploring the numismatic dimension of the novel with reference to Mark Shell’s Money, Language, and Thought: Literary and Philosophical Economies from the Medieval and Modern Era. This issue of literature and money in its coin and paper forms is central to American literature as the result of the heated debate between the “paper-money” men and the upholders of minted coins that had animated American political life up to the beginning of the twentieth century. Arguably, Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Goldbug” (1843) provides a typical example of this debate in its first stages. Apart from reflecting the debate in American political economy Poe’s work expresses the anxiety of authorship, that is how to authorize a piece of literature and turn it into gold as if by an authorizing act of Congress. In the discussion that follows, I would argue that Fitzgerald and his character narrator Carraway suffer from the same anxiety of authorship as Poe and William Le Grand in “The Goldbug” in their attempts to assume literary authority and in their search for a high financial return on investment in fiction writing. Carraway’s initial job as an apprentice bondsman in New York and his association with the mythical figure of Midas and other such strewn hints in Fitzgerald’s novel largely account for my concern with the issue of money and literature in relation to the anxiety of authorship and its shaping influence on the character narrator’s problematical attitude as regards social bonds, friendship, love, honesty, family relationships and so on.