May 9, 2013

Gatsby As Gatekeeper - How One Book Introduced Us To Thinking Deep



"Involuntarily I glanced seaward - and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away..." - F. Scott Fitzergald, The Great Gatsby

Somewhere on the list of things to teach in High school, right in between "Hamlet" and "Physics" is F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." In the great literacy leg race of most read books in American High Schools I would say that "Gatsby" is constantly neck and neck with "To Kill A Mockingbird" as top dog. Sure there are other contenders like "The Scarlet Letter," "Of Mice & Men," and "Huckleberry Finn," but Gatsby is always the big cheese and the reason for that is because of that legendary Green Light. Ah yes, the green light. Many a High School mind has either exploded in understanding or wallowed in confusion when their teacher asked them "What do you think the green
light means."

Part of this confusion is because you already know what a green light means: it means go. Yet just with the tiniest prodding from a teacher, the whole concept of a "metaphor" is introduced to your brain. Whooahhh, it means a lot more than just being a freakin green light? Green means money, which is power. Green represents Daisy. Green means relentless ambition. Green means Gatsby is secretly a stoner (what? really? c'mon!) Green means Gatsby is a Celtics fan. The Green light is the hope for a future just as American settlers view America (got that from Sparknotes.) Welcome to the land of metaphors. Your brain will never be the same. You now can re-experience all your favorite media as metaphors for something else. I wonder what "The Lord of The Rings" is really about?*

Once you understand the concept that things have double meanings, then the world is a much different place. The cafeteria is a metaphor for the future class structures of your adult life. The worms your science teacher keeps in a box for his compost are a metaphor for the relentless grind of student testings. Drug Wars on your TI-83 calculator is a metaphor for drug wars, wait that one was obvious, but you know what I mean. Thanks to Gatsby, you start seeing metaphors in places you never imagined. Prom is just a metaphor for....

So when I roll into the brand new version of Gatsby tonight, you bet I'm going to be looking out for that Green Light. It better shine into my soul and let loose a host of new thoughts about what movies really mean and if the American Dream is straight C.R.E.A.M. or something deeper and more sincere. Because however it appears, there are lots of High School English teachers out there hoping that it lives up to mind blowing metaphoric power.

*If you know what it's really about...please leave a comment.

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