Letter: Hebert Badly Missed the Point
To the Editor:
Oh my! I’ve just read Ernest Hebert’s denunciation of The Great Gatsby — and I’m utterly stupefied. What does this man teach his Dartmouth students — in large portion the issue of people similar to characters in the novel whom he condemns?
How can Hebert, a writer of good repute, assign to the novelist’s own attitude words the novelist has put in a character’s mouth? It is Tom Buchanan, not Scott Fitzgerald, who dismisses George Wilson as “so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive.” (Moreover, Tom calls Wilson “dumb” because he doesn’t realize that his wife is cheating on him with the rich mesomorph who sneers at him, not because, in Hebert’s words, he “is trying to make a living fixing cars.”) And to state that Fitzgerald depicts Tom and his wife, Daisy, “as romantic, even enviable figures” surely marks Hebert as an obtuse reader. Tom is every bit the “a-hole” Hebert discerns, and Daisy is indeed “ditzy, selfish and a lousy mother” — but that’s the point, and what Hebert twice calls its “message” is certainly not, “You don’t have to have a job or even a work ethic to be a success in America.” The indictment for anti-Semitism lashed to the portrayal of Meyer Wolfsheim has been brought by many more astute critics, and it would be remarkable if Fitzgerald, given his social and educational affiliations, were free of all prejudice against Jews. Even so, unlike the WASPs who buzzed around Gatsby’s wealth, Wolfsheim alone attends Gatsby’s funeral. There is a decency in the man, and though he is loyal to an illusion, he is much like Gatsby in that respect.
Hebert as much judges the novel for what is not in it as for what Fitzgerald sought to portray. Very few of literature’s greatest works would meet this peculiar critic’s Marxist standards. Moby Dick might get a passing grade because it shows workers in the whaling industry, yet ultimately be condemned for sanctioning the killing of the creatures. Don Quixote would be castigated as an aristocratic parasite with too much time on his hands. Henry James? Preoccupied with the decadent idle rich. Paradise Lost? Satan should get a job.
White River Junction