Representations of Gender and Class in "The Great Gatsby". An Analysis of the Movie Adaptations of 1974 and 2013

Bachelor Thesis, 2014

47 Pages, Grade: 1.3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Gender
2.1 General
2.2 Masculinity
2.3 Hegemonic Masculinity

3. Class

4. Intersectionality

5. Character Interaction and Interpersonal Power

6. Analysis
6.1 Character Introduction and Historical Variability
6.2 Construction of Class-Based Masculinities and the Interaction of the Characters
6.2.1 Property and Occupation
6.2.2 Public and Private
6.2.3 Production and Reproduction

7. Conclusion

8. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Students of gender tend only to see gender; class analysts tend only to see social classes. The research questions are often crudely put as being questions of gender or class instead of asking how gender and class interact in the lives of historically situated social groups.

— Marianne Gullestad (62)

In 2013, a new movie adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby was released. A reinterpreted version of the story about Jay Gatsby's endeavor to become rich, achieve status in the high-society of 1922's Long Island, New York, and get back together with the love of his life - Daisy Buchanan. Baz Luhrmann's version is one of five interpretations of the Gatsby story. Prior to it there were the 1926 silent movie, the 1949, the 1974, and the 2000 motion picture. The latest version, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan, however, seems, without a doubt, the most exaggerated and overcharged of all - the respective time's means of producing and filming a movie factored in, of course. Not only the cinematography and the soundtrack are unusual for a story set in the 1920s - even though they are not necessarily out of place if you consider The Great Gatsby (2013) as an artistic whole. Even the characters show excessive traits. They are louder, stronger, more violent, more openly sexual, and dressed more revealingly. Furthermore, parties in the latest version feature five-foot-long phallic symbols disguised as champagne bottles, car engines are supercharged, and violent scenes are shot in slow motion. All in all it seems like an overload of masculine symbolism, which, in a sense, transforms the movie into more of an action flick than a romantic drama film, as the 1974 version is described.

Fitzgerald's novel comprises many different themes, some of which are 'the decline of the American Dream', 'the Roaring Twenties', 'the past and the future', and 'love'. With social class and gender, The Great Gatsby contains another set of major themes. The 1974 adaptation, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, can be seen as being more geared towards putting emphasis on the depiction of class differences. This in turn would make the 2013 version one that is more fixated on depicting excess, lavishness and masculinity. So the former would arguably make for a reasonable object in the field of class analysis, the latter for a reasonable object in terms of gender analysis, or particularly, an analysis of masculinity. Both fields can and have been studied on their own. If one draws on the works of Morgan and Hobbs, however, it becomes evident that firstly, these two categories of difference have to be studied together, secondly, that there needs to be done more research on specifically 'masculinity' and 'class', and thirdly, masculinity studies is a vital field when it comes to a complete understanding of gender relations. Morgan states that “there has been a relatively underexplored theme in the analysis of social class; namely, its association with the construction of masculinity” (175). Brod summarizes that “[w]hile women have been obscured from our vision by being too much in the background, men have been obscured by being too much in the foreground” (40 f.). Thus, “[m]en are . . . invisible by product of their very ubiquity in history and theory” (qtd. in Hobbs 383). Moreover, the concept of 'hegemonic masculinity', which was put forward by Connell, will be introduced in the course of this thesis. This serves two purposes. On the one hand it illustrates that men, as much as women, are marginalized (be it by women or other men), and on the other hand, it provides a graspable tool when it comes to the interaction of masculinity and class, as well as the classification and assessment of masculinities and power.

With that borne in mind, it is interesting that in his book “Masculinities and Culture”, John Beynon offers different key factors of what he sees to be constituting masculinity. Among them are historical location, sexual orientation, education, culture and subculture, age and physique, status and lifestyle, as well as class and occupation (cf. 10). These connections open the door for a vast spectrum of questions. How does the masculine performance of George Wilson, situated in the working class, compare to Tom Buchanan's, who is situated at the other end of the social strata? What roles do Myrtle and Daisy play when it comes to the construction of masculinities of men from different social classes, such as Wilson, Buchanan, Carraway, or Gatsby? In view of the 'intersectionality approach', which will be explained and then serve as a basis in the course of this thesis, it is coherent to analyze gender not as a single category of difference but to also draw on other categories. This way one can get a more comprehensive idea of gender, as well as more satisfying answers to the respective questions one poses in this field.

In this thesis many of Beynon's key factors that constitute masculinity will be mentioned and discussed, while playing either major or minor roles. However, the overall focus will be, with reference to this thesis' introductory quote by Gullestad, on the interaction of masculinities and class of the historically situated social groups in the two movie adaptations of The Great Gatsby from 1974 and 2013.

This thesis will be expository in nature, and its goal will be to shed light on the above- mentioned synergy and to answer the following questions. How are forms of masculinity established and maintained in The Great Gatsby ? How do the present forms of masculinity interact with 'class', or how are the subjective experiences of the present masculinities affected by 'class'? How can the concept of 'hegemonic masculinity' be applied to The Great Gatsby ? In order to answer these questions, the two movie adaptations will be closely examined, in order to be able to take advantage of more scenes, which in turn allows for a more comprehensive and meaningful application of the theoretical approaches to the story of The Great Gatsby. By taking two movies as a basis, it is also possible to take a brief look at masculinity's historical variability. The analysis of the two movies will be implemented by means of a character analysis, and a part in which the male characters' - Tom Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway, and George Wilson - social interaction, both among themselves and with the female characters, will be examined. Even though, according to many scholars in the fields of gender and masculinity studies, what is considered a masculine trait, behavior, or act of performance at a specific point in time can also be used to construct certain types of femininity. In the context of The Great Gatsby, a presumably fruitful analysis could be conducted with the character 'Jordan Baker', who, on a rather superficial level, seems to perform a fairly masculine femininity, given her self-sufficient and ambitious demeanor at that time. This, however, will not be part of the analysis or of this thesis.

The thesis will be composed of two parts. A theoretical part in which the chapters 'Gender', 'Class', 'Intersectionality', and 'Character Interaction and Interpersonal Power' provide a basis for the upcoming analysis. These chapters will contain definitions and a basic understanding of class, as well as a general idea of gender, masculinity, and the concept of 'hegemonic masculinity'. Furthermore, Pyke's concept of 'interpersonal power', as well as Crenshaw's concept of 'intersectionality' will be introduced. The subsequent analysis part will comprise a character introduction, including comments regarding the historical variability of masculinity, as well as the analysis regarding the establishing and maintaining of masculinity, and the interaction of masculinity and class among the male characters of the two movies. The following chapter serves as introductory chapter to the theoretical part and will deal with several definitions and understandings of gender, masculinity, as well as hegemonic masculinity.

2. Gender

In order to be able to work with the two categories of difference 'masculinity' and 'class', and in order to be able to eventually conduct an analysis in the course of this paper, a theoretical foundation has to be established. This chapter's purpose is to discuss the term and superordinate category 'gender' in a general sense, 'masculinity' in a specific sense, and 'hegemonic masculinity' as a last point.

2.1 General

Before particularizing on masculinity, it is meaningful to talk about the basic notions of gender first. A vital consideration when it comes to gender is to differentiate between sex and gender, with sex referring to reproductive, anatomical and biological features, and gender being culturally constructed, having to do with culturally learned identities, or even certain lifestyles (cf. Butler 8 f.; Prince 29). So rather than a fact of nature, or a static division of people with complementary characteristics, and opposed desires and interests, the traditional sexes should now be seen as cultural groupings (cf. Gardiner 35). Regarding its socially constructed nature, Butler argues that “[t]here is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very 'expressions' that are said to be its results” (25). And these performative acts need to be repeated over and over again in order to establish the respective gender identity (cf. ibid. 33). It can also be said that individuals avail themselves of a certain gender, or adopt certain performances that constitute a specific gender, rather than being essentially one kind of gender or the other. There is neither an essence nor an ideal inherent in gender (cf. ibid. 140). The nature of gender is, moreover, a shifting one which is constantly in motion and can be considered more dynamic than static (cf. Kimmel, Hearn, Connell 7). As Kimmel, Hearn, and Connell put it, Gender identity is more than a simple psychological property belonging to a person, something one “has” as a result of socialization and that one consequently inserts into all interactions. Gender identity is a constant process, always being reinvented and rearticulated in every setting, micro or macro. Gender identity is the codified aggregation of gendered interactions: its coherence depends on our understanding of those interactions. (ibid.)

Both masculinity and femininity can be considered social constructions which are interrelated, historically variable, as well as loosely defined social ascriptions to individuals with certain kinds of bodies. These ascriptions are far from being necessary, natural, or ideal characteristics when it comes to people with similar genitals (cf. Gardiner 35).

In Western culture, prior to the 1980s, men did not see masculinity as being subjected to gender relations. Masculinity, then, was rather considered unproblematic and as something innate. During the 1980s, however, it became obvious that femininity, which had been the sole center of feminist studies, cannot be studied in isolation. Other categories of difference became important, and the issue of gender difference gained center stage. This again led to the field of masculinity being scrutinized (cf. Hayward 160). Consequently, and as the first of the two relevant categories of difference in this thesis, the term 'masculinity' will be attended to in the next subchapter.

2.2 Masculinity

Right at the beginning, it should be mentioned that, contrary to the commonsensical assumption which sees masculinity as a natural and standardized container in which 'normal' men are placed, masculinity should be considered in its plural form (cf. Beynon 1 f.). This will become more clear in the course of this subchapter. Hence, the term 'masculinities' and the concept of an array of several 'masculinities' will be used and applied throughout this thesis. The first point that should be discussed in terms of masculinity is the differentiation between biology and culture. If we draw on the general part on gender again, it is self-evident that masculinity is also not a 'presocial category' or a 'biological fact' (cf. Carrigan, Connell, and Lee 114), nor is one born with masculinity as “part of [one's] genetic make-up” (Beynon 2). Masculinity is rather to be seen as something that originates in a particular society at a particular point in time. As Tillner puts it, “the whole diversity of lived masculinities can be understood as specific realizations of a vague set of ideas and demands, images and stories that are defined as masculine, adapted to the concrete situation an individual or group has to cope with” (qtd. in Beynon 12). These sets of ideas and demands can originate from different sources, as mentioned in the introduction, when Beynon's key factors of what constitutes masculinity in a culture were indicated.

The next point that suggests itself is the historical variability of masculinity. As Beynon notes, what have attained the status of 'facts' underpinning the 'true' nature of masculinity (and, of course, femininity) are really sociohistorical and cultural constructions. For example, as a result of the division of labour occasioned by the Industrial Revolution (that is, men into the factories, most women consigned to the home) and the resulting patriarchy (based on men's economic superiority), the idea that men were innately practical, rational and competitive, unlike women, was 'naturalized'. (18)

He thus sees masculinity as being positioned in time in two ways. On the one hand, masculinity changes around an individual (cf. ibid. 17). So, whereas typical masculine characteristics in the 19th century would have been, for example, righteous behavior, physical prowess, strength, fitness, lack of laziness, courage, attitude of saving, wisdom, being reserved, and not showing emotions, a change could be witnessed as to, for example, typical forms of masculinity in the 1960s. Those tended to be, for instance, being a house-husband, showing traits that could be subsumed under the term hippy-masculinity, as well as adolescence styles, and hyper-masculinity. These two eras definitely show a change in masculinity over time. On the other hand, Beynon continues, masculinity changes for a respective individual as they age (cf. ibid.). So individuals could be seen as availing themselves of different forms of masculinity when they are in elementary school age, as opposed to when they reach puberty, or retire. As Roper and Tosh argue, and as these examples show, masculinity cannot be treated ahistorically, but rather has to be contextualized historically. It has to be studied and looked at in view of political, cultural, economic, and social circumstances (cited in Morgan 59). If one considers the positioning of masculinity in time not in the sense of a 'change over the course of many years', but in the sense of a 'change of masculinity on a general timeline', then in fact, even a third level of masculinity in time can be added. If one recognizes the changing of masculinity 'around an individual' and 'as they age' as variation on a macro level, then the contextual changing of masculinity from situation to situation can be considered as variation on a micro level. This point will be the subject matter of the next paragraph.

When it comes to understanding masculinity, the question seems to be fairly often what men are. The question, according to Morgan, should, however, be posed differently. He claims that “what is masculinity (and femininity) is best approached from the standpoint of what men do (that is, how they behave) rather than what they are” (cited in Beynon 7). So, as mentioned in the general subchapter on gender already, performance also plays a vital role when it comes to masculinity. Consequently, while Butler lays her focus on female gender performance, performativity theories can also be applied to masculinity and allow us to theorize how men perform 'masculinity'. Herrmann and Erhart see masculinity, just as femininity, as 'masquerade', 'permanently enacted', and 'staged' (cf. 35 ff.), whereas Coleman calls it 'dramaturgical accomplishment', Kersten 'situational accomplishment', and Butler 'performative act' (cited in Beynon 11). Here the phrase 'doing gender' also comes into play. For example when West and Zimmerman argue that “one's sense of self rests precariously upon the audience's decision to validate or reject one's gender performance. Successful enactment bestows status and acceptance; failure invites embarrassment and humiliation” (cited in Gerschick 373).

As mentioned in the introduction, masculinity can also be part of the construction of femininity. Masculinity is not always and necessarily about men (cf. Sedgwick in Beynon 8). It can be argued that women, even to the same degree as men, are consumers of masculinities, and are also producers and performers of masculinities (cf. Sedgwick in Gardiner 46). It is therefore useful to view masculinities as, what Beynon calls, 'cultural space'. This space can then be inhabited by or assigned to men and women, no matter if permanently or temporarily (cf. Beynon 7). However, women can not only produce their own forms of masculinity, they also play a vital part in constructing and shaping masculinities for other individuals, in this case, men. This becomes clear in Pyke's statement in which she sees literature on masculinities as rather focusing on the construction of subordinated or hegemonic masculinities specifically among men. She argues that masculinities are not only constructed among men but also in relation with women (cf. Pyke 532). Even though women performing masculinities will not be part of the upcoming analysis, women's role in shaping masculinities regarding the male protagonists in The Great Gatsby will play quite a significant role.

Another cornerstone of masculinities studies is the 'male body'. Bodies in general are seen as central when it comes to achieving social recognition and being or rather performing as appropriately gendered beings (cf. Gerschick 373). Gerschick also notes that one's body can also be seen as 'social currency'. This currency signifies a particular individual's worth, which makes people with less-normative bodies vulnerable. The consequence can be the rejection on a level of social recognition and validation (cf. ibid. 372). In addition to less-normative bodies being a physical condition, they can also become a social and a stigmatized condition, and even become an individual's 'primary identity' (cf. ibid.). Like notions regarding the composition of and performances of gender, bodies, too, are not fixed but fluid and influenced by 'context-specific gender expectations' (cf. ibid. 374). The significance of the body in the field of masculinities can thus be evaluated and summarized as follows: “[the] [p]hysical construction of bodies . . . is intimately linked to social construction” (ibid.). Consequently, a threat is posed to masculinities if the body or certain gender-specific performances are counter the hegemonic expectations (cf. ibid. 373). Examples would be having a less- normative body as in being excessively small, tall, obese, or skinny in the 'wrong' environment, or being transsexual in a predominantly heterosexual culture. How these hegemonic expectations come about, as well as how hegemonic masculinity works and is established will be dealt with in the following subchapter.

2.3 Hegemonic Masculinity

In order to find out about masculinities and various alternative masculinities, terms like 'ideal', 'stereotypical, and 'traditional', in the field of men's studies have not proven to be particularly useful. This might be due to the terms' vague nature. Hence, Connell developed the concept she coined 'hegemonic masculinity'. Her concept, too, is based on the assumption that there is not only one but a vast range of different masculinities. Hegemonic masculinity in this case constitutes the “currently most honored way of being a man, [and] it require[s] all other men to position themselves in relation to it” (Connell and Messerschmidt 832). Consequently, in addition to the most honored, dominant form(s) of masculinity, there are also subordinated and marginalized forms. These differently valued masculinities are in constant interaction (cf. Connell, “Masculinities” 198). Within this structure these forms can be said to be “changing the conditions for each other's existence and transforming themselves as they do” (ibid.). So, again, it can be established that hegemonic masculinity is produced in connection with factors such as 'geographical location', 'time period', and 'cultural surroundings' (cf. ibid. 77 ff.), which in turn underscores its fluidity and openness to historical change. At this point it also needs to be mentioned that the concept of 'hegemonic masculinity' is not based on social reproduction. It rather needs to be perceived as a social struggles in which dominant forms of masculinity are influenced by subordinated ones (cf. Connell and Messerschmidt 829). In order to further specify the concept's definition, Connell adds that “[t]o say that a particular form of masculinity is hegemonic means that it is culturally exalted . . . To be culturally exalted, the pattern of masculinity must have exemplars who are celebrated as heroes” (The Men and the Boys 84). So in order for a certain form of masculinity to become and stay hegemonic, various hegemonic representations have to win ideological consent. It then follows that alternative constructions of masculinity are either 'absorbed', 'beaten down', or 'ridiculed' (cf. Beynon 17). 'Hegemonic' in this case is based on Antonio Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony. Thereby, ascendency of a certain group of individuals can either happen forcefully (for example by physical force or threatening to lay off workers), which would not be hegemonic. Or it can happen beyond coercive means, by way of 'mass media', 'wage structure', 'religion', 'housing design', 'taxation policies', etc. (Connell, “Gender and Power” 184).

In terms of hegemonic masculinity, then, people of a certain society are able to successfully live up to the dominant form, or rather successfully enact it, to the degree by which they approximate the current cultural ideal. Exalted masculine attributes, according to sociologists, and regarding Western culture or society, can be 'activeness', 'career orientation', 'sexual desirability and virility', 'athleticism', 'self-reliance', and 'independence' (cf. Gerschick 373). With 'physical force and control', 'occupational achievement', 'familial patriarchy', 'frontiersmanship', and 'heterosexuality', Foss introduces five features of hegemonic masculinity in American culture (cf. 182). These features will also be scrutinized in connection with the characters of The Great Gatsby as part of the analysis. The attributes listed already suggest that there are not many individuals who actually conform to these ideals. However, a vital fact, which will be further elaborated on later, is that the majority still benefits from hegemonic forms of masculinity, since they reinforce the patriarchal divide (cf. Hobbs 3).

Even though the concept of 'hegemonic masculinity' seems to be widely accepted and applied, it has in fact been criticized. For example, the 'trait approach' (masculinity as an assemblage of traits) was criticized and thus rejected (cf. Connell and Messerschmidt 847). Among others, their view of the 'dynamics of masculinities' was critiqued and consequently reformulated (from then on: masculinities as 'configurations of practice', constructed, unfolding, and changing through time) (cf. ibid. 852). Although, while Connell and Messerschmidt reacted to the criticism voiced regarding some points, which resulted in rejections and changes, they also defended some of the concept's features. In the end, they are still convinced that 'hegemonic masculinity', until it is not replaced by a different concept, continues to be a useful tool when it comes to understanding gender relations (cf. Hobbs 4). This is also the reason why its application will make for a reasonable and effective choice in the upcoming analysis.

The next chapter will deal with several definitions and understandings of class. Furthermore, examples of how class works will be given and elaborated on. The last part of the chapter will address and explain the basic class-structure which will be implemented in the analysis chapter.

3. Class

In order to be able to connect class and masculinity, or even see masculinity through class glasses, the concept 'class' has to be defined first. A historical overview can be provided by starting with the definition of class by Marx, Engels, and Weber. For Marx and Engels, “[t]he analysis of any given society, at any moment of history, can focus on the latent or explicit conflict that exists between two major classes” (Edgar 46) - a subordinate class and a dominant class, in capitalism, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. For them, classes were defined in terms of ownership and productive wealth. The bourgeoisie is seen to own and control the society's means of production, the subordinate class in turn is seen as not having control over the means of production or the production process as a whole (cf. 46 f.). The relationship between these two classes then is one of exploitation. The dominant class owns capital, the subordinate class owns the ability to labor and must sell their labor in order to be able to survive. The exploitation momentum arises as the bourgeoisie's goal is to make profit (surplus value). Consequently, the proletariat's compensation for selling their labor has to be lower than the price for the sold product (exchange value) (cf. ibid. 47). This relation then results in a class conflict, in which the bourgeoisie's interest is to maintain the existing economic relations, whereas the proletariat's interest is to end these relations.

In his approach to class, Weber proceeded on the assumption that “an individual's class position does not depend exclusively upon his or her relationship to the means of production but is realized through the market” (ibid. 48). Among the elements Weber added to the economic analysis of class were 'differences in power', 'social status', 'market opportunities', and 'life chances'. This encompasses the “unequal distribution of life chances in so far as these deal with the ownership or nonownership of different forms of property and different levels of income” (Morgan 167). So different workers bring with them different resources to the market (e.g. ownership or capital) or are equipped with different levels of skills. On this market, then, they sell themselves or rather their labor, and also buy from it. This way one could explain and justify the various levels of rewards for managers or workers in the administration versus those of manual workers. Accordingly, ambiguous groups of people could be more clearly defined.


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Representations of Gender and Class in "The Great Gatsby". An Analysis of the Movie Adaptations of 1974 and 2013
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg  (American Studies)
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great gatsby, gender, gender studies, masculinities studies, masculinity, masculinity studies, cultural studies, culture, robert redford, bachelor thesis, bachelorarbeit, ba thesis, class, class studies, gender class
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Matthias Köbrich (Author), 2014, Representations of Gender and Class in "The Great Gatsby". An Analysis of the Movie Adaptations of 1974 and 2013, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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