In my reading of Lois Tyson’s psychoanalytical interpretation of The Great Gatsby, I found that she made many valid and well-supported points. Although she never gets to the bottom of the characters’ deeply rooted psychological issues, Tyson’s analysis is still valid. However, it would be almost to fully explain any one character’s core issues since there is no information given about the childhood of anyone other than Gatsby. Considering the history about the characters given in Gatsby, it is the deepest interpretation that can be supported from the text. Tyson’s analysis of Daisy, Gatsby, and Tom are spot on.
Daisy’s existence in a loveless marriage proves her fear of intimacy. She chooses to marry Tom over Gatsby, the man that she thinks she is in love with. At the time, she believed them both to be in near equal economic standing, and yet she did not choose the man whose departure left her with such a dramatic response: “she cried and cried…we got her into a cold bath…she wouldn’t let go of Gatsby’s letter…and she only let Jordan leave it in the soap dish when she saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.” The only fathomable reason for this is, as Tyson explained is “she married Tom to keep herself from loving Gatsby, to whom she had gotten too attached for her own comfort.” Tyson believes that Daisy’s love for Gatsby stems from one place in particular: “Whatever she feels for Gatsby requires the reinforcement of the same social status Tom provides. Tyson’s claim about Daisy’s fear of intimacy is further supported by the lack of emotional relationships in her life. Her marriage is loveless, her friendship with Jordan is shallow, her love for her child is an act, her friendship with Nick is based around Gatsby, and her romantic relationship with Gatsby could be best described as a schoolyard crush. Tyson’s belief that Daisy has a fear of intimacy is well documented and well supported.
Tom’s fear of intimacy is perhaps the easiest to prove, in large part due to his philandering ways. We find out in the scene where Nick first meets Tom that he is having an affair with another woman. In fact, Tom has been having affairs since a week after the honeymoon, perhaps even earlier. In Gatsby, Jordan explains: “I saw Tom and Daisy in Santa Barbara when they came back from their honeymoon…A week after I left Tom ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night…the girl who was with him got into the papers too because her arm was broken—she was one of the chambermaids in the Santa Barbara Hotel.” The text alone doesn’t prove Tom’s fear of intimacy, but Tyson’s big picture explanation does: “Dividing his interest, time, and energy between two women protects him from real intimacy with either…Daisy represents social superiority…Tom’s possession of Myrtle Wilson…reinforces Tom’s sense of his own masculine power.” Although this alludes to castration anxiety, there is not enough evidence within Gatsby to prove this. Moreover, Tom’s affairs are more of an attempt to exert his power by possessing people, since all material things are easily accessible to him. Therefore, Tom’s affairs can be explained by his fear of intimacy.
Tyson’s examination of The Great Gatsby’s characters is the deepest that you could synthesize based on the short text that is Gatsby and the lack of depth in the cast. Her work is logical, well supported, and systematic in its approach. I fully agree with Tyson’s analysis, despite it ruining The Great Gatsby for me as a love story.
A section on Lacanian psychoanalysis has been added to the chapter on psychoanalytic criticism. The chapter one feminist criticism now contains sections on gender studies and French feminism, the latter including discussions of both the very useful French materialist feminism and the more familiar psychoanalytic school of French feminism. And perhaps the biggest change of all, the chapter on postcolonial and African American criticism has been rewritten as two separate chapters. This last change allowed me to add to the chapter on African American criticism a section on critical race theory and an African American reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), which remains the novel used for the sample literary application in every chapter. Finally, the bibliographies for further reading that close each chapter have been expanded and updated.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the purpose of this book. It is still an introduction to critical theory written by a teacher of critical theory and literature. And it is still intended for teachers and college-level students who want to learn about critical theory and its usefulness in helping us to achieve a better understanding of literature. Because I am a teacher writing for teachers and students, the second edition of Critical Theory Today also contains clarifications wherever my own students have had repeated difficulty, over the years, in understanding a particular concept addressed in the book.