The Wire Breaks Down The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Classic Criticism of America (NSFW)

“But it’s f****d, because the man got to where he need­ed to be, and she was­n’t even worth it. Daisy was­n’t noth­in’ past any oth­er b***h any­where, you know? He did all that for her, and in the end, it ain’t amount to s**t.” So begins a scene of book-club dis­cus­sion of F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s nov­el The Great Gats­by (find in our Free eBooks col­lec­tion) in David Simon’s tele­vi­sion series The Wire. Being a dra­ma focused on crime, pun­ish­ment, and the dys­func­tion in soci­ety’s han­dling of both, The Wire sets this lit­er­ary analy­sis with­in prison walls. Being the most crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed work of Amer­i­can fic­tion to come out of the 2000s, it per­haps seemed nat­ur­al to ref­er­ence the most crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed work of Amer­i­can fic­tion to come out of the twen­ties — or, quite pos­si­bly, out of any decade. The fit turns out to be even clos­er than it seems: while Fitzger­ald has received acco­lades for his indict­ment of Amer­i­ca — specif­i­cal­ly, of the amor­phous promise, or the promise of amor­phous­ness, that is the “Amer­i­can Dream” — Simon and his col­lab­o­ra­tors have received acco­lades for theirs — specif­i­cal­ly, of the nature of near­ly every Amer­i­can insti­tu­tion cur­rent­ly oper­at­ing.

The book club’s leader asks what Fitzger­ald meant when he said there are no sec­ond acts in Amer­i­can lives. “He’s say­ing that the past is always with us,” replies D’An­ge­lo Barks­dale, a mid­dle man­ag­er in a drug-deal­ing empire and a char­ac­ter often sin­gled out for crit­i­cal praise. “Where we come from, what we go through, how we go through it — all that s**t mat­ters. [ … ] Like, at the end of the book? Boats and tides and all? It’s like, you can change up. You can say you some­body new. You can give your­self a whole new sto­ry. But what came first is who you real­ly are, and what hap­pened before is what real­ly hap­pened. It does­n’t mat­ter that some fool say you dif­fer­ent, ’cause the only thing that make you dif­fer­ent is what you real­ly do, or what you real­ly go through. Like all them books in his library. Now, he fron­tin’ with all them books. But if we pull one down off the shelf, ain’t none of the pages ever been opened. He got all them books, and he ain’t read one of ’em. Gats­by, he was who he was, and he did what he did, and ’cause he was­n’t ready to get real with the sto­ry, that s**t caught up to him.” H/T Bib­liok­lept

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Wire as Great Vic­to­ri­an Nov­el

Bill Moy­ers with The Wire’s David Simon

The Wire: Four Sea­sons in Four Min­utes

Hem­ing­way, Fitzger­ald, Faulkn­er - A Yale course in our col­lec­tion of 500 Free Cours­es Online 

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (3)
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  • This is such a great scene, and it is par­tic­u­lar­ly appro­pri­ate that (SPOILER WARNING) when D’An­ge­lo gets killed lat­er in the episode, it is in that same library, filled with books he will nev­er read.

    The Gats­by con­nec­tions start in Sea­son One with D’An­gelo’s trip to a fan­cy restau­rant with Donette. She tells him “you got mon­ey, you get to be what­ev­er you say you are.” That could be Gats­by’s slo­gan. I wrote an in-depth analy­sis of that scene for my blog at

    D’An­ge­lo is also obsessed with clothes, with an over­stuffed clos­et that is sim­i­lar to Gats­by’s.

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  • lucifermeanslightbringer says:

    Eye-water­ing­ly inter­est­ing.

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