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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  • 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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