The Great Gatsby and the Great War Army
Ethnic Egalitarianism, Intelligence Testing, the New Man, and the Charity Girl
This chapter argues that the plot and characters of Fitzgerald's famous novel can be illuminated with reference to historical events and figures connected to the mobilization. Gatsby himself, a poor ethnic American (who Anglicizes his Germanic name) is the beneficiary of a new military meritocracy that was extended to ethnic Americans with education or bilingual ability. As such, Gatsby is particularly receptive to the military's propaganda about its “new man,” the “clean” soldier who refrains from sexual activity abroad. Daisy meanwhile resembles the historical figure of the “charity girl,” the woman or girl who fraternized with soldiers at training camps and caused problems for military authorities, especially in terms of spreading venereal disease. (Thousands of such “charity girls” were arrested during the war.) The chapter also discusses Tom Buchanan and Nick Carraway in terms of historical developments during and after the war. Finally, the chapter contains an extended discussion of the army intelligence tests (they have previously been seen almost entirely in terms of their postwar exploitation by immigration restrictionists), considering them as part of a set of military personnel initiatives, which, though biased against immigrants and ethnic Americans overall, nonetheless extended wartime opportunities to educated and talented ethnic Americans.
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