Race, Class, and Music in The Great Gatsby

Musical Allusions in The Great Gatsby

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

If you’ve ever taught The Great Gatsby, you’ve no doubt had discussions with your students about the myriad musical allusions that are sprinkled throughout the novel. In May, during an abbreviated unit on Gatsby, I found myself a little unprepared to discuss the significance of the various musical selections Fitzgerald included.

Yes, I could have explained one reason for all those musical allusions: to set the novel directly in the Jazz Age. But I wasn’t able to discuss at any great length the significance of the selections beyond that, especially since it was my first time teaching the book.

Because I posted a few weeks ago that I would be writing soon about the music of Gatsby, I knew I had to follow through. However, in researching for the post, I found this awesome article, “Race, Class, and Music in The Great Gatsby” that I’m reblogging below in this post. The article is written by Carrie Allen Tipton, Ph.D., a musicologist and writer for The Avid Listener blog hosted by publisher W. W. Norton and Company.

Tipton goes “below the surface” to offer insights about music Fitzgerald chose to insert into his novel. I hope you’ll enjoy the analysis she provides and find it useful. I know I will next year when I teach Gatsby again probably in December. (I’m still fine-tuning when exactly I’ll teach the book next year; I think I’ll move it from May to December.)

One thing, however, the article doesn’t outline are the exact locations for the musical allusions. I’ve done that for you below.

Musical allusions in The Great Gatsby chapter by chapter:

Ch. 1 and Ch. 2: No musical allusions
Ch. 3: Vladimir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World
Ch. 4: The Sheik of Araby (1921) by Ted Snyder (music), Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler (lyrics)
Ch. 5: The Love Nest and Ain’t We Got Fun
Ch. 6: Three O’Clock in the Morning
Ch. 7: Mendelssohn’s Wedding March
Ch. 8: Beale Street Blues
Ch. 9: The Rosary

So without further ado, I think you’ll find this article an excellent one to add to your Gatsby unit — for your own research or for teaching — to better equip students with an extra dash of cultural literacy and to increase their understanding of the book’s themes.

The Avid Listener

Carrie Allen Tipton (Houston, TX)

Warner Brothers film trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013), featuring multiple musical excerpts (starting off with André 3000 and Beyoncé performing “Back in Black”).

The Great Gatsby turned ninety last year. What does its antihero—floating dead on a bloody mattress in the pool outside his nouveau riche palace, a casualty in some indirect sense of the American dream—have to say to us? Does his tale offer any relevant cultural critique to a nation nearly a century removed from its publication? We must think so, because we keep revisiting it: in English classrooms, in the iconic1974 Robert Redford film, inJohn Harbison’s opera of the late 1990s, and inBaz Luhrmann’s 2013 film. The musical dimensions of these iterations loom large; Gatsby, shot through with references to the popular music of the jazz age, invites sonic treatment in a…

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Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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