‘America Today’ – My connection between the MET and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Choose a painting that you have explored at The MET (or The Moma or The Whitney) and discuss how it has amplified your understanding of the literary themes and forms that we have been exploring in the 19th Century Literature of New York.

Earlier in our trip to New York we received the amazing opportunity to visit the The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Within this museum I witnessed the most all consuming and overwhelming mural. This mural not only physically surrounded me, taking up every corner of each of the four walls, but it emotionally moved me. It provoked deep thoughts that I have previously considered and studied, and brought them to fruition. The piece of art that I am referring to is titled ‘America Today’ which is painted by the incredibly talented Thomas Benton. This panoramic mural was comprised of ten panels depicting the life of different American regions, including the West, the South, New York and the Midwest. One of the ten panels displayed the amazing representation titled ‘Instruments of Power’, showing the industrial and mechanical aspect of America. The smallest and personally, most impactful panel was the painting of outstretched hands holding bread and another holding money.

There are many aspects to this mural that amplified my understanding of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. Multiple strong connections could be made between the murals and the life depicted in the novel, most predominantly the jazz age and boisterous life of New York. This was displayed in the murals through the animated figures watching gangsta films in the cinema, a couple captured in an intimate embrace, beautiful females drinking at a bar and couples intimately dancing to the sounds of classical piano and a golden marching band tuba. The part of the mural that I strongly connected to The Great Gatsby however, was the beautiful image of a short haired brunette with pinkish pale skin embraced in the arms of her male dancing partner. Her red dress slipping off one shoulder while the rest of it cascaded down her figure, ending in fire-like embers. This dress reminded me off the excess and extravagance that is ever present in the world of Gatsby and his “dazzling parties”. However, much like the novel, this wealth was only a small part of the world in which everyone lived in. Just on the other side of the mural was outstretched hands reaching for coffee and money leading us into the world of the less fortunate, one where hard labour and discrimination was a constant. This was reminiscent of ‘the valley of ashes’ in the novel, which described the covering of ashes over men who “moved dimly and already crumbling” in the field in which hard labour occurred everyday. Both the mural and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel bring light to individual life in America, the wealthy, poor and everything in between. Ultimately, no one is free from the desire to pursue their own ‘American dream’, whether that be love and financial prestige and excess like Gatsby, or a steady income, house, family or reputation.

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