The Personal Catastrophe of Isolation, in The Great Gatsby and Catch - 22 (1615 words)

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F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

1. Select a theme or idea from the course novels that interests you and has a relation to the general idea of catastrophe. If you are in search of an idea, you can begin by thinking of the different forms that catastrophe can take. For example, 9/11 was a single event that touched many people, many institutions, even many different ways of life, not all of them in New York or Washington, D.C. Catastrophe, in short, can be both one event and a multitude of consequences. The traumatic response does not observe time or space. Remember that among the various responses to catastrophe (shock, horror, fear, grief, anger, determination, courage, to mention only psychological or moral responses) there is also the literary response. How does an author treat a catastrophe in language? James, to take one example, does not describe directly Poynton's burning. Does that treatment have its own effectiveness?
2. On the basis of your chosen theme or topic, select two passages from each of
any two novels read in The course (two passages from each of the two chosen novels; four overall). Try to choose passages that will allow you to develop the topic (that is, to move from one treatment of the idea to another. For example, within In Our Time, consider the killing of pack animals at the start of the book, the later bull fights, and the final fishing episode. I apologize for using three episodes, but in searching for passages, you may find it useful to begin with more than two examples, then whittle down.). Then repeat the process in another novel. For example, what relations can you find in Invisible Man between the "Battle Royal" and the final race riots in Harlem? Lastly, compare the two different novels by developing aspects of the general idea that you have found in the four selected passages.
3. Write an essay of 4-5 pages on the treatment of the theme or topic in the four selected passages from the two novels.

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Drawing on passages from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, this brief discussion examines and compares how each author treats a particular theme: the personal catastrophe of isolation. Here at the outset, it is important to note that neither author is explicit in characterizing isolation—a catch-all for states like aloneness and alienation—as catastrophic. But, based on the passages presented, this discussion argues that the psychological, physical, and social effects of the isolation of people from one another are the effects of perhaps the deepest and most common catastrophe there is.
Fitzgerald’s treatment of isolation happens primarily through his use of particular imagery in connection with thematic metaphors which appear repeatedly throughout the book. The passage below occurs early in the book and signals some of Fitzgerald’s thematic intentions:
“About halfway between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes -- a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air” (p. 23).
Here, on the face of it, Nick’s description serves to situate West Egg and make real its distance from New York...
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