Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 June 2021
The Great Gatsby and Long Day’s Journey are as near as the twentieth-century United States came to creating successful novelistic and theatrical modernist epics. Each work proffers a tale of male rags-to-riches success: James Gatz’s remaking of his impoverished Midwestern self as the gorgeous Long Island millionaire, Jay Gatsby; James Tyrone’s climb from immigrant slum destitution in Buffalo to become the wealthy Broadway star-actor in The Count of Monte Cristo. Both works offer tempting visions of class bonding in the marriage of upper- and lower-class men and women, and of 'high' and 'popula' cultural coupling through male friendship or filial relations. However, in the end, no fructifying totalization succeeds; instead, things come apart and tales of epic overcoming become world-weary tragedies. In their respective ways, Gatsby and Long Day’s Journey testify to the spellbinding seductiveness of American 'low' or 'mass' culture only to suggest the ultimate incompatibility of merging high cultural sophistication with low cultural glamour and popularity. In the age of American ascendancy, American high culture and American mass culture, like Faust and Mephistopheles, need but destroy each other, titanic ambition ending in mutual ruin.
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