Tony Soprano, Holden Caufield, and Jay Gatsby

#1
I've been a lurker here for quite some time. To this point I've been entirely content to sate my need for Sopranos discussion through reading the many intelligent threads that are posted to this fine board.

Now I feel compelled to chip in because I'm intrigued by the thought that Chase is taking his cues from the pages of two classic American novels: Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

Allow me to elaborate...

The Catcher in the Rye connection is perhaps the more obvious of the two, what with the symbolic importance of ducks and bodies of water in the respective works. In Catcher, Holden Caufield expresses angst that a pond in Central Park will freeze over, forcing the ducks that live in it to uproot themselves and move on to an unfamiliar reality. In the novel, Holden's confusion over where the ducks go represents his dismay over the end of innocence, and more importantly, his fear of what happens when the old, safe world is no longer inhabitable under the tenants of a less-than-favorable new reality.

For The Sopranos, ducks have been a powerful and sustaining motif since the first episode. While Tony has stumbled through several theories as to what they may represent, there is only one intransmutable certainty with regard to the ducks: they have not come back. In truth, the dumping of the asbestos into the duck pond in the last episode seems to hint at the finality that is being expressed. The sanctuary of innocence that is the pool can no longer support a healthy existence. A new era is being ushsered in, likely by force, as the end of innonence typically makes its presence known all too abruptly.

The Great Gatsby connection is not as initially obvious as with Catcher, but there are some fascinating connections to be made nonetheless. After all, Jay Gatsby represents the quintessentially tragic American hero: a man so intoxicated by his immense vision and drive that he is paradoxically killed by his most outstanding attributes. And where does he die? No place other than in a swimming pool, as he stares into frightening fall sky and realizes that his dreams were rampant beyond his control.

Tony's musings about the bus that drops people off but is eagerly chased after nonetheless is eerily reminiscent of Nick Carraway's (the narrator) speculation that American lives are spent rowing "against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past," as we try to recreate the purity of a former time.

And on top of all that, Gatsby just so happened to be a criminal with mafia connections that tried to pass himself off as something that mainstream society would accept.

In the end of Catcher, the anti-hero Holden seems to have made some progress in transitioning to a new reality, but admits that he has no idea what the future holds. The tragic-hero Gatsby dies, of course, in the swimming pool.

My insights could very well be overblown or just plain wrong, but I really feel as though Tony's fate will parallel one of these two. He'll either live an anti-hero or die a tragic one.

Re: Tony Soprano, Holden Caufield, and Jay Gatsby

#2
Probably a worthy topic for a research paper, Lono, if ever we took a college class on The Sopranos: "Compare and contrast great American novels with great American television."

Invariably, some of the themes you mentioned would surface. When reading your post, I thought of this passage from "Gatsby":

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

Seems apropos to simply change that to:
They were careless people, THE SOPRANOS -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

Re: Tony Soprano, Holden Caufield, and Jay Gatsby

#3
Interesting comparisons, Lono, but I'm more inclined to go with the Caulfield analogy than the Gatsby, as I think there's more that distinguishes Gatsby at his core from Tony than unites him. Tony has no Daisy, who is Gatsby's sole reason for embarking on his dogged life quest to transform himself into a man of wealth and status, by any means necessary. In contrast, Tony was born into the mob life and its focus on immediate material gratification, and he doesn't seem to have some higher goal that drives him as it did Gatsby. However, the overarching themes of materialism and meretricious concerns outweighing a more moral and natural existence, and the consequence of that inequitable life choice, are certainly similar, and FBI Agent makes a great connection of the Buchanans and the Sopranos.

I actually thought of the careless Jordan Baker in TGG when Chris, the ultimate careless person, finally ran into another careless person in "Kennedy and Heidi", with tragic results. Below is her exchange with Nick Carraway:

Nick: You're a rotten driver, either you ought to be more careful
or you oughtn't drive at all.
Jordan: I am careful.
Nick: No you're not.
Jordan: Well, other people are.
Nick: What's that got to do with it?
Jordan: They'll keep out of my way. It takes two to make an
accident.
Nick: Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself?
Jordan: I hope I never will, I hate careless people.

I think a more viable comparison in modern American literature might be Willy Loman of "Death of a Salesman". Like Tony, Willy clings dogmatically to how things worked in the past, often romanticizing his own achievements and those of his idols, while glossing over the less-savory parts of his life. Like Tony, Willy also foisted his world vision on his children, who suffered by trying to live up to his warped expectations in a world that had changed, or may never have been as their father believed. The motivations of both are "basically" good, but their tragic flaw is their distorted world view, a distortion of what it is to "succeed" as a man in post-industrial American society.

One of the things that I think endears Tony as a character to us as viewers is how multi-faceted he is. It makes these types of comparisons fun because there are so many traits/experiences that we can use to draw analogies. The writers of the show are obviously influenced by great literature, which also makes it fun to try to dissect the influences that shape the fascinating and shifting amalgam that is Tony Soprano.

Re: Tony Soprano, Holden Caufield, and Jay Gatsby

#5
You beat me to the punch, Lawdog... FBI Agent's comments also made me think of the car analogy. Gatsby's car, which represents one of the ultimate status symbols of the "idle rich," is the cause of Myrtle Wilson's death. I cannot help but to remember that the demise of both Christopher and Ade involved Tony's cars (once when Tony was driving, once when Chris was driving). Tony is truly and Buchanan type ("What am I, a toxic person?").

I think it's important to note that both Gatsby and Catcher take place in Fall and Winter, respectively. In short, these seasons come to represent some type of change for each protagonist. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it currently Fall in The Sopranos? It is, after all, football season. AJ's freezing in a pool that was previously more hospitable made me think about water symbolism a bit more with regard to the pond and ducks in Catcher. And in Gatsby's case, the water that he has not waded into all summer cleanses him before he perishes in Fall, a season of change.

Whatever the case may be, I don't think the conclusion of the series will leave us with a Tony Soprano that lives happily ever after in an alternate TV universe. Big changes are coming, and we as viewers will have to accept their finality.

Re: Tony Soprano, Holden Caufield, and Jay Gatsby

#7
Eh, the water imagery in Gatsby is worth noting as a thematic parallel. There's also the leitmotif in Gatsby of "coming in on the end of something" - that the best days are behind us, which is certainly a main theme in Sopranos. I'd wager that's a pretty pervasive theme in much of American literature and art, though, so take it for what it's worth. It's a good point made, though, that Tony has no Daisy, and in that sense the Caulfield parallel is stronger.

Re: Tony Soprano, Holden Caufield, and Jay Gatsby

#9
Of course, Nick Carraway, who is our guide, shouts toward Gatsby's estate, "You're better than the whole damn bunch put together." Is Tony Soprano "better than the whole damn bunch put together?" I think not. If anything, Tony Soprano is the anti-Gatsby, a man whose "dreams" are so small and so impure that we're almost embarrassed to have participated in them.

Put another way, Nick says elsewhere to Gatsby, "You can't repeat the past," to which Gatsby replies, "Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can." I suspect Tony would say something along the lines of "can't repeat the past? who the f*** would want to?"

Re: Tony Soprano, Holden Caufield, and Jay Gatsby

#10
Good point with regard to Carraway, Shantyirishman. Just remember that in spite of his professed admiration for Gatsby, Nick also confided that he disliked Gatsby a great deal at times. Gatsby was by no means an entirely heroic character.

Tony's dreams may be small, but so were Gatsby's; Daisy Buchanan was no great prize in the end. What distinguished Gatsby, however, was the immense drive and talent that he was able to direct towards his corrupted dream. Yes, Tony is in many ways an ammoral individual, but his talent and drive are very much Gatsbyesque.

What could Gatsby have done in a different era where the "American Dream" still flourished? We can't know... his talents were wasted upon the excess of the Jazz Age. And what could Tony have done if he had been born into a different family? His fear is that he would have been Kevin Finnerty, but perhaps he would have been something better.

In this sense, Tony reminds me of Gatsby more than I initially thought.
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