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Visions of America
Nothing would suit them but that he should go to St. Midas' School near Boston—Hades was too small to hold their darling and gifted son. (1.2)
Notice that the school is called St. Midas. Midas was a King who turned all that he touched into gold, and in a nation that worships wealth, he has been elevated to sainthood. This name brings together the two major themes of the story – wealth and religion, and suggests that this is a time and place where money has replaced God.
If the car was any indication of what John would see, he was prepared to be astonished indeed. The simple piety prevalent in Hades has the earnest worship of and respect for riches as the first article of its creed—had John felt otherwise than radiantly humble before them, his parents would have turned away in horror at the blasphemy. (2.12)
Here is our clearest indication yet that wealth is the new religion in America. Be on the look out for more religious words – "priest," "blasphemy," "sin," "worship," "altar," and so forth. Fitzgerald isn't messing around with the moral indictment here.
Through a maze of these rooms the two boys wandered. Sometimes the floor under their feet would flame in brilliant patterns from lighting below, patterns of barbaric clashing colors, of pastel delicacy, of sheer whiteness, or of subtle and intricate mosaic, surely from some mosque on the Adriatic Sea. Sometimes beneath layers of thick crystal he would see blue or green water swirling, inhabited by vivid fish and growths of rainbow foliage. Then they would be treading on furs of every texture and color or along corridors of palest ivory, unbroken as though carved complete from the gigantic tusks of dinosaurs extinct before the age of man… (2.31)
Passages like this one bring in the concept of civilization and evolution. Where does this château stand in the great evolution of man's history?
The Montana sunset lay between two mountains like a gigantic bruise from which dark arteries spread themselves over a poisoned sky. (2.1)
Wow – not exactly a chipper description, is it? Words like "bruise" and "poison" suggest that there is something wrong with this land, that it has been somehow hurt by the men who have harnessed its resources (like Washington).
[Braddock] sealed up the mine. What had been taken out of it would support all the Washingtons yet to be born in unparalleled luxury for generations. His one care must be the protection of his secret, lest in the possible panic attendant on its discovery he should be reduced with all the property-holders in the world to utter poverty. (4.14)
This raises an interesting point – Washington is responsible not just for maintaining his own wealth, but for maintaining the stability of the world's economy. The top echelon of society has enormous influence, but also enormous liability.
There was no alternative—he must market his mountain in secret. He sent South for his younger brother and put him in charge of his colored following—darkies who had never realized that slavery was abolished. To make sure of this, he read them a proclamation that he had composed, which announced that General Forrest had reorganized the shattered Southern armies and defeated the North in one pitched battle. The n****es believed him implicitly. They passed a vote declaring it a good thing and held revival services immediately. (4.7)
The Washington fortune was made on the backs of slaves who were exploited for their ignorance. It sounds like Fitzgerald might be making a point about the history of this country, as well.
The father of the present Mr. Washington had been a Virginian, a direct descendant of George Washington, and Lord Baltimore. (4.2)
This is an important moment in the story, as it roots the Washington family firmly in the history of the development of America. The story of their establishment and success becomes a parallel to the story of American's larger history.
[Braddock:] "How absurd. How could a man of my position be fair-minded toward you? You might as well speak of a Spaniard being fair-minded toward a piece of steak." (6.37)
Washington makes the argument that it is natural for men of wealth and power to exploit those beneath him. Later, his daughter Kismine will make the same argument to John. Fitzgerald seems to be saying that this is the ideology which allowed early Americans to justify their own brand of exploitation.
It was too dark to see clearly into the pit below, but John could tell from the coarse optimism and rugged vitality of the remarks and voices that they proceeded from middle-class Americans of the more spirited type. (6.23)
OK, so we've now encountered representatives of the wealthy (Braddock Washington), the poor (the slaves), and here the middle class (the imprisoned men). How does this new element support the social satire Fitzgerald has established so far with his story?
Mrs. Washington was aloof and reserved at all times. She was apparently indifferent to her two daughters, and entirely absorbed in her son Percy, with whom she held interminable conversations in rapid Spanish at dinner. (8.1)
Mrs. Washington is all about her son but ignores her daughter. This behavior may be another jab at American culture (at least in the 1920s).
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