Sunday, September 16, 2018

Another source for Gatsby's "this man Goddard"

If you’ve been following our work on Gatsby, you are probably already well aware of how often we write about Lothrop Stoddard, whose ideas are parroted by Fitzgerald’s Tom Buchanan as the work of “this man Goddard.”

Goddard was Lothrop Stoddard, who wrote about the threat of the “colored races” to the white world and white world supremacy. In his 1920 text, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, which Tom mis-cites as “The Rise of The Colored Empires,” Stoddard warns of the “influx of undesirable elements” and the devastation of “our race-heritage” because America has not been “reserved for the descendants of the picked Nordics of colonial times.” Tom rephrases Stoddard’s ideas: “if we don’t look out, the white race will be – will be utterly submerged. . . . It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”

Stoddard’s text is in public domain and accessible online, but critical, relevant excerpts are available in a classroom-ready format, accompanied by discussion and writing prompts and other teaching materials, in our recent volume, Using Informational Text to Teach The Great Gatsby.

We find the Stoddard text critical and compelling, not just in terms of understanding Gatsby but also in relation to the heightened rhetoric around immigration and nativism that has emerged under the Trump presidency. Using Stoddard excerpts, in connection with a discussion of Tom’s discussion of the “Goddard,” allows an entry-point for these historically-specific ideas about white nationalism in the classroom (with or without explicit connection to the contemporary Trump context).

Imagine our surprise and intellectual delight to discover there is even more to be made of Fitzgerald’s “Goddard.”

It turns out, as we learned recently from a delightful blog from Museum Hack (a great organization that you should check out if you don’t already know about them), that there was also a prominent Goddard in the early 20th century who, like Lothrop Stoddard, was focused on the dangers of immigrants. Henry H. Goddard, a psychologist, was an intelligence researcher, who coined the term “moron” in order to categorize with more scientific precision those he considered cognitively disabled. Hmm. (Note – “moron” is no longer a scientifically precise or acceptable medical term.)

In 1913, Goddard conducted tests of immigrants at Ellis Island. He studied Italians, Jews, Hungarians, and Russians. His findings, “Mental Tests and the Immigrant,” published in a journal called The Journal of Delinquency and accessible online, outline the tests he performed and his conclusions: “that half of such a group of immigrants [is] feeble-minded.” While noting the seeming impossibility of his findings, he explains that this group “is of a decidedly different character from the earlier immigration … we are now getting the poorest of each race.”

And the poorest of each race are more likely to be feeble-minded? Apparently.

For Goddard, the question is how best to treat these immigrants. He concludes: “Morons as a class, if taken early and trained carefully and so kept from becoming vicious and criminal, could be successfully employed if the employer understands them . . . .”

Still, Goddard worries about the children of these morons, who will, as he concedes, be Americans. And so he ponders, “Shall we exclude the moron immigrants because they are likely to have moron children who will become troublesome citizens?”

As Joella Straley writes on National Public Radio’s Code Switch, the year after Goddard presented his findings, deportation numbers for “feeble-mindedness” doubled.

We have yet to uncover any evidence that Fitzgerald was aware of Henry H. Goddard and his eugenicist work, but the re-naming of Stoddard as Goddard is surely no coincidence.

Regardless, a brief perusal of a few paragraphs of Goddard’s work, such as an excerpt from “Mental Tests and the Immigrant,” can serve to underscore the anti-immigrant xenophobia of the world of Gatsby and the ways in which Tom (and Nick’s) racism and anti-Semitism form part of a broader landscape of nativism. An excerpt from Henry Goddard, then, could be easily put into dialogue with Gatsby and, using the discussion and writing prompts and multimedia links provided in our unit on Stoddard, even more deeply complicate ours and our students’ understanding of Fitzgerald’s novel. 

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