The Great Gatsby and Goat Legalization

City Goats is primarily a how-to book on keeping goats in cities, but its also got some literary analysis involving the Great Gatsby and goat legalization. Since the movie is out and doing well at the box office, I’m including an excerpt here.

A few year back, I headed out of town with my son and pug dog to the annual Pug Gala held at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe. As the event drew to a close and the pugs began to droop and head out to their cars to nap on their rides home, Spencer and I stood in the parking lot and noticed an odd assortment of antique washing machines and tractors and a building with a sign out front that said, “museum.” We stepped inside, and being the only ones around, got a private tour. There was an old cream separator, a wood powered kitchen stove, a rope making machine, and a pre-electrical refrigeration machine that used creek water flowing through copper pipes to cool milk down to 40 degrees F in a matter of minutes. When the curator learned that I was interested specifically in the history of farm animals in cities, he went into a back room and returned with an old, stylish lavender hatbox. When he worked the lid of the hatbox up and off, I saw within a tattered and yellowed manuscript. What I learned from reading through it that afternoon intrigued me.

Although many people are unaware of this, F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of America’s earliest proponents of goat legalization. In the 1920s, a dark period in American his- tory for farm animals, Fitzgerald watched in pained dismay as city codes in urban areas across the United States were revised to oust cows, horses, ducks, chickens, and goats from the city limits.

As a lover of cows and especially goats, F. Scott took this ousting hard. In fact, he took it so hard that he began to drink heavily. He also began to feel a need to write about it and soon was driven to write what many consider his best work, the American classic The Great Gatsby. In his original manuscript, a bootlegger and goat enthusiast named Jay Gatz keeps several goats, and his favorite is named Myrtle. Jay gives Myrtle to Daisy, a married woman he’d met in his youth and admired ever since. Daisy can’t get over what a great goat Myrtle is. Tom, Daisy’s husband, gets upset because he thinks Jay’s gift of Myrtle is part of a scheme to seduce Daisy and steal her away. In this, Tom is right.

While Tom is seething about what he feels is the inappropriate gift of a goat, he is also mad at goats in general because he is a real estate developer and goats are getting in the way of his business dealings. On the day his wife Daisy receives the goat Myrtle, a goat farmer in Long Island refuses Tom’s offer to buy his land, which for years has housed his herd of prize-winning Swiss Alpine goats. This refusal to sell messes up one of Tom’s biggest, albeit also very shady, real estate schemes. One afternoon, just after meeting with the goat farmer who is still stubbornly refusing to sell him the goat farmland, Tom comes home to find Myrtle the goat eating daisies on his front lawn. He’s a man with anger problems and has built up a lot of goat-directed rage. In addi- tion, he is lacking in moral fiber, so when he sees the goat eating his daisies, he runs her down with his car and then backs over her. Not satisfied with murdering a single goat, he drives off and runs over the goat farmer who won’t sell the land, as well as Jay, the goat-loving bootlegger, and his tennis partner, Allen. Allen has nothing to do with goats but was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tom then tells Daisy that they had better skip town and head to their home in the Bahamas.

Daisy is happy to skip town. She is feeling guilty because it turns out that she hasn’t been washing Myrtle’s udder properly and, as a result, Myrtle has contracted mastitis. This helps explains why Myrtle didn’t get out of Tom’s way when she saw him gunning for her with the car. She had not been feeling her best and wasn’t as alert as usual. In the end, Tom and Daisy drive off and Jay Gatz is left with two broken legs and the sense that Daisy is an irresponsible goat owner and a poor choice for a girlfriend. In this original version of the book, Jay Gatz moves to Montana to heal and be with goats in a rural area where goat-hating real estate agents are scarce.

You may find this hard to believe and ask, “How did the plot get changed around so much?” What happened is that Maxwell Perkins, a closet goat hater and Fitzgerald’s editor, knew about F. Scott’s drinking problem and revised the manuscript according to the whims of his third wife, also a goat hater. When asked to approve the final ver- sion of the story, F. Scott was three sheets to the wind and signed off on the changes. Had he not done so, The Great Gatsby would stand today, not just as a great novel but also as one that changed history. As Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is remembered for instigating the enactment of today’s food safety regulations, and as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is remembered for fueling the Civil War, The Great Gatsby would be remembered as helping to end the banning of farm animals from cities.

Although Perkins significantly altered the plot line of The Great Gatsby, much of the language of the novel survived intact. Such is the case with the last line of the novel, which, according to the original manuscript read, “And so we beat on, goats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

What exactly is Fitzgerald saying here? This is a question that scholars have debated for many years. I think it’s clear that in this great last line, he is lamenting the loss of goats from our day-to-day lives. He points to how, in our modern goat-hating era, we are beaten down by our culture of consumption. Jay, having had his favorite goat run down, must retreat to earlier times, times he finds in the quiet fields of the Montana landscape.

Fitzgerald’s last sentence rings as true today as it did when he first penned it. While legalizing goats may be hard work, we must beat on against the current of the antigoat coalition to bring goats back into our modern world. Goats, with their strange rectan- gular eyes and stubborn, curious personalities, can help us combat the emptiness of our material age.

Great literature often offers great lessons. Such is the case with the long-lost Great Gatsby manuscript. Through allegory, it points out that while keeping goats in urban or, in the case of Long Island, suburban settings, is a lot of work, it is also what can help bring meaning to our lives through love, good food, adventure, and friendship.

2 Responses to “The Great Gatsby and Goat Legalization”

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  1. This is so hilarious or amazing, not quite sure which! Thank you so much for the insight of the great F. Scott Fitzgerald – it made my night. I am reticent to ask…is this true?

    • JennieGrant says:

      Of course it’s 100% true. Sadly though, I’ve misplaced the rare manuscript so now I can’t prove it.

      P.S. What does your uncertainty say about modern literary analysis?

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