Also, one destabilized racial categories, questioning the notion that race, any more than class, was self-evident in one's character as it was upon the skin. The boorishness of Tom Buchanan, evidenced amongst many other traits in the young man's openly expressed racism and sense of superiority for no evident reason, brings this lie to sharp relief in Fitzgerald's novel.
It is clear that many African-American men and women 'passed,' just as many men and women (and men, as Guare's play and film makes clear) of different races engaged in sexual activities. The supposed obvious quality of 'passing' is contradicted by the successful dissemblance of individuals such as Paul and Gatsby. Although neither Gatsby nor Smith's Paul construct themselves in the personas of alternate races, it could also be argued that Sidney Poiter's own persona as a Black man of culture and taste was often seen as a way of rendering Blackness acceptable or white in the eyes of the majority of Americans.
Sidney Poiter and Paul, his spurious son in Guare's fiction, are seen as acceptable as well because they are talented or the son of talent, and rich. Wealth and access to Hollywood are allowed the great equalizers in the American schema of class and racial hierarchy, both plots suggest. Through wealth and the construction of status through material possessions, Gatsby hopes to buy love and status just as he buys his expensive and beautiful shirts that Daisy is so impressed by, when he shows them to her. However, the sense of class in American society, like the sense of race, is still fragile enough that neither Paul nor Gatsby can fully become a part of its fabric, without tearing the worlds they desire to enter seamlessly, completely apart.
Although both worlds may be based on lies, these societies do not like to admit their racial and social lies, that they are racist, that race is an artificial construct much like class. Gatsby like the thief Paul as well hopes to buy status through illegal means, in Gatsby's case via bootlegging. Bootlegging, much like talent, one might argue, is the grist that makes the social wheels of Gatsby's New York society turn, yet no one would socially associate with a bootlegger in Gatsby's world in an open fashion any more than anyone would openly associate with a young Black hustler in the Kitteridge's world. People silently accept the drugs of alcohol and filmed versions of reality, but disdain to see what really goes into producing them, the dirt or "foul dust" that is produced as a result of allowing illegality and prejudice to silently exist within a society. The Kitteridges would never acknowledge that they are racist, yet they are, if Blackness does not conform to their worldview -- the society of Gatsby would never acknowledge that it is criminal, yet it is, as it consumes illegal alcohol and eventually, the plot boils over into a murder.
A last similarity and irony to both worlds is that American aristocracy in general could be construed as a kind of 'passing,' for there really is no American aristocracy as such. All American money, however old, is new when compared to the money of Europe.
But the perceptions of Europe vs. America are diluted when one travels across the pond, as those whom are members of this society are not immediately exposed to those whom would disdain the 'old aristocracy' of America as oxymoronic. In such an insecure world of class, however, bootleggers become bad and ostracized, just as African-Americans became lower on the class hierarchy of the United States social totem poles. But, as the beginning of the film "Six Degrees of Separation" famously makes clear, all are ultimately associated in such a relatively new world and especially in an area as small as New York City, by only six degrees of separation from another.
Fitzgerald, Scott F. The Great Gatsby. 1926
Larson, Nella. Passing. Thaddeus Davis, Editor. "Introduction." 2001 Edition.
Plunka, Jean. The Black Comedy of John Guare. 1992.
Six Degrees of Separation." Film. Starring Will Smith. 1993.