Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
©F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby 1922. All Rights Reserved
In some ways this isn’t a poem as such and is more often considered to be epigraph, and serves as the opening to Fitzgerald’s 1922 novella: The Great Gatsby. I’ve always read it as a straight poem with a traditional but loose adoption of the ABAB rhyme scheme, but in considering it as an epigraph intending to foreshadow the central theme of the novella, Then Wear the Gold Hat portrays this beautifully. Although ostensibly written by another ‘author’ – Thomas Parke D’Invilliers – those of us who are familiar with Fitzgerald’s work will know that D’Invilliers is actually a fictional character in his first published work entitled This Side of Paradise; a quasi-autobiographical novel in which D’Invilliers served as the characterization of one of Fitzgerald’s closest friends and poet;John Peale Bishop.
Although this is not intended as an analysis of The Great Gatsby, it is important for us to understand the foundations of the story in order to fully appreciate this poem/epigraph as a part of the story. So, James Gatz, a poor young man falls in love with the beautiful and wealthy Daisy Fay and the two spend their youth wrapped together in love. After returning from war, and realizing that Daisy has married Tom Buchanan, who is cushioned with an extensive inheritance, Gatz molds himself into the suave and wealthy Jay Gatsby, formulating his wealth through illegal bootlegging. After reuniting through Daisy’s cousin Nick Carraway (our story’s protagonist) Gatsby’s obsession with the girl he loves is reignited to extraordinary lengths and continues his facade of glitz and glamour in an attempt to win Daisy; a women who can only be wooed with the prospect of money and status.Now it’s not too difficult to see why the epigraph relates to the novella itself, but it is interesting to unpick the true connotations behind ‘D’Invilliers’ words.
The image that Fitzgerald crafts for us of a ‘gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover’, seems to be a somewhat absurd and silly mental image. To me, it seems to connote the absurdity of Gatsby’s obsession and mission throughout not just the course of the novella but his entire life. He is completely and utterly absorbed in reinventing himself as the wealthy and well stationed man who Daisy is attracted to, and in portraying his mission as wearing a gold hat to impress the one he loves, Fitzgerald suggests that this dream is futile and will amount to nothing.
The final thing to note is to really consider Fitzgerald’s adoption of a pseudonym. This in itself foreshadows Gatz’s own veil of pretense throughout the novella, re-branding himself as the flamboyant and fantastically Gatsby and pretending to be something that he is not in order to win Daisy. Fitzgerald is ultimately exemplifying one of the most prominent themes in his novella; the obsession with status and its effect upon romance. In reinventing an ostensibly bland family name like Fitzgerald and replacing it with an ostentatious name – D’Invilliers – suggests status and wealth, and this is precisely the practice taken up by the novella’s eponymous protagonist. The fact that this practice ultimately – yet indirectly – results in Gatsby’s demise gives the epigraph a rather sinister undertone when re-read after finishing the novella, but does reveal the dangers of abandoning one’s identity and posing as something you are not.