I’ve never had the privilege to read F. Scott Fitzgerald before. His writing puts me much in the mind of Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath), actually, probably because of his insight and descriptive treatment of society during a certain time period (in this case, Long Island 1920’s).
For those of you who don’t know, the novel is narrated by Nick Carraway, cousin of Daisy Buchanan and neighbor of Jay Gatsby, and basically he is a fly on the wall through the whole novel, but whose life is changed irreversibly by Gatsby. Through his eyes we see Gatsby’s lavish yet personally distant lifestyle which is considered glamorous and popular by the local folk who flock uninvited to his parties at his large, decadent, and mysterious estate. Since Gatsby is not very personable with his guests, he adds an air of intrigue for them as they debate details about his life and upbringing. But, as the novel eventually makes plain, Gatsby has fostered a deep and unchangeable love for Daisy Buchanan, formed when he was young and continued throughout the war and her new-ish marriage to Tom Buchanan. Meanwhile, Daisy has also loved Gatsby a long time, but when she thought he was dead in the war, she married Tom.
Offset to this love tragedy is the unfaithful behavior of Tom Buchanan who is commonly known by everyone to have a mistress on the side, but when Tom discovers he is also a cuckold, much like he does his friend Wilson (because of his mistress, Mrs. Wilson), he is incensed and devious. The outcome of all of this mess is that Daisy kills Mrs. Wilson because Mrs. Wilson ran out into the street to catch Mr. Gatsby’s car which Tom was driving earlier, and Tom cares pretty much nothing for Wilson or Mrs. Wilson’s death or Daisy’s feelings. He only sees that the great and powerful man he is can make her stop her behavior at once by taking her away for good and framing Gatsby for Mrs. Wilson’s accidental death. Gatsby, ready to jump on any sword for his love, keeps quiet about Daisy being the driver except to Nick, who understands that this is for love and her protection. When Tom painted the picture for Wilson that Gatsby had killed Mrs. Wilson (possibly because he was her lover), Wilson (gone basically mentally retarded from grief and rage) murders Gatsby at his home. Nick is left to clean up the whole mess, and he doesn’t understand why everyone doesn’t feel sorry for Gatsby who tried so hard to be good friends to everyone.
Gatsby is actually somewhat of a tragic figure, not just for his love story and murder, but because no one really shows up for his funeral, not Daisy, not his business colleagues, not his roommate…just Nick, his servants, and his long-lost father, whom he left because he wanted to make something of himself and be ambitious. Although he cared so much for others, no one really cared for him…
Nick is left somewhat empty and in contempt of his cousins and their lifestyle, but also their absence of care for others, like the rich simply use people until they’re broken and then they move on without a care in the world. But also, Nick has a certain admiration for Gatsby, how he was always striving to make something beautiful and perfect in the future, like he did for those people that came to his parties, and that he tried to do with Daisy, and somehow Gatsby captures that ambition, that yearning in all of us to be something great, which is probably why the title is The Great Gatsby.
All in all, it is really interesting to read between the lines of Fitzgerald and try to make out the real meanings in his descriptions. I believe that this is a novel you can read multiple times and still learn new things, even if they aren’t necessarily happy ones. It captures some isolated parts of human behavior and circumstance that are both appalling and absolute truth. It also illustrates the fact that some perfect things have passed on and though try as we might to attain them once more; alas, they are gone and only exist perfectly in our memories.
Rating: Intriguing read, especially to culture the mind in great works of literature. Buy? Not really.
I must say, I will have to see the new film coming out with Leo DiCaprio as Gatsby and see how well film captures Fitzgerald’s themes.