THE GREAT GATSBY
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Scribner, 2004 (first published 1925)
Paperback, 180 pages
I first read The Great Gatsby my sophomore year of college, over two years ago. I read most of it while laying on a blanket in the sun outside my dorm, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t really leave any lasting impression on me. I wasn’t struck by the “this is the greatest book of the 20th century” lighting bolt. The book faded from my mind until my English professor (I’m taking Modern American Literature) started referencing it while talking about the books we were reading for class a few weeks ago. I figured I should reread it to better understand what he was talking about, so I picked up a copy from Barnes & Noble. (Is the 2004 Scribner edition pretty or what?)
My aim here is just to give a few of my thoughts on the novel, rather than a comprehensive review.
One of the themes I noticed was carelessness. Early in the book, Nick tells Jordan she is a terrible driver and she should be more careful. She responds that she doesn’t need to be careful because other people are, and they will stay out of her way. But what will happen when she meets another bad driver?
This is a story of bad drivers. As Nick realizes at the end of the novel, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” Their carelessness (and literally, Daisy’s bad driving) causes the deaths of two people, after which the couple runs off to Chicago without a backward glance.
Daisy is… a mess. Sure, she’s beautiful and sparkling and, well, a daisy, but she doesn’t think about what she’s doing. She’s in love with Gatsby as a young woman, but ends up marrying Tom because he has some money and she is tired of waiting for Gatsby, who is away in the military and has no money. So when, five years after moving to East Egg, she meets Gatsby, who is now — conveniently — wealthy, she jumps right back into his arms. Even then, though, she doesn’t make up her mind to actually leave her husband for him. She just floats around following whims and not really thinking about their consequences.
I’m not sure I can call Gatsby careless, but I do consider him a bad driver. I don’t think he was careless because his actions were all incredibly calculated: buying a house directly across the bay from Daisy’s home, making Nick’s acquaintance that he might invite Daisy over and arrange an “accidental” meeting, etc. However, he is a “bad driver” in that he looks too much in his metaphorical rear-view mirror rather than keeping his eyes on the road ahead of him. For years he is enamored with Daisy, a girl he no longer even knows. She has gotten married and had a child — she’s moved on with her life — but he dwells always in the past, pining for the lover who has left him. When the pair are finally reunited, Gatsby is completely blinded by his love for her. In his infatuation with Daisy, he doesn’t realize how little she has invested in their affair; she loves him, but I don’t think she really plans on leaving Tom for Gatsby. Perhaps his downfall is that he doesn’t look forward, instead basking in the glory of the past.
Aside from the interesting characters, the language of this book completely enchanted me. Such beautiful turns of phrase! (Gosh, how pretentious do I sound?) Anyway, because this is such a beautifully written book, some of my favorite lines and phrases are below:
– “On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the villages alongshore, the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby’s house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn.” Twinkled hilariously — how awesome a word combo is that? I love the frequent use of the word “twinkle” in this book!
– “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings of the champagne and the stars.” Gatsby’s house is always bright and well-lit (even twinkling), and I love this simile of his guests being like moths drawn to a flame. So beautiful, so frail, so attracted by bright and pretty things! (Also, “the whisperings of the champagne and the stars” sounds so poetic!) The metaphor is continued later on, when “He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths.”
– “Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry.” A great statement about how Americans are willing to sacrifice their freedom in return for protection and material gain as serfs, but refuse to be seen as free — but very poor and lowly — peasants. We would rather be slaves to our possessions than be free but have no possessions; we’re all basically sell-outs.
– “For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality; a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing.” I love this thought, that the realities of the world, which is supposed to be solid and like a rock, are tied only to delicate fairy wings. It’s as if anything can happen.
– “All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of the Beale Street Blues while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust.” This is just such a beautiful piece of imagery; during this age of prosperity and parties, even the dust shines. Also, I’m a sucker for alliteration.
I guess what I’m saying with all this is that I fell pretty hard for this book. I would love to take a class (or a read-along, hey!) about it because I know there are tons of things about it I didn’t notice or didn’t have the knowledge to catch, and I would like to take a more scholarly approach than I’m really capable of on my own (at this point in time — I’m trying to learn more!)
What are your thoughts on this classic?
Book 4 completed in 2012
Book 2/9 read for the Back to the Classics challenge