THE GREAT GATSBY
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Paperback; 180 pages
I hadn’t planned on re-reading The Great Gatsby, but after finishing Careless People, a book about Gatsby‘s creation, I couldn’t resist! I’ve read this book twice before, and I was eager to re-read it hot on the heals of a book about the factors that influenced its writing.
In 1922, Nick Carroway moves from his midwestern home to West Egg, a fictional town on Long Island. He rents a tiny cottage, which is surrounded my millionaires’ mansions. His next-door neighbor is a man named Jay Gatsby, who is famous for his lavish parties and not much else; although all of New York flocks to his estate on the weekends, no one really knows anything about their host. Some say he’s a bootlegger, others claim he’s killed a man. Rumors of the most florid sort abound.
When Nick and Gatsby finally meet, it comes out that Nick’s cousin Daisy, who lives across the water, is the love of Gatsby’s life. They were young lovers, but Daisy wouldn’t marry Gatsby because he wasn’t rich. She went on to marry Tom, an arrogant but wealthy man. Everything Gatsby has done since losing her has been done to get her back. He builds a fortune, buys a mansion near hers, and throws parties hoping she will attend. Nick agrees to set up a meeting between Gatsby and Daisy, and the two begin an affair. Meanwhile, Tom is having an affair with a woman in the city and Nick is intermittently dating Jordan, a shady professional golfer.
Of course, nothing ends well. Gatsby has built Daisy up on an enormous pedestal, and there’s no way her reality can measure up. Although Daisy loves Gatsby, she’s disgusted by his “new money” and the vulgarity of his parties.
Everything comes to a head when Tom’s mistress is run over by a car driven by Daisy, but in a case of mistaken identities, Gatsby is implicated and then murdered by the dead woman’s husband. When his funeral is held a few days later, Nick is the only attendant besides Gatsby’s father and one partygoer.
Gatsby is a book about careless people who mindlessly cause destruction, the American Dream, East vs West, and obsession with the past. I’d like to keep this post brief, so I won’t go deeper into analysis than that. Gatsby is beautiful and heartbreaking and infuriating, and I don’t have words for how much I love this book. I’m continually blown away by how gorgeous the writing is. Only Fitzgerald can write sentences like: “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings of the champagne and the stars.”
I also love the themes of this book, and it was interesting to see how my perceptions have changed since the last time I read it — especially in light of having read Careless People. I really enjoyed reading Gatsby with the analysis and insights into Fitzgerald’s influences fresh in my mind. It helped me understand some cultural references I hadn’t gotten before, and I think it helped me understand this novel on a deeper level.
I’m glad I decided to re-read this book for Jazz Age January! It’s the perfect jazz age read; it has glamorous parties, flappers, bootleggers, and a portrayal of the emptiness of excess. I’ll leave you with Gatsby’s famous final lines:
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eludes us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Doesn’t your breath catch in your throat when you read that?