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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Title: TheGreat Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Classic Literature
Pages: 180
ISBN:  9780743273565
How I Read It: Kindle edition purchased by me.
My Rating: 4 Crowns

Synopsis: In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald announced his decision to write "something new--something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned." That extraordinary, beautiful, intricately patterned, and above all, simple novel became The Great Gatsby, arguably Fitzgerald's finest work and certainly the book for which he is best known. A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author's generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology.

Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald's--and his country's--most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed, and the promise of new beginnings. "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning--" Gatsby's rise to glory and eventual fall from grace becomes a kind of cautionary tale about the American Dream.

It's also a love story, of sorts, the narrative of Gatsby's quixotic passion for Daisy Buchanan. The pair meet five years before the novel begins, when Daisy is a legendary young Louisville beauty and Gatsby an impoverished officer. They fall in love, but while Gatsby serves overseas, Daisy marries the brutal, bullying, but extremely rich Tom Buchanan. After the war, Gatsby devotes himself blindly to the pursuit of wealth by whatever means--and to the pursuit of Daisy, which amounts to the same thing. "Her voice is full of money," Gatsby says admiringly, in one of the novel's more famous descriptions.

His millions made, Gatsby buys a mansion across Long Island Sound from Daisy's patrician East Egg address, throws lavish parties, and waits for her to appear. When she does, events unfold with all the tragic inevitability of a Greek drama, with detached, cynical neighbor Nick Carraway acting as chorus throughout. Spare, elegantly plotted, and written in crystalline prose, The Great Gatsby is as perfectly satisfying as the best kind of poem.

*Synopsis taken from Goodreads

My Review: Prior to starting this novel, I was convinced I had read it some time in school while I was growing up.  Throughout my public school education, we had read a variety of classics from Steinbeck, Dickens, Hemingway, Miller, etc.  So I really thought I had read this one along the way.  After a couple of paragraphs, I realized that I hadn’t, because I think I would have remembered the different feel this one seems to have from most classic American literature.

The length of the novel alone is enough to show you that it’s not quite the same as some of those other novels.  Fitzgerald seemed to have more of a sense of what to cut out and what to include than some of his contemporaries, because at no point during this reading did I sit and think “Will you just get ON with it?!?”  I’m sad to say that I have done that with plenty of other authors, so I was a bit worried I’d have that reaction when going through The Great Gatsby.  I very happily enjoyed this novel and hope to read more of Fitzgerald’s work in the future.

The book itself is the tragic tale of our title character, Jay Gatsby.  Having never been satisfied with the life he came from, Gatsby invents a new self and goes about trying to find the person he wants to be.  Along the way, he meets Daisy, who becomes the big driving force in his life.  I think in today’s day and age, we might call Gatsby a stalker – he’s obsessive and goes so far as to buy his house in Long Island because of his ability to see Daisy’s across the way.  While this would seem creepy if we were telling it from a modern perspective, it strikes me as being rather sad.  Gatsby goes from only knowing he wants to make money, to knowing he wants to make money for Daisy.  At one point during the story, he even says that he decided doing things was less important than telling Daisy about all the things he wanted to do.  It’s really a sad case of lost boy syndrome, in my book.

Something that really stuck out to me throughout the book was that people seemed to want to be around Gatsby, but no one necessarily seems to like him, going so far as to spread random rumors about how he acquired his fortune and what his past was like.  This theme carries through to the end when we learn that our narrator, Nick Carraway, is the only one who is truly there for Gatsby in his time of need.  While Gatsby isn’t a model citizen, he doesn’t seem all that scandalous to me, and certainly doesn’t deserve the rumor mongering that follows him throughout the course of the novel.  Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m looking at it from a modern perspective, so his actions don’t seem any worse than things we see on TV on a daily basis.

I picked this book up for Banned Books Week, and found it rather amusing when I was investigating the reasoning behind the banning of this book.  It was basically for language and some mild sexual content, which is just ridiculous.  I certainly didn’t see any bad language when reading it, and the only references to sex were along the lines of “so and so left the room for awhile”.  Again, maybe it’s a more modern perspective, but those things are just silly.  I’m totally against the banning of books anyway, so I guess I’ve got a skewed perspective twice over.

The only questionable thing for me is really the behavior of Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan.  I found Tom to be annoying, as arrogant as he is described, and a bigot to top it off.  It’s made worse by the knowledge that men like Tom did exist, and to an extent they still do.  Still, that’s no reason to ban a book, it’s just a reason to dislike Tom and root for Gatsby.

I really would be curious to see what kind of things Fitzgerald would have come up with if he lived in our time.  It’s a shame we lost him all too soon, because I think he has a unique voice and I would have liked to see more from him.

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1 comment:

Alyn said...

I read this book for one of my English courses in college. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it too. Moreso than I do other books written around the same time.

By the way, I could not stand Daisy at all.