Well, I have to be honest – I’m glad I happened to pick this short book for this exceptionally busy week! I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed with the prospect of selling my house, moving across the country, my college courses, and my leadership society induction process that I didn’t make a whole lot of time for reading. That being said, here is this week’s review! Three books down, 49 to go!
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby is a tale of romance, power, corruption and the destructive force of jealousy. The novel is short, but it is packed with strong characters who drive the plot along, and contribute in abundance to the overwhelmingly flighty setting of the Roaring 20s. Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald’s narrator, settles in for a quiet summer in an affluent area of Long Island, but his quiet summer is interrupted by a cast of characters who’s personal dramas set things into disarray. Romantic affairs, abusive relationships, a mysterious neighbor and (dun, dun, DUN) murder fill the East and West Eggs of Long Island.
The most attractive part of Fitzgerald’s novel is not the plot (although that is exciting at times, and frustrating at others) – it is the characterization of every member of the novel’s cast. Carraway seems to be the only “normal” person in the novel, and yet we are exposed to his failings in his romantic entanglements and his judgmental character in the beginning of the novel. Daisy Buchannan is flighty, attractive, and easily controlled, while her counterpart in the “female lead” department, Jordan Baker, is strong, smart and independent. Tom Buchannan is an aging “man’s man,” who tries to use his money and his physical stature to intimidate both men and women to do his bidding. Even secondary characters like the Wilsons are strong in their characterization, both as the blind husband and the proud mistress. The utter silliness of the supporting characters helps set the setting of Gatsby’s parties, and support the underlying theme that money cannot buy happiness.
The most interesting character, of course, is Jay Gatsby. His image is built around his mystery, and it isn’t until halfway through the novel that we even start to understand some truths about this attractive and enigmatic man. Gatsby stands for everything that is “wrong” with the Roaring 20s (at least through the eyes of “civilized people” like the Buchannans – parties, bootlegging, new money and a mysterious persona. His love for Daisy is the reason for everything in the man’s past and present. His desire to impress her is what has brought him to his current station in life (the new millionaire), to the West Egg, and ultimately to his destruction – it is all for and because of Daisy.
Fitzgerald’s novel is chock full of symbolism. From the eyes on the billboard watching, like the eyes of some god, the destructive behavior of the mortals below, to Gatsby’s shirts, which represent his new-found money and obtain Daisy’s approval. While The Great Gatsby may be short, a reader can take a lot away from it if you give it the opportunity.
Now folks, this isn’t my first reading of The Great Gatsby. Much like Gone With the Wind, Fitzgerald’s novel is one I pick up periodically because it is a novel I have always enjoyed. Each reading I find something new to appreciate, some new symbol or social commentary or insight into a character. Most of you probably read this book in high school as required reading, most likely for an American Literature class. I encourage you to pick it up again, as an adult, and see what you missed looking at the novel with the eyes and experience of a 15 year old. I promise you, you’ll understand it a lot more, and appreciate it a lot better, as a more “worldly” adult.
I picked a book I had already read simply because I wanted a good thorough re-read before I watched the movie. My goal for this weekend is to get my hands on the new movie (I’ve already seen – and love – the Robert Redford version).
So – what is your opinion of The Great Gatsby? Do you only have frustrated memories of a forced high school reading? Have you re-read the novel in your adult life? Do you think the story is a love story?