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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of those classics that defines an author.  Set during the 1920s just after WWI, Jay Gatsby is a mysterious rich man who lives on the wrong side (West Egg) of the Manhasset Bay in New York.  Nick Carraway, who narrates this tale, is like Gatsby in that he is from the middle west and comes to New York after the war to make his fortune.  Unlike Gatsby, this self-made man has not taken great pains to hide his true past.  Carraway informs the reader of how he meets Gatsby and how he comes once again into contact with his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom, who live on the right side of the bay (East Egg).  While little action goes on in the book until the end, the interactions of the characters and their reactions to one another and Gatsby are telling of how class differences remain even in the United States where you’re supposed to lift yourself up by your bootstraps.  There is a distinct disdain on the part of Carraway for opulence and excess, which had become prevalent among the upper class and bootleggers.

“‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.'” (page 5)

Carraway has his suspicions about Gatsby’s fortune, but eventually, his charisma wins him over and he goes beyond any of Gatsby’s friends in the end, demonstrating that true friendship has little to do with one’s background or wealth.  Daisy is the great love in this novel, and while readers may not see her appeal, they must remember that she is seen through the eyes of Carraway, who already has expressed a bias against the wealthy and high social class since returning from the war.  Fitzgerald has not set up a love triangle that is difficult to uncover, but the conclusion of that love triangle — really its more like a love square — is utterly tragic.

“‘Anyhow he gives large parties,’ said Jordan, changing the subject with an urban distaste for the concrete.  ‘And I like large parties.  They’re so intimate.  At small parties there isn’t any privacy.'” (page 54)

In many ways, Gatsby has romanticized his time with Daisy and he hopes to rekindle what he lost when he was shipped off to fight in WWI.  However, the question remains whether what he had with Daisy before the war was real, romanticized, or even imagined by a soldier looking for something to cling to in an effort to survive the horrors of war.  Carraway is just as enigmatic as Gatsby, and while their initial circumstances differed in terms of riches, they both pursued the American Dream of success — albeit in different ways.  These two characters are juxtaposed for a reason, and Fitzgerald leaves it up to the reader to determine why.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic 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 –” (Page 189)

Fitzgerald’s writing was easy to understand, while there were moments where there were names dropped and mentioned in great paragraphs, if only to demonstrate the connectedness of the characters to high society and other “important” people.  Those moments were not necessary given the conversations Gatsby had at his parties.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is an enduring look at a time when men and women were fully grasping at anything to improve their situation and earn their way in the world.  However, there is a blissful disenchantment with this way of life by the end of the novel that will have readers questioning their dedication to the rat race and beating out the Joneses.

 

 

This is my 11th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

This is my 5th book for the WWI Reading Challenge.

  • Ti

    I read this book. I know I have, yet none of it has stayed with me because as I read your review, I couldn’t remember any of it! Clearly, I need to read it again.

    • If you do read it again. I wonder what your impressions will be.

  • Despite my love of Fitzgerald and this era, I actually hated this book! Altho, to be fair, I read it once, in high school. I am due for an adult reread, I think. I do recall, however, finding Jordan Baker to be my preferred character, but I think I had a crush on her…

    • LOl A crush on Jordan…not sure that I would have a crush on any of these characters.

  • I read this in high school and loved it – I wonder what I’d think of it now.

    • Kathy, do you remember why you loved it?

  • Beth Hoffman

    Lovely review, Serena. I read this when I was in my early 20s, and then reread it not long ago. It remains one of my favorites.

    • I’m not sure its one of my favorites. I’d love to know what others love about it. Why is it one of your favorites…?

  • I read this in high school but don’t remember any of it. Now that I know it has something to do with WWI, maybe I’ll read it for the challenge. I’ll have to borrow your copy. I have another Fitzgerald book, but not this one.

    • I didn’t know you read this in high school. This was not on my list….

  • I really enjoyed The Great Gatsby, but I should really reread it. It has been years since I read it, I wonder how I would react to it again.

    • I wonder how time makes reactions to books different…I’m sure it has something to do with our new experiences.

  • I can’t tell you just how many times I’ve tried to read this book. I’ve never made it past the halfway point. Something about it just irks me so badly. I’ve tried reading it at different parts of my life, and listening to it on audio (since I’m more tolerant of a lot of things on audio), etc. The audio got me furthest, but even so, I was so filled with hate toward the book by the halfway point that I gave it up. I don’t know why this book makes me so mad…

    • That’s interesting. I wonder why it makes you so mad…I have to say that the POV gave me pause…for a bit. Once I got used to Carraway, it went a lot smoother, but I guess I was expecting a more omniscient, outside POV.

      If you figure out what irks you, I’d love to know.

  • Gatsby is one classic I read every couple of years – a favorite of mine. I really enjoyed your review.

    • Mary, I liked the book a great deal. I was worried for some reason that I wouldn’t like it. That apparently was a worry that was unnecessary.

  • I reread this recently and really enjoyed it. I am looking forward to reading more of his books at some point, maybe even this year.

    I didn’t however think to link it up as a WWI Reading Challenge book even though the war definitely influenced who the characters were.

    • I really enjoyed the aspect of how the war impacted the characters and in a way gave way to the excesses of the 20s following the War in a reactionary way. I had never read this before, and really liked it. But there is a certain distance you feel from the characters given the POV the book is told from.