Written on: 18/04/2004 by Kirsty 1 (15 reviews written)
The great American dream played out...
A cynical breath on a house of cards...
"The Great Gatsby" is one of the most distinctive of love stories, it is a depressing peek into the heart of the hopeless, it is a view of the impossibility of the American dream and it is about spiritual vacuity and the death of love.
"The Great Gatsby" looks at the world through eyes that have seen the end of religion, that wants to construct a meaningful world in a chaotic universe, but ultimately only the meaningless goals of materialism and money can be achieved.
"The Great Gatsby" is about pretence and farce, lust and love, greed and envy.
Nick Carraway is a lucky young man with a yearning to find meaning in his life and an open mind and so he leaves the mid west to discover the glittering age of the roaring twenties for himself in upstate New York and finds himself the unsuspecting neighbour of the enigmatic, iconic and much-discussed millionaire Jay Gatsby.
Gatsby has great wealth, self esteem and seductive good looks. He is the ultimate success story, having created his own vast fortune by a combination of determination, charm and something slightly sinister that is never fully revealed to the reader.
Nick is quickly taken with the Gatsby charm, those solid qualities of knowing what one wants are greatly appealing to Nick and he little suspects that Gatsby is initially just using their new friendship to reignite something much closer to his heart. For years earlier Gatsby had courted and lost Nick's cousin Daisy, but it is for Daisy that Gatsby still pines and it finally looks like he will be able to make the re-acquaintance via his new friend.
So the spiral downward begins and Nick is sucked into a vortex he shares with the beautiful people as they party the night away in a meaningless and depressingly shallow caravanette of silk brocade, jazz ballads and white flannels, of glistening hors-d'oeuvres and cocktail chatter about Gatsby's past:
"Somebody told me that he killed a man once."
"It's more that he was a German spy during the war."
"Oh no it couldn't be that because he was in the American army during the war."
"You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody's looking at him. I'll bet he killed a man."
The man who throws these lavish parties is the one who seems to enjoy them the least, and Gatsby can usually be found inside the confines of his house during these vast events rather than out on the lawn enjoying the champagne with his guests. Perhaps it is because of this very self-enforced enigmatic distance that they discuss him so robustly. Or perhaps Gatsby is only too happy for his real past to be gossiped about as just another possibility.
Daisy Buchanan, the apple of Gatsby's eye, is inevitably already married by the time Nick the malleable does his bidding and reacquaints the pair. She is indeed a beauty, but she is also pretentious, vacuous and morally empty. She is as pretty and as useless as a trinket. Daisy couldn't be more different to her husband Tom who just manages to be even more contemptible than his wife. Tom is a racist, he is an adulterer and he has a violent and aggressive temper. How Daisy came to marry him we have no idea, but the coupling is an interesting one for some of the sympathy we would feel for Daisy at the hands of Tom is purposefully lost because of the lack of attractive characteristics she has herself.
Dark clouds begin to amass in the very centre of the American dream as the heat rises in sultry New York and passions are played out with disastrous consequences.
I love "The Great Gatsby" primarily for its enormous emotional landscape, where characters are painted out in painful detail to the reader and no character flaw is left untouched. However, I also admire it greatly for it's grand themes, and no reader of the novel can be left skirting over them, yet still do justice to the book itself. So let me share some of them:
Gatsby himself can be seen as an allegory of the American dream. He has "pulled himself up" and is a "self made" man. He strives for material possessions and has great confidence in his own abilities. However, ultimately his is a fa ade: his "great love" is misplaced and out of kilter with society and meaningful human interaction and whilst he does achieve so many of his material ambitions he is still left hollow, alone, unfulfilled and spiritually poor. Is there a hole in the very heart of the American dream?
The search for meaning - in the form of Nick Calloway's quest to avoid " the winds of chaos", is a perpetual theme and speaks to the modern lack of religious belief. Few who read this novel will ever forget the advertising hoarding by the forgotten occultist T.J.Eckelburg with the huge bespectacled eyes following your journey from West to East
Some readers of "The Great Gatsby" will read it primarily as a love story between Gatsby and Daisy, but for me this is to miss the bigger picture entirely. The novel shows us snatches of Gatsby, without ever letting us look at him directly or hear by any first person narrative what his views and thoughts are. Rather we are shown Gatsby through the na ve eyes of Nick and the charmless sycophants that people his parties. So "The Great Gatsby" really becomes a question of identity, of what type of person he is, and by extension, what type of people we, the readers are.
Fitzgerald is known as a writer of great subtlety and this novel is probably his finest example of just that. The structure of having Nick as narrator is a well used device but beautifully played out as his slow dawning's of understanding purposefully just slightly hamper our view of events and characters. The final d nouement is blastingly powerful and stingingly pessimistic and the whole backdrop of the stinkingly rich 1920's American flapper set virtually defined a generation.
Fitzgerald was brought up in a not dissimilar environment to the one he pens in "The Great Gatsby" and it shows - he watched it as a whole new culture came along, created a change, became the norm and then imploded in upon itself: and somehow or other he managed to capture that feeling in "The Great Gatsby".
Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1926, "The Great Gatsby" is one of five novels - "The Beautiful and Damned", "This Side of Paradise", "Tender is the Night" and the unfinished "The Last Tycoon". Fitzgerald also wrote five volumes of short stories including the well-know "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz".
A hardback Wordsworth edition of "The Great Gatsby" is currently available on Amazon for £3.99 but it must be one of the easiest books to find in second hand and charity shops alike.
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