Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Dust Jacket Description:

No one ever knew who Gatsby was

Some said he had been a German spy, others that he was related to one of Europe's royal families. Nearly everyone took advantage of his fabulous hospitality. And it was fabulous. In his superb Long Island home he gave the most amazing parties, and not the least remarkable thing about them was that few people could recognize their host. He seemed to be a man without a background, without history; whose eyes were always searching the glitter and razzamatazz for something...someone?

The Great Gatsby is one of the great love stories of our time. In it the author distilled the essences of glamour and illusion so powerfully that his book has haunted and tantalized generations of readers.

Again, like in my Lolita review, I am completely baffled by the dust jacket's falsehood. While I would agree that this novel is a love story, I will tell anyone who is willing to hear that it is not a love story between two people. No, it's a love story between a man and everything we all stretch towards but never fully attain.

It's hard to place what Gatsby is truly in love with. He certainly goes to great efforts to appeal to his first love, Daisy Buchanan. He becomes wealthy to win Daisy, but he first fell in love with Daisy's cushioned universe rather than herself. He's not quite content with his old lover and not quite content with money. He chases both despite not wanting what either is, but what they represent: he wants an easy life, connection, to be worth something, to matter. His dream is so big and abstract that he has let a woman become his vessel to it, and he hasn't bothered to sufficiently name the desire itself. The problem with his desires are that they can never be possessed. Even once Gatsby has money, he is scorned by Tom, Daisy's husband, because it's "new" money. (Which I always thought was a hilarious judgement for Americans to make, as the spirit of the prejudice comes from the old English ideals America is supposed to detest).

Gatsby is not content with being on the precipice of Daisy's reality. He wants to be the definition of her existence, like she is his. Gatsby wants Daisy to have never loved Tom. It isn't enough for her to love him, he needs to erase parts of her past and put him there. He needs to be the only one, because if he's not, it means he was insufficient at one time. He will never get his former connection with her back. He can't stand the thought, because while Daisy is clever and shining, she is vapid and bored and scared, devoid of passion or hardship. Her world of ease and delight compelled Gatsby at the beginning of their romance, but even with all the financial means one can ask for, he is still not inside of her history. He can never be. And that is the precise heartbreak of the novel.

Gatsby is the perfect embodiment of the American Dream. Even being Canadian, it took my American friend to point out how he supports the country's ideology for me to turn my focus away from Fitzgerald's use of enigmas. There are many works of art that focus on the struggle from poverty to wealth, and I have heard the story many times. Fitzgerald is not interested in the facts though; he wants to pursue why we want them and if they ultimately lead to happiness. Fitzgerald's answer is most definitely a no, but even his narrator is mesmerized by swirling lights and pampered people that embody the upper classes.

Ah, Nick Carraway in and of himself is a brilliant specimen. The Great Gatsby needed a storyteller who was a little enamoured with the rich, far enough removed from the situation to see the characters for what they were, and fully wrong in their own perception of themselves. Nick Carraway is exactly that, and he acts as a dull James Gatz, an early Gatsby without the drive or the charm. His very existence satirizes many points of the novel, and Jordan Baker works as the rip in his facade of honesty without judgement.

As for the rest of the characters, I've never seen a person like Tom Buchanan so perfectly described, and everyone helps create the ambiance of unhappy security. This book, in its depiction of American ideas and the pedestals we put them on - is brilliant. 5 flowers.

Fitzgerald's use of metaphors is stunning. The disembodied eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg make an interesting point about God's relevance to daily life. But it also says something about a world far removed from the West and East Eggs. Dr. T. J. Eckleburg's billboard is not in the center of Long Island. It is not on Broadway, or by Gatsby's rich mansion. It's in the Valley of Ashes, dirty, beaten up, and mostly forgotten. There is also the green light at the end of Daisy's dock that Gatsby can view from his house. The representation of a dream so far removed from reality that it loses meaning once he's seen Daisy. Even Fitzgerald's constant use of yellow and gold states something about wealth and its imagery in our society.

The words in The Great Gatsby are beautiful, but they also make fun of themselves at moments. Their insightful, arrogant nature only works through Nick Carraway's hypocritical eyes, and so the book seems to laugh at its own musings from time to time. I loved the various layers that the book has, and it'll make exceptional rereading material years to come. 5 flowers.

This book's short length was surprising, but it was perfectly paced for the story. In fact, I think making it longer might have erased the mystery and ambiguity of the novel. It never dragged on or took itself too seriously, but of course that's the opposite of Gatsby's whole point. Some parts could have been more clearly illustrated, but again, it could just be my deficiency as a reader. 4 and a half flowers.

I think it's completely appropriate and hits the story's point right on the nose. 5 flowers.

Dust Jacket Description:
I like the imagery it creates, but it doesn't tell the reader anything. This book may be a better read without a lot of description, though. 3 flowers.

I hate faces on covers. However, I like the old world feel of the illustration, even if not its actual content. 3 flowers.

I can see why this book is adored. The Great Gatsby can be read in many different ways based upon a reader's priorities, and that is its brilliance. Whether you read for its depiction of the American Dream, enigmas and human connection, or some other overarching theme I've failed to discover, it is satisfying. It's a book that echoes its own protagonist's smile, and that is a feat all its own. 5 flowers.


  1. And with that I'll be moving this one further up on my own TBR list. :)
    And for Educating Emma, I'm gonna have to suggest for books, Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Yes, that's the book I was reading at your place. It's a great snapshot of American life a few decades before Gatsby and oddly enough, while the murders are fascinating, what's more interesting is the struggle to build the worlds fair. It's a super quick read, presented as a narrative even though it's nonfiction. And Toronto gets a mention toward the end too.
    For movies, The Uninvited (1939 version). Black and white ghost movie in a giant mansion in England.

  2. Um, this is a pretty fantastic analysis. Well done!

    Gatsby is one of our favorite "classics," and we can't wait to see it come to life on the big screen. So glad you liked it too!