A new year calls for a petite change in my review format. I hope this one will make it easier for me to track my progress and stats…
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
198 pages (with notes)
First published 1926
1/5 new authors (2013 book challenge)
The Great Gatsby might be a misleading title, for in one view it is ironic — Gatsby is not great, he is pathetic. Even if one was to allow him that description, Gatsby’s greatness is for all the wrong reasons.
The reader is led into the lives of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, and consequently Jay Gatsby through the narrator of the novel, Nick Carraway. Nick has just settled in the West Egg of Long Island to dedicate himself to the “bond business”. He pays a visit to his cousin Daisy, meeting her husband Tom and the renown golf player Jordan Baker. The conversation drifts towards the mysterious Gatsby —now Nick’s neighbour — and his extravagantly famous parties. Jay Gatsby is a man surrounded by a thick fog of rumours, secrets, and gossip, now an Oxford man, then a killer, now a soldier, and then a bootlegger. Nobody gets to know the real Gatsby, but Nick soon becomes his friend, his close friend, as Nick himself describes the relationship. And Jay Gatsby is nothing more and nothing less than a dreamer…
This book is always put on a pedestal as one of America’s greatest literary accomplishments. To be honest, whenever I heard the title I was very skeptical about the novel’s high status. The Great Gatsby sounded to me like a book about a man, just a man. Later I heard it described briefly as a “book about rich people”, which placed me into further doubt. The exemplar of American literature is a book about rich people? Really? Not at all. After completing the book I understood why, I understood that The Great Gatsby is a golden piece of literature (golden!), a disillusionment about the true colours of the “American dream” (colour!) among an abundance of other things.
What I enjoyed most about the book is the symbolism. Yes! What a treat it is for me to hunt for symbols and connections, search up meanings of colours, and maps of Eggs. Fitzgerald masterfully drops these throughout the whole novel, and although at first it might seem like a coincidence, and then it might seem as if you are squeezing every detail out of the book just to brand it a “symbol”, in the end you just realize that everything was masterminded on purpose. Yes, I get really excited about these things.
First of all, the famous green light that Gatsby looks out to every evening. Besides having a whole different meaning on its own, the colour of it is significant. Green, as much any colour, holds a symbolic significance: it represents self-respect, well being, life, balance, and harmony. It also symbolizes the desire to expand or increase, and all of this together sums up what Gatsby wants. In one word, he wants Daisy. Daisy represents all of those things for him, he believes that the only way to be happy is to win back Daisy. So the green light that is emitted from her dock represents a life of well being to Gatsby. He became rich for Daisy, he bought the mansion for Daisy, he throws the parties for Daisy, all of his wealth is for Daisy. But Gatsby achieved it through both hard-work and illegal activities of sorts, and he is definitely proud of himself, his sense of self-respect is elevated beyond what it used to be. If he reclaims Daisy, and she accepts him as her equal in wealth , his sense of self-respect would be complete (or so one can assume). The green light represents that, too. And of course, the desire to expand and increase — nothing is enough, and Gatsby wants more and more to show Daisy that he is worthy of her. All of these seem sensible to Gatsby, and when he looks out into the distance trying to take in all of the green light, these are the things he dreams of. However, the only thing Gatsby truly requires is balance. He needs to learn when to let go and when to gain. And in reality, Gatsby does not really need all the wealth he has acquired. He never even uses the pool.
Another colour that is impressive with its importance in the novel is gold. (Some might argue gold is not a colour, so for those the colour would be yellow.) There is a lot of gold in the novel. The cover of my edition (above) is covered in a golden design! Gatsby’s car is yellow/gold. Gatsby’s tie when he goes to see Daisy for the first time in a long while is golden. A lot of the decorations of the Gatsby mansion are gold. Gold represents, a little obviously, wealth, prosperity, and success. By surrounding Gatsby with gold, Fitzgerald is showing the essence that man gives off and is desperately trying to give off. However all that gold is superficial, and (forgive the lame statement) Gatsby just needs some green in his life… When young Gatsby meets Dan Cody he is wearing a green jersey. That possibly shows that when Gatsby was low and poor he actually possessed the balance and well-being that he needed, but he also had the desire to grow. When Gatsby shows up to meet Daisy in a golden tie, everything goes not as he expected, she is not that impressed. All of his wealth doesn’t really sweep her off her feet.
*Also, a little note: at first, the car that kills Myrtle Wilson is described as “pale green”, when afterwards it turns out to be Gatsby’s yellow car. Driven by Daisy — note the irony, as well. Perhaps this would be “squeezing too much”, but it could mean something…
Another thing to mention is that Gatsby and Nick live in the West Egg, while Daisy and Tom live in the East Egg. The West Egg and the East Egg are two different worlds. The “authentic” rich, the generational aristocracy, are established in the East Egg, while those that gained their wealth otherwise reside in the West Egg. The difference between the two is shown in the general demeanour of the respective inhabitants, not only geographic separation. It is clearly seen among the party-goers at Gatsby’s house. The Blackbucks are East “Eggers”, who always “flipped up their noses … at whosoever came near”. The West “Eggers” are related to movies, or gambling, or politics, and generally stay away from the former, they are looked down upon by them. Despite all his struggles, Gatsby does not realize that he is still from the West Egg, and Daisy is from the East — although seemingly close, they are from different worlds.
The novel was amazing. Something wholly different from my expectations of a snotty, snobby Twenties’ book. Fitzgerald’s way with words is so melodious, lyrical, and flowing — perfectly suitable for literature of the Jazz Age. I would love to read his other works, as well as reread The Great Gatsby. Might I also mention that I did not expect the ending to unravel the way it did. At all.
This is where lovely quotes go.
“No — Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.” (page 2-3)
Of course, the famous quote uttered by Daisy…
“…that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool…” (page 18)
“The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption — and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them good-bye.” (page 164)
In the end… is Gatsby great? I will go with “perhaps”, because a whole essay could be written on that question. 🙂