The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

First edition 1925 (sourced Wikipedia)

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

Decadence, adultery, narcissism, vast wealth, idealistic love, betrayal, death, revenge, murder; a vast array of scope for a novel, and Fitzgerald delivers an impacting tale in The Great Gatsby.  Nick Carraway, a young man from the Midwest, begins to form a relationship with his neighbour, the wealthy Jay Gatsby and eventually learns of Gatsby’s connection to his cousin, Daisy.  Daisy, who is married to Tom Buchanan, while casually enduring her husband’s adulterous relationships, has led a very vapid and frivilous life amongst the society scene of the 1920s.  When Gatsby reappears in her life, their rekindled romance sets off a series of tragic events, the repercussions reverberating through the lives of all the characters.

Gatsby, the created man; Gatsby, the idealist, a man who is love with an image that formed five years earlier, and that he has nurtured through time.  Did I understand his infatuation with Daisy?  No, but I sympathized with it.  He had grown up isolated, broke relations with his parents reasonably early on and had no one in his life to set a good example that he could draw from.  Daisy was perhaps the only person whom he had loved, and so he loved her passionately, unrealistically and terminally.  And he realized, that he would need money to keep her love.  When Nick Carraway says to him, “She’s [Daisy’s] got an indiscreet voice …. It’s full of —-“, Gatsby answers, “Her voice is full of money.”  Even though he knows what she is like, and has known from the beginning, is he desperately trying to hold on to his fantasy of her —- this illusion of perfection — because he has nothing else?  Gatsby fails to examine any of the decisions he makes in his life ……… perhaps he truly believes that money can buy him happiness and cannot see the superficiality of the life and people with whom he surrounds himself.  His life is built on illusion and throughout the novel we hear the faint ticking of the bomb that will shatter his misperceptions.

The Plaza Hotel in the early 1920s
(source Wikipedia)

As for Nick Carraway, I felt uncomfortable with him as the narrator.  He went to unusual lengths at the beginning of the novel to establish his credibility with the reader, and if his observations are to be believed, he was the only one in the novel with any compassion, discernment or standards.  While the society he moves in is portrayed in a harsh, decadent, unforgiving light, he is the angel that hovers above it, the star that shines through it.  He is the only one who cares for Gatsby, the only one with a moral compass.  I had a difficult time buying into his golden-boy image.

The tragedy of this novel is a wasted life.  In spite of the grandeur, in spite of his fame and money, Gatsby left no real lasting effect on anyone, other than perhaps Nick Carraway.  He buried himself behind a persona, only emerging to be drawn towards the flame of Daisy and then perishing, as his wings brushed the heat of her consuming light.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

10 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  1. This is exactly the reason I had a hard time with Nick as a narrator. I just couldn't get past the self-idealized persona he portrayed himself to be. To me he spent half the book in drunken stupor. Anyway, I felt for Gatsby (even though he crept me out, that stalker), because it is his obsession with someone who wasn't all that interested that cost him so dearly. I think the ending was very fitting to his lifestyle.

  2. Same here. My initial thought was to be leery of this guy "tooting his own horn." And then he participated in a lot of what was not right. But other than that, GG was a memorable read!

  3. LOL! I like your description better than mine!

    I had a little difficulty with Fitzgerald's characterizations. I understood that he wanted to portray the shallowness of the wealthy but he made his characters so one-dimensional to get his point across that I felt it detracted from the story. Perhaps that was his purpose, but some subtleties would have gone a long way to really making it a great book.

  4. Yes ….. even though he was so careful in the beginning to let the reader know he didn't make hasty judgements, he then spent the rest of the novel in the periphery, making judgements. I was a little confused! :-Z

    At least I liked this book MUCH better than when I was in high school, so that was a plus!

  5. Have you seen the recent film adaptation? I liked the way Nick Carraway was portrayed in that.

    I always wonder if Gatsby really knows what Daisy is like and just ignores it, or if he's actually clueless. I go back and forth.

  6. I haven't seen the film adaptation but I'm going to order it from the library on your recommendation! In spite of being suspicious of Nick, I'm willing to keep an open mind. It will be interesting to see a different portrayal of him.

    With regard to Gatsby, I think both. He believed in Daisy's perfection because she was the only human he appeared to connect with on an emotional level (love) and, because he'd devoted so much of his life to her illusion, without that illusion, he would have nothing else. On the other hand, I felt deep down, he realized how shallow she was, he just didn't want let go of his fantasy.

  7. I didn't care much for The Great Gatsby, and I certainly didn't care much for Jay Gatsby. I like your description: Gatsby fails to examine any of the decisions he makes in his life…very astute.
    Fitzgerald is a spectacular writer, using fewer words than most authors do, he was able to create the complex characters such that I believed I knew them very well. Well enough to know I didn't like them.

  8. Thanks so much for your comments and for stopping by my blog, Joseph!

    Even though I enjoyed this book, his characters don't resonate with me. Perhaps I don't understand people in the 1920s, but then that indicates that Fitzgerald didn't do his job well. They often seem to be types ……… not real but they respresent a section of society or life situations that he uses to get his point across. And what really bothers me most is that Fitzgerald doesn't seem to have any empathy for his own characters. If he doesn't like them or at the very least, have some sympathy for them, how can we as readers?

  9. I think Nick used his father's advice about not making hasty judgement when he judged Gatsby. Only he could see that Gatsby–despite of his illusion and other flaws–had at least moral conscience with regards to Myrtle's murder; he stood up to take the blame although he did not do it. That's why he said to Gatsby: “They’re a rotten crowd; you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together”.

  10. That's a good point, Fanda. I'm not sure I can articulate clearly what bothered me about Nick. As you say, he was definitely more patient with Gatsby, but his narration was an indictment against the other characters, so he was making judgements. Perhaps what annoyed me most was his lack of action. He was sort of a non-character, that narrated what was happening around him, yet never participated. That made it hard for me to trust him as a narrator. It's been awhile since I read this book, but that's what I remember.

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