The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Jay Gatsby is a mysterious tycoon. He builds a fortune, buys a mansion in fictional West Egg, NY, across the bay from Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s old-money mansion in East Egg. In an effort to win back the girl he loves, Gatsby throws lavish parties, hoping Daisy will show, or at the least, that he will meet someone who knows her. What follows is a story of wealth, marriage, excess and the romantic notion that you can repeat the past.
Set in 1922, these characters live during the wild party atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties. The Great Gatsby is about a time when new money moves into the old money world and about the contrasting lives of all classes, including the very poor who live in “the valley of ashes,” a desolate area between Long Island and the city.
If you’ve never read The Great Gatsby, that’s enough to get you started. Besides money, it’s a great story about love, romance, marriage and betrayal, with well-placed foreshadowing and a tragic plot-twist at the end.
I hadn’t read The Great Gatsby since college and it was fun to go back and pick up on things I’m sure I missed way back then! I think this is a great book to re-read because of the dialogue – Fitzgerald’s characters say a lot of things that mean a great deal more when you read the book a second or third time.
Here are some of the things I liked this time:
- I like how Fitzgerald includes Jordan Baker’s character and how he suggests that Jordan has been dishonest in the past. She seems smooth and professional and successful, but her small lies, at least regarding her golf game, still trail her, if you look closely. Gatsby, also of questionable background, tells Nick that Jordan has a good reputation. “Miss Baker’s a great sportswoman, you know, and she’d never do anything that wasn’t all right,” he says.
- I like all the foreshadowing with the cars and about driving and about accidents. I like the discussions about being bad drivers and how the best way to avoid another bad driver is to pair up with a good driver. I like the literal and symbolic parallels.
- I love how, when Nick asks Gatsby what part of the Mid-West he’s from, he answers, “San Francisco.” It’s a great example of showing how Gatsby is lying, rather than just saying so.
- The whole theme of past versus present and recreating the past is always a very interesting subject, because it’s emotional and romantic. Gatsby is sure he can recreate the past, Nick isn’t so sure and Daisy, in the ultimate confrontation at The Plaza, says, “I can’t help what’s past,” admitting she also loved Tom and crushing Gatsby’s dream.
- Nick Carroway’s strong desire to believe Gatsby, despite everything that suggests a dubious past. When Gatsby finally explains his Oxford connection, Nick says, “I wanted to get up and slap him on the back. I had one of those renewals of complete faith in him that I’d experienced before.”
- I also like how Fitzgerald includes Meyer Wolfsheim’s character, who is based on the very real Arnold Rothstein, the legendary kingpin of the Jewish mob during the 1920s. Wolfsheim only appears a couple times, but his name comes up a lot and as the story goes on, he’s the key to knowing about Gatsby and how he’s made his money.
The Great Gatsby is a classic. It wasn’t a success while Fitzgerald was alive. Some people love it, some don’t, and lots of high-schoolers read it in their English classes. I enjoyed it very much and particularly liked comparing it to the movies made in 1974 and 2013. Those movies are shockingly different, but similar in many ways. But that’s tomorrow’s blog!
Here are a couple links that I found interesting:
PBS website called The History Kitchen – an overview of Prohibition during the Roaring Twenties, The Great Gatsby, and a recipe for “The Bees Knees” cocktail
Here’s something interesting from Wikipedia about the original cover of The Great Gatsby:
The cover of the first printing of The Great Gatsby is among the most celebrated pieces of art in American literature. It depicts disembodied eyes and a mouth over a blue skyline, with images of naked women reflected in the irises. A little-known artist named Francis Cugat was commissioned to illustrate the book while Fitzgerald was in the midst of writing it. The cover was completed before the novel; Fitzgerald was so enamored with it that he told his publisher he had “written it into” the novel. Fitzgerald’s remarks about incorporating the painting into the novel led to the interpretation that the eyes are reminiscent of those of fictional optometrist Dr. T. J. Eckleburg (depicted on a faded commercial billboard near George Wilson’s auto repair shop) which Fitzgerald described as “blue and gigantic – their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.” Although this passage has some resemblance to the painting, a closer explanation can be found in the description of Daisy Buchanan as the “girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs.” Ernest Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast that when Fitzgerald lent him a copy of The Great Gatsby to read, he immediately disliked the cover, but “Scott told me not to be put off by it, that it had to do with a billboard along a highway in Long Island that was important in the story. He said he had liked the jacket and now he didn’t like it.”
For more Gatsby, click here for reviews of the 1974 and 2013 movies.
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