Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Great Gatsby

I am eager to get back to blogging, and I figured there would be no better way to restart than with F. Scott Fitzgerald's beloved classic, The Great Gatsby.  There are few people who are not familiar with this text, and I think people commonly enjoy it.  It's very different than some of the more serious books I've discussed, but I think variety is important on any great book list, and I don't want to neglect Gatsby just because it's fun.

As it's been quite a long time since I actually read the book, the main aspect of it that stands out in my memory is, of course, the lavish "Roaring 20s" parties.  I remember talking about this on one of the blog hops, and a lot of people shared my desire to crash one of those fabulous Gatsby parties.  However, I think this is probably a somewhat unfair memory because of all the devastation at the end of the story.  Somehow, I sincerely doubt that Fitzgerald was hoping his readers would walk away from the book with feelings of envy.

I think it's interesting that Fitzgerald included destruction and depression in this portrait of the 1920s.  I have a feeling that people living in the 1940s, and even today, might have a tendency to idealize the "Roaring 20s" after living through the Great Depression and World World II.  Yet Fitzgerald was able to recognize the superficialities and problems of the 1920s even while he was living in them.  Although the characters were blessed with decadence and celebration, they lacked fully formed identities and stumbled through the plot in various ways to gain superficial confidence.  Despite his outwardly suave appearance, Gatsby is desperate for Daisy's affirmation.  Deep down, he's just an insecure, lovesick boy who builds an idealistic dream.  When he is forced to confront the reality of his dream, he is left feeling lost and confused.  Likewise, Tom cannot imagine an existence in which his wife doesn't adore him, even though he has acted out in a number of affairs.  Daisy is a difficult character to admire, for we see her as shallow and insincere.  She doesn't live up to be a great literary heroine, with moving emotions and admirable actions.  We are never shown a deeper, more intimate side of her, and we struggle to believe that she deserves the devout admiration of both Gatsby and Tom.  

Nick is our most stable character, who is able to see the grim truth behind the opulence he encounters.  He leaves his hometown to seek out a more desirable life but in the end decides to return contentedly to the Midwest.  I think Fitzgerald uses him as a guide for readers who might be inclined to wish for extravagance to instead appreciate their practical lifestyles.  Even though he doesn't accomplish some herculean task or save the day with an impressive insight, he is our hero for successfully avoiding the muck of extravagance.

There are also a number of symbols in the book, along with some intriguing characters like the "owl-eyed" man.  I know that I really enjoyed reading the book, and I think it was written very well.  I like that Fitzgerald gives us an Oz-like "view behind the curtain" of the marvelous 20s, and I think it can confidently rest among the shelves of other great literature.  But I'm curious to hear from any of you what it is that you like (or don't like) about the book.  What are some of the meaningful messages you think Fitzgerald presents?  Or, perhaps, do you think the book is overrated?


Kate said...

Such a great book! I read it once in high school, and then again a few years back. This makes me want to read it again.

I agree with you, I like the "view behind the curtain" of the 20's. It's a time period I'd love to visit - to be part of those parties!

I remember not being too impressed with Daisy. Insecure and shallow are great adjectives to describe her. I found her undeserving of the attention being bestowed upon her.

IngridLola said...

One of my absolute favorites. Good memories reading this book. I think it was one of the very first "serious" books I ever read back when I was in middle school. I've read it many times since then. Wonderful book.

Laurie said...

Hi- I am your newest follower and I am looking forward to seeing more. I think we have a bit in common. Back in 1999 I decided I wanted to get through all those books you should know. The ones that are always referenced. I got through a fair chunk, and then I got stuck. I have been reading Fitzgerald for a while and that is what my latest project is about. I would love if you stopped over and check out what I am doing.

Oh and I do not think Gatsby is overrated- I think there is much to be taken today from his writing.

PS what is next for you?