I remember in perhaps Jr. High School seeing edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, “The Great Gatsby” float around in the arms of young people for a class perhaps. Having never read it myself (and on a role as far as reading/book reviews), I thought I would give it a read.
The premise of this novel begins with the introduction of Nick Carraway who narrates everything from the 1st person. Carraway lives in West Egg, Long Island after returning from the Great War and works now as a bonds salesman. He lives next door to a mysterious man who hosts lavish parties flowing with alcohol during prohibition. Nick’s cousin, Daisy, lives in East Egg, Long Island and is married to a Yale grad Tom Buchanan. Early on, we meet Tom’s mistress Myrtle who lives in the Valley of Ashes where the industry that fuels New York City and the culturally impoverished belong. It is obvious that Tom and Daisy have a fragile relationship which is made more complicated by his affair. Nick meets the mysterious man next door when he is invited to one of the parties. His name is Jay Gatsby and even when Nick meets him, he continues to have an air of mystery. How did he build his massive fortune? Did he kill a man? Is he a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm? The rumors run rampant but Jay has just one request for Nick: to meet Daisy. We find out that Daisy and Jay used to be lovers before Jay went off to the war and he built his fortune in an attempt to please her, waiting all this time for an opportunity to meet her.
This is a quick synopsis and if you want to know more I suppose you could read the novel. At first glance, this seems to be a love story/tragedy on a Shakespearean level. However, I believe that the story is much deeper than this. The juxtaposition of Tom and Gatsby is as tremendous as East and West Egg, where East Egg represents the old aristocracy or “old money” and West Egg those who have built their fortunes from the boom following the war in the 1920’s. Gatsby demonstrates his new found wealth with lavish parties, showing a decline in class, etiquette and refinement that defined big money. This is seen in the racist comments by Tom, who says that whites and blacks will soon be marrying and defiling “pure” blood. Further, Gatsby places Daisy in a lofty place of perfection that she neither can attain nor deserves ultimately leading to disappointment. The allusion continues when Gatsby (spoiler warning, but who hasn’t read the Great Gatsby?) is killed and although he threw parties that were of legend, no one attends his funeral. Perhaps this can equate itself to the diminishing moral values of the era; an era that was defined with money and pleasure instead of more noble goals.
I think a lot of people are disappointed by this book because they see it through the eyes of people in the 21st century. This book seems to be about the problems of the super-rich, but I believe the underlying theme is more than this. Gatsby, as you find out, came from the poor dredges of society in North Dakota. When he meets Daisy, he mentions how Daisy would never love him because of his social status: he didn’t have any money. He turns to corruption to build his fortune to win her heart. This was the preoccupation of a nation. Instead of building towards a future that would enhance society, he can frolic around in his hydroplane, demonstrating a lavish lifestyle unbound by caution or discernment. This is a social commentary on the condition of the 1920’s. We know now it all came crumbling down in 1929 when the stock market crashed, but that’s a story for a different day.
P.S. I think Leonardo DiCaprio makes a fantastic Gatsby.
P.S.S. I think I will have to incorporate “old sport” into my everyday vocabulary.