The Good Gatsby Getting Better


The title says it all, doesn’t it? I read Fitzgerald’s most famous work and didn’t massively like it. It was good; don’t get me wrong; I did like it. But I don’t see why some people herald it as ‘the Greatest American novel ever written’, which in my opinion it isn’t.
Despite the fact that at the very start I positively disliked the book, my opinion however is slowly changing…
(Shocking twist found below!)

Something resembling a synopsis:
The narrator Nick Carraway tells us the story of the summer of 1922 in New York, where he lives on the rich but unfashionable West Egg, next to a big mansion owned (unbeknownst to him) by Jay Gatsby.
The novel starts with Nick being invited to dinner by his cousin Daisy and here he is introduced to Jordan Baker and some of the problems in Daisy’s marriage to Tom Buchanan, this proving significant later on in the story.  After becoming closer to Jordan, he then attends one of Gatsby’s infamous parties with her, where Nick finds out lots about the mysterious host who he has yet to meet through the many rumours of the guests.

When Nick finally does meet him, Gatsby is shown to be an almost flawless gentleman who revels in the finer things in life but it is clear that Gatsby is also a man of deception. Even the decadent parties that he puts on are based on an ulterior motive to meet Nick’s cousin Daisy again, as he hopes to re-establish an old relationship with her after many years.

But alack Daisy is now married, albeit unhappily and so things do not go as smoothly as Gatsby had planned. Tom becomes suspicious of Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship and yet still Daisy refuses to leave her husband for this mysterious, richer man. The tension between Gatsby and Tom rises, a shock car accident takes place and inevitably it all leads to desperate tragedy for many of the characters concerned. Most of all for Gatsby who sees the superficial, nihilistic world, on which he prides himself, begin to crumble beneath his feet.

More is the pity I’m sure.
(Sadly not chocolate coins)

The main theme which is clear from the outset and hopefully there are allusions to it in my synopsis is superficiality. And if there is anything that this book does really well, it is reflecting the superficial sentiments and way of life in the USA in the 1920s.

As a means of studying the way that American society functioned after the Great War, this book gives a splendid and accurate insight into that mindset. And perhaps the book is admired so much because of the way Fitzgerald uses precise and extended descriptions of people and places to capture this world.

And yet, I think it was this exact reason why I disliked. When I first started, I was completely frustrated by how superficial everything about the world was- even down to the character’s thought processes. For example: Tom and Daisy staying together when they clearly didn’t even like each other frankly frustrated me and the rather dull, blank nature of Daisy’s character particularly annoyed me too: “What’ll we plan?” She turned to me helplessly: “What do people plan?”

The deception of Gatsby extends far beyond the façade of his parties and his ‘show’ of being a genuine, moral person (when in reality he was more than lacking in the morality department) made him a very hard character to like, let alone feel sympathy for.

However the story, like a thin layer of ivy creeping up over an old brick mansion, is growing on me.

On reflection I have begun to appreciate better what Fitzgerald was really commenting on.
In a stereotypical Modernist twist, the outcome of the story (all the deaths) ironically contrast the sentiments of the time (force of life, being above death) resulting in a social commentary on how superficial American society was at the time of writing. Despite Gatsby being a grand, rich gentleman who had all the things he wanted in life, he is murdered by Wilson who has lost his wife and is on a significantly lower rung on the social-status ladder. And so Fitzgerald can be interpreted as subtly mocking people like Gatsby through his use of precise descriptions and ironic statements, almost reminding the reader and Nick that nobody is able to transcend nature completely and that Gatsby’s guise was a waste of time.

This extra layer of hidden meaning has certainly made the story more appealing to me but whether I will ever get to a stage where I will really really like the novel, I think it unlikely.
But the way that Fitzgerald creates a world that is both so strangely engaging, yet thoroughly detestable, is a very good reason to read the book if you haven’t already. It’s not exactly the greatest American novel ever written but certainly worth a read.

Picture of money taken from: Shared by Girish on 25/04/11


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