The Great Gatsby
© F. Scott Fitzgerald
It is interesting how the passage of years can suddenly alter a reader’s take on a given book. Take The Great Gatesby, for instance, which I read in early college and was so underwhelmed by that nothing of it made it from my eyes into the brain. Reading it as an adult, though, is an entirely different experience. As most readers will already know, given Gatesby’s reputation, it’s a character drama and a not-subtle critiqe of the excesses of high society in the jazz age, told through the eyes of a young midwestener who has come east to make his fortune. Having shared some of Nick’s journey as a thirty-something myself, the book’s value is far more obvious now. Money can’t buy love – nor happiness.
Nick’s introduction to high society comes through his neighbor Jay Gatsby, an extraordinarily rich young man who owns a mansion next door to Nick’s far more humble abode. Gatsby hosts riotous parties on a regular basis, and it’s not long before he extends an invitation to his neighbor – an invitation prompted, we later learn, by some of Nick’s social connections. Specifically, we learn that Gatsby was once romantically involved with Nick’s cousin Daisy, and it is in earnest hope of restoring his connection with Daisy that Gatsby’s every activity seems to revolve. Although Gatsby appears to be a man who has Made It in life – he has fortune, acclaim, a house filled with people who speak well of him — his love for Daisy and sadness at their being once separated by his lack of means makes him a sad, unenviable character.
There’s a sadness throughout the book, in fact, as we observe the goings-on of Gatsby’s parties. They are filled with excess; men and women in elaborate dress, engorging themselves on rich food and drinking late into the night. For all this activity, there is an emptiness that they all seem to be trying to escape. Ultimately, it ends in tragedy for several of the characters, and Nick himself abandons his plans of pursuing the dream. Reading this as a thirty-year old who has experienced a bit more of life than I had at nineteen, I was struck by the thought that for all his wealth, charisma, and achievements, Gatsby was still miserable for the same reason many others are miserable, regardless of their standing or bank statements: he longed for love. Death unites all, rich and poor, but so does heartache – and in our failings we are all very much alike. Some wear clothing with higher thread counts and putter around in larger homes, but ultimately none of us can escape the need for meaning.
Special thanks to Marian for joining me on this re-read! Having someone to discuss the book with made it more interesting than it was already.