The Great Gatsby

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.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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12 Responses to The Great Gatsby

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    I read this back in the summer of 2018. Like you I found it very underwhelming (on first read). This is part of my review: “At times frustratingly unfocused, racist, anti-Semitic, and just plain dull with dialogue even worse than Star Wars I’m just glad it was so short. I could see what he was attempting to do – tell a tale of ennui and nihilism in the upper echelons of American society but there are much better ways to tell that story than this one”.

    Oh, coincidentally I’ve just posted a review of a non-fiction Jazz Age related book you might find interesting for your next years RoE.

    • AFAIK, the Jewish gangster was closely based on Arnold Rothstein…portraying a man who behaves badly with accuracy isn’t the same thing as casting aspersions on his entire ethnic group. The racist bits I noticed were all clustered around one character — Tom — who we’re not supposed to like. I thought Nick was often an amusing character, at least when he was kidding Daisy. Have you read anything else by Fitz?

      • Cyberkitten says:

        No, this is my first and only (and likely to stay that way!). I struggled with the whole thing actually. For a so-called ‘classic’ I thought it was very poor. I think the only character I had *any* positive thoughts about was Nick’s love interest Jordan. Apart from her I didn’t really care if anyone else lived or died – so I had very little interest in how the book turned out. If it had been a much longer book I might well have DNF’d it. I do need characters that I can relate to or have *some* sympathy with. Without that I do wonder why I’m reading it.

      • Jordan? Interesting…I identified a little with Nick as the fish out of water, but I figured she was trouble. A bit like Isabela in THE RAZOR’S EDGE, which I’m reading now after watching both of its dramatizations.

  2. I have always appreciated Fitzgerald’s honesty in portraying just how empty his life was. He saw through his environment so clearly and he wasn’t afraid to expose himself equally with the others in his “glittering Babylon.”.

  3. It is so nice to have a reading partner to make a book come alive. My re-read of this book wasn’t as useful as yours and left me a bad taste for Fitzgerald. Sad, sad, everything is sad and with no meaning.

    How did you two discuss while reading? On Goodreads? By email? Telepathically (ha, ha!)?

    • We had a running conversation on goodreads. 🙂 It was nice to read along with someone, especially when outside circumstances prompted me to read another book that proved to be a kindred spirit and inspired separate discussion. 🙂

  4. Marian says:

    “Nick himself abandons his plans of pursuing the dream” – Ok that definitely went over my head the first time, and I didn’t give it much thought until you mentioned it here. That is pretty significant and adds to the sadness… :/ Indeed I really liked Nick’s personality this time around, and it was clear he had a whole backstory/lifestory to him, more than the usual first-person narrator.

    I’m so glad we revisited this as a readalong! The Razor’s Edge has been a wonderful bit of serendipity, too. 😀

    • Same here! We’ll have to do it again in the future. Connecting it to the Razor’s Edge was definitely serendipitous. I’m glad my friend David (who occasionally reads here, so hello David!) had our class watch the film. I’m going to do a separate post on the virtues of the two movies.

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