Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

180 pages
Published 1925 by Charles Scribner's Sons
Reprinted 2004 Scribner
New York, NY

Who hasn't heard of The Great Gastby by F. Scott Fitzgerald? Although it was not initially a bestseller it has since become standard amongst reading curriculum for literature classes. It is considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, a modern classic, and is on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. In fact, most readers who've taken standard literature courses have probably read this book at sometime during their educational years.... Excepting me.

Set on Long Island's North Shore and New York City, The Great Gatsby tells a tale of the mysterious and fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and the woman he loves, one Daisy Buchanan.

At first glance one might assume this is a story of love, but it isn't. The Great Gatsby is a tragedy. It is also a social commentary or maybe more accurately, a critique of the great "American Dream."

F. Scott Fitzgerald paints within The Great Gatsby a picture of what life was like for many of the rich and famous (and bored) during the "roaring 20s" -- a time when the US economy flourished and the wealthy spent all weekend partying, drinking, flirting, and maybe dabbling a little in organized crime.

I always thought I would hate The Great Gatsby. I think this predisposed opinion was rooted in the fact I'd been told it was a depressing story and I don't like depressing stories. Life is hard enough why read a book that makes you feel worse? And yet, the fact that it seemed everyone else in the world had read this book I was determined to read it and find out what IS so great about Gatsby?

For starters it is a well-written novel. Fitzgerald's writing is clever, imaginative, and humorous (I found myself laughing out loud several times). It is also thought provoking in its sadness. Woven into the story are some very interesting lessons. Particularly is the lesson about what can happen when a person tries to "remake" himself so to define who he is rather than how the world would define him from birth. The sadness comes into the story in more than the tragic-star-crossed-lover aspect, it's everywhere with the characters as they rush around completely self-focused and trying, but failing, to find true happiness. To some this could make for a depressing read, and yet oddly enough I didn't find that to be the case for me. Yes, the ending of the book is sad, but I also found it a satisfactory and acceptable ending. It couldn't have ended anyway else without coming across as far-fetched or cheap storytelling.

As I finished The Great Gatsby I was a little puzzled at my unbiased opinion. I felt objective. It isn't really a book I could say I loved, nor was it one I despised. Maybe my comprehension of literature, particularly that of the "Modernism/Lost Generation" era (i.e. Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc.) has changed from when I was a teenager or young adult or maybe my understanding of mankind has changed. At any rate I found The Great Gatsby an interesting read. In the end I was glad I took the time to read it and I can see why it is considered a classic. There is much that can be taken from this book, even though it is a tragedy in its ending.

If you haven't already read The Great Gatsby you should consider adding it to your 20th century reading list. It's short. It's entertaining. It's thought provoking. And in my opinion it's better than Hemingway.
Movie Adaptations. There have been several film adaptations. Probably the most famous stars Robert Redford as Gatsby and Mia Farrow as Daisy, but since I can't stand Mia Farrow I opted to watch a more recent version done in 2000 by A&E and starring Paul Rudd (Nick), Mira Sorvino (Daisy), and Toby Stephens (Gatsby). This version kept very close to the book and I thought it well made -- good costumes, music, scenery, casting, etc. I have also heard rumors that another adaptation is to be released in 2012, but I was unable to find anything further regarding who would be cast in the lead roles.

Great Gatsby Quotes:

"Before I could reply that he was my neighbor dinner was announced; wedging his tense arm imperatively under mine, Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square." (Chpt. 1, pg. 11)

"There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.(Chpt 3, pg 39)

"On a chance we tried an important-looking door, and walked into a high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas. A stout, middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles, was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. As we entered he wheeled excitedly around and examined Jordan from head to foot.
'What do you think? 'he demanded impetuously.
'About What?'
'About that. As a matter of fact you needn't bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They're real.'
'The books?'
He nodded. 'Absolutely real -- have pages and everything. I thought they'd be a nice durable cardboard. matte of fact, they're absolutely real. Pages and -- Here! Lemme show you.' Taking our scepticism for granted, he rushed to the bookcases and returned with Volume One of the Stoddard Lectures. 'See!' he cried triumphantly. 'It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me.'" (Chpt. 3, pg 45)

"And I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter --- to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning --- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."(Cpt. 9, pg. 180)

1 comment:

Caniad said...

Fitzgerald is definitely easier to read than Hemingway, but Hemingway taps into the human condition -- and particularly from the perspective of the individual alone in the world -- better than Fitzgerald. It seems to me as though Fitzgerald tends to remain a little abstract regarding human behavior, while Hemingway charges right in and pulls tough emotions out for the reader to see.