His name was actually James Gatz. I hadn’t known that. Actually, I knew next to nothing about F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. I knew that it’s considered an American classic, but I also knew that it’s regularly included on summer reading lists in American Literature classes. For me, that’s almost enough to make me never willing to read it, because I’m highly suspicious of the books that English classes make you read. But if you’ve read my posts before, you already know this, so I won’t go on any rabbit trails on that topic.
But a book-loving friend of mine recommended the books by Fitzgerald, not only because he’s a great author, but because his books douse you in what it’s like to be alive during the Roaring Twenties. And since I’ve never read enough classics of this type, and I do enjoy fiction that shows you pieces of history, I said I’d read The Great Gatsby. I only picked it because it seems to be the most well-known, and I’m sure there are several film versions of it. I didn’t recall ever hearing anything about the story, at least, not at the time I started to read.
My first impression of the book was that Fitzgerald was indeed a great author, with a power of description that I doubt I’ll ever be able to achieve. It wasn’t the characterizations of the people that gave me that idea, however. It was the depiction of the buildings, the grounds, and the water. Consider this example:
“Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran towards the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sundials and brick walks and burning gardens — finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of french windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch.”
Aside from his inability to use commas in a sentence, Fitzgerald has easily left me with the impression of endlessly flowing greenery that extends from beach to house, but entwined with the image of an animal running nonstop, leaping over obstacles, and unable to stop at the house. And at the end of it, he sets you up for the description of Buchanan, in the next paragraph. With his feet planted, you already realize that this man is not easily moved, but whether from being obstinate and bullheaded, or inexorable over a righteous cause, we’ve yet to discover.
But even good writing will not keep me interested in a tale, when there doesn’t seem to be any redeeming features to the story. What makes a classic, and why do these tales with no morality even gain that title? Because I really don’t care about good writing, when the characters are so bent on only their selfish pleasures and no care for others.
Nick Carraway, the narrator, meets his cousin Daisy and her husband, Tom Buchanan. He immediately finds that theirs is an uneasy household, as it’s common knowledge that Tom has a mistress in keeping. From there, Nick is taken to New York, where he gets to meet said mistress, one vulgar Myrtle Wilson, who also happens to be married. At the small party they give in their apartment, people drink and get drunk, and it ends with the mistress saying something derogatory about the wife, which results in Tom breaking Myrtle’s nose. Delightful, aren’t they?
Returning to his “shack”, Nick meets his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, who has tons of parties where he knows no one, and they don’t know him, and everyone gets drunk and gossips about where Gatsby must have gotten his money. Yes, some of the characters are hilarious, especially “Owl-Eyes”, who seems to believe that the library is carved out of wood, and each book to be carved by a master, so realistic are they. Nick befriends Gatsby and wonders about him, as do the rest of them.
Eventually, we find that Gatsby once knew, and loved, Nick’s cousin Daisy (who is now Mrs. Buchanan, remember) and wants to be reunited with her, through the machinations of both Nick and Jordan Baker (a friend of Daisy’s). They invite Daisy to tea, Gatsby becomes almost beside himself with nerves, but everything works out, and they are both gloriously excited to be together once more. But I find it more pitiful, how Gatsby takes Daisy around his house, and even ends up showing her his shirts, throwing them onto the floor for her to see, and from there, she bursts into tears over them.
I love a good romance, but this “appalling sentimentality” (as Nick calls it) of Gatsby’s, and Daisy, too, I find absolutely revolting. In the delight of having her former lover returned to her, Daisy espies a fluffy pink cloud in the sky and wishes that she could “get one” and put him in it and push him around in it. I have a vision of a grown man being pushed around in a pram (stroller), and being treated like a baby, rather than respected as a man. Later, in the midst of all this romantic excitement, Gatsby seems to see a vision of a ladder into the sky, and wishes that he could climb it in order to “suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder”. Frankly, once more, I find the image of a grown man compared to (even in metaphor) a baby nursing at its mother’s breast to be nauseating. I don’t know what Fitzgerald was trying to achieve here, but it didn’t impress me with any type of beauty. I just wanted Gatsby, Daisy, and Fitzgerald to cease with the sappiness.
From there, we find Gatsby descending further into his obsession of being in love with Daisy, and when they confront Tom about it, Gatsby wants Daisy to admit that she never loved Tom, not ever. Tom, despite his infidelities, seems to have some touching memories of loving Daisy (as I think he really does, deep down), and reminds her of them. Faced with that memory, she is unable to denounce Tom, which shocks Gatsby, though she had originally intended to leave with Gatsby.
Overcome with emotion on all sides, they return home in two cars, and tragedy strikes. Myrtle sees the yellow car approaching and runs out into the road, possibly wanting to speak to Gatsby (the car’s owner), and the car runs her down, without stopping. Myrtle’s husband was already overcome by realizing his wife was leading a double life, but he still doesn’t know who the other man is. Wilson believes the driver of the yellow car was that man, so Tom tells him the owner is Gatsby, implying that Gatsby is the “other man”, and not himself.
Nick arrives home, completely stunned by the turn of events, and goes to Gatsby about it, unable to believe that he could run a woman down in his car, and leave her there. We find that it was actually Daisy at the wheel, though Gatsby plans to take the blame. But in the middle of this tragedy, the wife who realizes she has committed murder (even if by accident) and gotten away with it, and the husband that is still stunned by the loss of his mistress, they are drawn together, and perhaps their marriage recovered somewhat because of it. I don’t really care, actually.
Wilson, maddened at the loss of his wife, believing Jay Gatsby to have run her down on purpose, ends up shooting Gatsby, and then committing suicide. So, the story ends with Gatsby having an empty funeral, with only his father, Mr. Gatz, Nick, some servants, and “Owl-Eyes”. And “Owl-Eyes” certainly has it right, when he realizes that no one is there for the funeral, and says “The poor son-of-a-bitch”. Because in the end, Gatsby’s millions did nothing for him, he never got back the woman he loved, and all the party-goers who came to his house, they abandoned him at the end.
I’m glad that I read it, actually, though if they’d made us “dissect” it in a literature class, in school, I would have definitely hated it. But no, I didn’t like it. Why?
I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I don’t care if you were stupid enough to get into a marriage that you shouldn’t have. And though I don’t believe in divorce, I won’t argue about whether the characters in the book could have gotten out of their marriages or not. But when you marry someone, you are vowing to support them through thick and thin, through sickness and health. If you’re getting drunk and terrified about the wedding, you shouldn’t marry them. But just because you made a mistake, is no excuse to compound it by trampling on your marriage vows.
The characters in The Great Gatsby are all cheating on each other, right from the start, and don’t seem to care. When they do know, some of them are even upset by it, though they’re completely hypocritical to be upset by someone else’s betrayal. None of them have any idea what the meaning of love is, only lust, passion, and selfishness. Gatsby claims to love Daisy, but his “love” is obsessive, wanting her all for himself, and not caring by how torn she is between himself and her husband. Tom wants Daisy’s love, but he still wants the freedom to have his mistress on the side.
I know that these people are realistic to what people are in real life, both then and now, but that doesn’t make any of it less objectionable. I don’t like people with no sense of morality. The senselessness of some of their actions is just appalling, and I never became attached to any of them, so I can only be glad that the book is read, and the characters are gone. There was nothing great about the person Gatsby, only in the characterization of him, as written by Fitzgerald. So, in the end, who can tell me why these books become classics, when nothing good comes of the story? I don’t ask for an outright moral, I just wish that there was a person to root for, or to hope for the best for them. Nick was the only such person who came even close, and I only hope that he had a good life afterwards (in the storybook world), after he was able to get away from the Buchanans and Gatsby.