Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Revisiting The Great Gatsby

     A little over a year ago I published a post on Fitzgerald's book, The Great Gatsby. This weekend a new film version of the book is coming out to much fanfare and hype. Yes, I plan to see it with some skepticism since I have seen so many wonderful classic books totally demolished by Hollywood. But I will give it a chance. I will even give Leonardo a chance despite my memory of Robert Redford in that title role. In celebration of the new interest in Fitzgerald and Gatsby, I am reprinting the blog I wrote with a few tweaks. Next week I'll post my review of the new film. Warning: if you are one of the few people who didn't read this book--or the Cliffs Notes--in high school, this blog post has spoilers.

March 12, 2012:

... A classic novel with layers of meaning, The Great Gatsby is well worth an adult read because it beautifully describes the human yearning to make dreams come true, often at a terrible price. It also examines the nostalgia for a time remembered and the desire to repeat that long ago memory. And-bonus- it contains only nine compact and enchantingly written chapters.
     In his novel Fitzgerald attempts to answer two questions about the nature of humans: Can you repeat the past? Can you plan and work hard-no matter what means you use-to make your dreams come true?
     The very first time narrator Nick Carroway observes the mysterious Jay Gatsby, he actually sees a shadow, a silhouette of a man, arms stretched out in the darkness toward a green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan's dock.
Beyond that dock live Daisy and her husband, Tom Buchanan, members of the inherited money class, careless people who smash their way through life with total ambivalence toward the feelings of others. Nevertheless, Gatsby remembers Daisy as the golden girl, the love of his life when he first left for WWI. Gatsby believes it is their destiny to be together. Can they repeat the past and make life again contain the innocent love they once had? Can Gatsby climb up those stairs to the world of wealth and privilege to attract Daisy's attention?
Meyer Wolfsheim, Nick Carroway, and Gatsby
      Piece by piece the truth of Gatsby's background comes together in a story woven of fairy dust. He actually came from nothing but had the enormous imagination and determination to remake himself into a glamorous image of weath in order to catch the attention of his former love, Daisy. The story constantly juxtaposes the question of whether, in the corrupt 1920s, a person can actually follow the American Dream of lifting himself up from a poor past to become a success.

Is that dream still possible or has it been defiled by what America has become by the 1920s--a world of gangsters, corrupt politicians, and people of influence with dubious values? Gatsby's will alone pushes him relentlessly on his quest for his lost love. In that plan he surrounds himself with the new rich of the Twenties, scandalous people who had been in prison, bootlegged alcohol, and killed people. But they aid him in his climb to reach the rich, well-guarded plateau that is Daisy's world.
     Can innocence be regained in the morally corrupt world that is America in the Twenties? Can Fitzgerald's rapturous descriptions of perfect love and wonderous dreams live again? 

     In the end, Nick Carroway--the narrator of the story--is left to explain that America was a dream of the old sailors who first discovered her pristine, green, untouched world, and they realized that this New World could become a place of great promise and dreams. By the Twenties, however, reality has changed that dream into a place of moral corruption and hopelessness beneath its Coney Island facade. Gatsby did not realize that sometimes the very best of human yearnings get smashed in the very worst of human nature.
     The Great Gatsby is a literary classic and, as such, causes the reader to consider the nature of his own time. "Classic" means a reader also sees new ideas he didn't discern with the first reading. If you haven't picked up a copy of Fitzgerald's book lately, think about doing so. It's well worth your time.

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