Anyone who went to high school in America knows The Great Gatsby, a tragic tale of the search for the American Dream in the 1920s. I had to read this in my junior year of high school and found it relatively easy to read, but was astonished at all the symbolism. The recent Baz Luhrmann movie version made sure to focus on the green light and the eyes on the billboard, that’s how embedded these symbols have become in our culture. I enjoyed the cynical view the book takes on wealth, love, and society. Among all the glitz and glamour of the Roaring 20s, we find great heartbreak and disappointment, and I loved how Fitzgerald juxtaposed those clashing views of the period in which he lived. I haven’t read this since high school, and I hope this time I’m able to pick up on the symbolism more easily. I love when you Reread something and can better appreciate the work the author does using different devices to tell a story.
Teenage Rating: 4 out of 5 mint juleps
The Great Gatsby is a classic American tale of boy meets girl, boy is separated from girl by war, boy goes on a quest to impress girl’s old-money roots by going from pauper to prince, girl marries brutish oaf because waiting for boy is boring, boy flashes his fabulous wealth to win girl back, and it all ends terribly. It’s a story that illustrates the glitzy highs and ashen lows of American life in the 1920s, focusing on the immorality of the leisure class.
Jay Gatsby has been in love with Daisy Buchanan since before he left to fight in WWI. Having been brought up with limited means, he know he has to rise above his meager roots to be worthy of the wealthy Daisy, and hides his past from her. They’re separated due to the war but he is sure Daisy will wait for him. Unfortunately, he’s wrong on that one as Daisy marries the similarly wealthy and quite douchey Tom Buchanan. Five years later Gatsby shows up across the water from Daisy’s Long Island mansion, having bought an extravagant mansion of his own, throwing wild parties every night in the hope that Daisy will show up ready to rekindle their romance.
We see the tale unfold through the eyes of Nick Carraway, Daisy’s cousin, who lives in a small house next door to Gatsby. Daisy lives a life of luxury and leisure, although Tom’s constant infidelities put a strain on their relationship. Tom even brings Nick along to a rendezvous with his lower-class mistress, Myrtle, whose husband owns a local gas station. Wild rumors about Gatsby fly about Long Island and finally make their way to Daisy, and the mention of her former beau catches her off guard.
When Nick meets Gatsby, he’s unsure of what to make of the eccentric millionaire who exudes confidence and money but crumbles into a blithering idiot when Nick helps him arrange his first reunion with Daisy. As the former lovers fall back into their long-dormant relationship, Nick is all but forgotten by them, but finds a fleeting relationship with Daisy’s golfer friend, Jordan Baker. As the summer ends, tensions spike along with the heat index as Gatsby pressures Daisy to leave her husband, erupting into a confrontation with unsuspected but dire consequences for the love triangle.
What immediately struck me on the Reread was the beauty of Fitzgerald’s prose. His lush descriptions of Daisy and Gatsby’s early romance, the lazy summer days spent on Long Island and in the Plaza Hotel, Gatsby’s hedonistic parties, and the gray wasteland Myrtle calls home are nothing short of lush. The gauzy settings fit the story well, because at the heart of the story is a critique on how high society often has little substance. Daisy and Tom may have the wealth to live fabulously and retain their positions in society, but they’re not decent people. They’re selfish, greedy, and are willing to compromise morality for their own pleasure. In contrast, Nick sees Gatsby, silly and image-obsessed as he may be, as “…worth the whole damn bunch put together.” Initially Nick isn’t sure he likes Gatsby very much, but eventually comes to grudgingly admire the man. Gatsby quite literally made a name for himself and rose to his goals, pulling himself out of poverty by his gumption (and illegal bootlegging). Meanwhile, Daisy and crew are lounging on inherited wealth, doing nothing to improve themselves or others. Gatsby is certainly foolish for his obsession with recreating a nostalgic but unrepeatable past, but at least he has vision. While Tom and Daisy treat others like playthings in the theater that is their overprivileged life, Gatsby yearns for the sweet romance of his more innocent years.
Rereading this made me love the Baz Luhrmann movie version of The Great Gatsby even more because of its faithfulness to the book. Baz really captured Fitzgerald’s picture of West Egg, and infuses it with enough modernity to convey the excess of the era without using music of the era, which can sometimes sound dowdy and corny to the modern person. Using current music was a brilliant way to update the story while keeping true to the source text.
The Great Gatsby is not a happy story, despite the pomp and circumstance held in its pages. It’s a critique of the superficiality of wealth and high society, as well as a warning to leave the past in the past. Despite a few dated references, the book holds up well despite being nearly 100 years old.
Adulthood Rating: 5 out of 5 yellow cars
2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Categories: A Classic from the 20th Century