Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blogging the Classics - The Great Gatsby

What I'm Writing: Editing Gods Willing
What I'm Reading: One of Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy mysteries – can't remember which one and I don’t have it with me
What I'm Knitting: Mittens, mittens, mittens (and, yes, I should be well done with these by now, but I'm getting so tired of knitting them, I'm barely working on them)

I finished The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald last night. I really, really enjoyed it. It's a short book – more of a novella than a novel – but packs an emotional punch.

Let me just start by saying the Fitzgerald's writing is lyrical to the point of beauty. He may be writing about infidelity, amoralism, jealousy, and greed, but the words themselves – the flow and cadence and balance – are lovely. Reading this work, I felt the author's choice of words was often surprising but always brilliant.

"He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself."- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 3

The tale itself could be a soap-opera storyline full of parties, wealth, cheating, and lying, but it is, under the surface, so much more. We see a time in the history of America (post WWI – prohibition – roaring twenties) when riches were flowing, where greed was honored, when morality was for the poor schmuck down the road. People were flying high and playing loose, not caring who they hurt or what debts they might incur. Worry was for later. It was a selfish generation. Which caused me to wonder if it's always so – when we're in a boom do we get more selfish? Do we forget our own standards in the rush to achieve, gain, feel everything? It's funny how the "Me Generation" of the 1980s era is mirrored pretty well in this 1920s slice of Americana.

The narrator, Nick, is a Midwestern boy, fresh from war, come to NYC to make his fortune. His life gets tangled with that of his neighbor, Gatsby, his cousin, Daisy and her husband, Tom, and the famous golfer, Jordan. In the beginning, I think, Nick is bothered by the actions of those around him: Gatsby's parties, Tom's infidelity, Jordan's selfishness, but after a summer spent with them, he starts to lose himself, at least a little, in their world.

He dates Jordan, though I don't think if he'd met her in other circumstances, he would. She's brash, selfish, and judgmental – traits that Nick, in the beginning of the book, claims to have learned to avoid.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 1

He spends time with Gatsby, being drawn into his circle, never sure whether to believe Gatsby's tales or not. Even when the stories are too wild to be true, Gatsby's charisma fools Nick. In the end, however, though Gatsby was the one who was derided for making money illegally, he was the character (other than Nick) who at least stood for something – the one who chased dreams and believed in love.

Daisy and Tom both had blood on their hands, but were unrepentant. I doubt they'd think they'd done anything wrong, really. And Jordan was just as self-absorbed as she'd been throughout the book.

Nick was changed, though at least he realized the change and knew he had to leave those surroundings in order to get himself back.

And Gatsby? Well, Gatsby didn't survive the summer. Perhaps, even had he not been killed, he might not have survived anyway. The man was broken, or at least would be once he finally admitted Daisy wasn't his.

Gatsby's funeral was one of the sadder moments. This man who people had flocked to in life, the one who they leeched from for their parties and booze, was forgotten in death. He was an embarrassment. No one wanted to admit they were part of his life, of his scene. Only Nick stayed by his side. It was touching how Nick tried to save Gatsby's father from the truth – to let the older man live in his fairytale where his son was a rich gentleman.

Perhaps, in the end, that's what this book is about – the truth – avoiding it, maneuvering around it, and finally, maybe (for some characters), facing it.

Definitely a book I would recommend to anyone wanting to delve into the classics – or anyone just looking for a good, quick read.

Which classic should I read next? Let me know!

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