The Great Gatsby – A Review

I recently re-read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I had read it back in high school and only remembered vaguely what happened in it.  I also remember there being a pretty lousy movie made of it back in the 70s that I saw in school starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.  I had revently read that there was the possiblity of a new movie being made based on the book, this time directed by Baz Lurhmann, which gives me serious trepidation, especially when he talks in interviews about filming it in 3D.  So given all of that, I recently purchased the book off of Amazon in one of those splendid 4-for-3 deals that they have.  I am attempting to read more this year and build up my book collection, and I have many books on my Amazon wishlist.  But back to Gatsby.

For some reason, I fancied F. Scott Fitzgerald my favorite author back in high school.  I’m not sure why.  I think I felt like everyone was supposed to have a “favorite” author of some kind, and so I clamped onto the guy who wrote what was considered one of the great American novels of the 20th century and totally synonymous with a period of American history (the roaring 20s).  In reality, I didn’t read a lot of Ftzgerald or anyone outside of assigned reading for classwork.  But I read Gatsby of my own volition as a sophmore and remember doing a research paper on Fitzgerald centering on Gatsby and several short stories that Fitzgerald wrote.  I seem to remember enjoying his short stories more than Gatsby.  Which isn’t to say that I dislike The Great Gatsby.  It’s a fine work full of beautiful prose.  But it’s not an enjoyable story.  It’s a tragic story.

It’s interesting to read a book that you read when you were half as old as you currently are.  There is a straightforward story in Gatsby, but there is also a lot that Fitzgerld puts into the book that seems to linger just beyond the words on the page.  It makes me wonder if my teenage self was able to fully comprehend the point of the book, especially the closing pages. 

But I do like the way Fitzgerld writes.  The Great Gatsby is not a difficult read.  It comes in at a brisk 180 pages.  But it’s amazing how descriptive Fitzgerld is able to be such a short novel.  I’m sure some authors would need twice that many pages to tell the same story.  But Fitzgerald is highly effcient and effective with his words.  And maybe that was what I appreciated about him and this novel when I frst read it. 

But after a second read, I definitely appreciate the book more for what it is than what I think I imagined it to be when I read it back as a teenager.  The last chapter, in particular the last two or three pages, which sum up the “moral” of the story, are a lot clearer to me than back then, for sure.  The story of Jay Gatsby is a cautionary tale, but also an optimistic tale, and essentially an American tale.  It is about dreams and the American dream and how those can lead to great things, but also lead to dangerous things if unchecked or put on too high a pedestal.  Gatsby achieved the American dream in order to earn the love of Daisy.  It was a sacred thing to him, and as such, extremely fragile and delicate to handle when he tried to capture it once again. 

There’s an air of melancholy to the ending.  A sense that everyone is being driven to pursue or achieve or recapture the promise of something that once was, that “year by year recedes before us.  It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…  And one fine morning—-”  The indomitable will of the American spirit, encapsulated by one Jay Gatsby.  Written eloquently by one F. Scott Fitzgerld.

~Moose

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4 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby – A Review

  1. fhelvie says:

    Ken-

    I have this book on my candidacy list and reread it this past fall. Admittedly, I only half read it during high school and college, so while much of the territory was familiar, there were some aspects of the book that I didn’t recall… due in part to the fact I hadn’t really enjoyed Fitzgerald at the time. Like yourself, I found reading this book from a different place in my life to further illuminate more of what is going on beneath the surface of the page.

    Just like the coexisting truths of Darth Vader having “killed” Anakin and the two being one-in-the-same, so too does literature depend on a certain point of view. It’s what I love it enough to make it my career. Whereas before, I simply wrote off Gatsby and his life (and death) as not meriting much concern (I tended to be very cynical towards what I perceived to be “the problems of the upper class”), I now see this as the tragedy of pursuing material success as Gatsby does in SO many ways… and you almost have to question if Nick fully understand the ramifications of Jay’s failed life.

    Don’t mistake me: Good literature has something for everyone–truths that can accessed at all levels… but some truths can’t really been seen and felt until the reader is better prepared for them. In the beginning of A New Hope, Luke wasn’t ready to know what he finds out in Empire Strikes Back and discusses with Obi Wan in Return of the Jedi. He hasn’t grown or learned enough but who he is nor is he prepared enough as a Jedi to reclaim Anakin right away (and hence, the holding off of the entire picture)… but that doesn’t invalidate what he learned at the time. So your reasons for liking FSF and TGG initially aren’t any less relevant or important as those you now espouse; instead, you’re simply adding yet another layer to the text further illustrating (for you as well as others) why this book has the potential for greatness.

    • moosekgj says:

      I love any comment that compares me to Luke Skywalker. You’re right though, it doesn’t invalidate my previous impressions, but further deepens and informs me.

      Also, I think Nick, like a Greek chorus, understands better than anyone else in the book. His conclusions about the Buchanans is certainly valuable to him. His ability to walk away from Jordan Baker instead of perhaps foolishing pursuing her. And as for Gatsby, he perhaps understood Gatsby better than Gatsby himself. I think Nick saw Gatsby as he really was, not the person he projected to the people who came to his parties. That allowed Nick to sift through good and the bad of his character and draw important conclusions from what happened to Gatsby. I think part of the reason Nick was able to do that is because they were both “from the West” so Nick wasn’t simply a product of the entrenched rich society of the East that they involved themselves in.

  2. Maine Mummy says:

    You should read his short stories, they are phenomenal, I have a collection of them if you’d like to check it out from the Buxton Library. If you attempt Tender is the Night this year remember you need to have a shot of Whisky or something before sitting down with it!

    • moosekgj says:

      I’ve read quite a few of his short stories and though I don’t remember a lot of them, I remember enjoying them. His short stories are on my Amazon wishlist. Tales of the Jazz Age and Babylon Revisited: And Other Stories will be on my shelf in due time.

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