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.