RTW #167: The Great Gatsby

Time for another Road Trip!
Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.
We’d love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link – or, if you prefer, you can include your answer in the comments.
[caution: I tried not to spoil the book, but quotes and character comments abound.]

I think I loved this book by the end of the first page. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about life in the Roaring 20s, didn’t waste a moment in inviting me in with a depth of character understanding that was at odds with the shortness of the book.

There was so much to love about this book. It wasn’t a book that you could skim through; the writing is the sort to be read carefully, savored, and returned to over again. After I finished it, I read the beginning again; that first synopsis of Gatsby as told by the narrator after everything is over…and it felt like watching a movie where you know the ending and just want to save the characters from their eventual fate. At first reading, the beginning had been more poetic than applicable. Now: “When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. […] No–Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

The Great Gatsby is not a happy story. It is not a triumphant story. Rather, it is a clearly, elegantly told story of sad, beautiful people who each hold their own despair in life and who each pursue their own unhappy ends.

Daisy, who is conscious only of her own unhappiness, but too shallow to do more than acknowledge whatever moment she currently exists in, completely overwhelmed by those around her.

Tom, the hypocrite who lives to please himself and who cannot fathom others who redirect their allegiance from him.  King of the playground, king of the gridiron, king of his own moral code.

Jordan, capable only of surviving behind her shades of gray, described as “incurably dishonest”, yet attractive just the same.

Myrtle, dismissive of the hands that feed her.

And Gatsby. Jay Gatsby. The child who built his castles on the sand, and when the tide rolled in, tried to build them up again.

Maybe it is Nick, the narrator, and his way of so clearly describing the summer…but there is a creeping sense of dread through all of this. A foreboding, warning that underneath the glitter and cars and rendezvous over tea, this will not end happily. That these broken people will be just as broken at the end as they were at the beginning. The difference is the war-torn Nick, who in the end, visits with the man in the owl-eyed glasses and comes home a little less, empty despite the glitter and the glamour and all that Gatsby’s world could offer.

Yes, I loved this book. It’s the sort that carries over even into today’s age. It doesn’t matter whether or not we have a neighbor whose house glitters in the evenings. While Nick seems casually untouched by the swirl of the rich, in the end he sees: “I couldn’t forgive him or like him but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people[–]they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . . “  I think everyone has been astonished by the carelessness of someone else, no matter how much we wanted to see the best in them. We may be rooting for them to succeed, or trying to establish them in a better light…but in the end we shake hands with a child and leave angry with ourselves for caring in the first place.

I love how Nick describes the contradictions in Gatsby’s world. The carelessness of the rich, juxtaposed against the hopefulness that the wealth brought. The identity as an established man, built on the unending dreams of a child.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future 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—-

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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2 comments on “RTW #167: The Great Gatsby

  1. rkhorserider says:

    I watched the movie version of Great Gatsby in high school and kind of decided never to read it, but now that I’m older and branching out into classics for fun, I’m thinking that I really should.

    • Rae says:

      I started reading the book without any knowledge of what it was actually about. It’s not the sort of book that you can synopsize very easily, and I think if I’d known the storyline beforehand, I would have skipped it. I’m so glad I did read it–it’s an amazing book. It didn’t feel at all like one of those have-to-read-it-because-it’s-a-classic kind of books.
      Btw, which movie version did you see? I have no idea if any of the old adaptions are any good…?

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