The Great Gatsby (Mar. 2013)

The cover of the first edition of The Great Ga...

The Great Gatsby is what’s called ‘a Great American Novel,’ so termed because it captures and illustrates an era in American life. In this case, the Roaring twenties.

It’s the summer of 1922; World War I has ended; the American stock market is shooting through the roof; and an era of prosperity has arrived bringing with it the dismantling of ‘old world’ structures, ideas, and morals.

The story is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, a thirty-year-old bond salesman, who is neighbors with Jay Gatsby in a fictional place called West Egg on Long Island. Over the summer he is befriended by Gatsby, who hosts lavish parties at his glamorous mansion. Jay Gatsby represents the ‘new money’ which had begun infusing New York and its environs and stands in sharp contrast to East Egg, which represents ‘old money’ and the establishment, epitomized by Daisy and Tom Buchanan and their friend, Jordan Baker.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Tom has a mistress in Ash Valley (the road between New York and Long Island.) Daisy is aware of this and seems to grudgingly accept it. Gatsby and Daisy have a history, and it comes to light that he was never able to let go of her or the love they shared. The result being that he has spent his adult life amassing wealth (via legal and illegal avenues,) with the ultimate dream of purchasing a lavish house in view of Daisy’s East Egg home where he would throw ostentatious parties with the hope that she would find her way to him.

Gatsby and Daisy are reunited one day through Nick Carraway, who is a distant cousin of Daisy’s. And while it is clear that she still loves him, she ultimately decides to remain with her husband.

I won’t ruin it by talking about the rest of the book (on the off-chance that, like me, some of you have never read it.)

I’d obviously heard of The Great Gatsby, and how it’s – arguably – the best thing F. Scott Fitzgerald ever wrote. But upon finishing it, I can’t help but feel a little let down.

Don’t get me wrong. His prose is fluid and beautiful. The plot is soundly-constructed, and the pacing is great. And I fully comprehend his intention regarding the changes in American life that occurred at that time. But I felt – and perhaps this was intentional on his part – that the characters were extremely shallow.

Not in terms of their personality – for I imagine this was part of his commentary on the differences between the social ‘castes’ of the time. By shallow I mean that they did not feel well-rounded or deep to me. They struck me as caricatures rather than real people. Perhaps it’s because he was the narrator, but Nick felt like the only real one of the bunch.

I couldn’t relate to Daisy or Gatsby or any of the other people populating the novel. Gatsby’s house felt like more of a character than the actual people.

I suppose Fitzgerald did that on purpose. Gatsby has this ethereal idea of Daisy that doesn’t, in any way, match up to the reality of her. And despite how he labors to capture her, she only drifts further and further away until she and her husband literally move to a different locale. In a way, it mirrors the disintegration of morals that the new era of prosperity brought about. It reflects how those with ‘new money’ try and try to recapture the essence of the ‘old’ ways.

It’s a complex piece, and it does a great job of reflecting the zeitgeist of the time. But, for me, I was looking to have more of a connection with the characters and their lives.

Have you read The Great Gatsby? What do you think of it?