Most likely, you have read this book at some point in your high school education. The Great Gatsby (1925) is considered one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s greatest works if not one the greatest American novels of all time. We’re all familiar with the title, but can you actually remember the storyline? If you’re like me, you get a vague idea of the story: something happens all too late, there’s a woman named Daisy, a gun, something about Gatsby in the pool?, and in the end is tragedy. Sadly, this really is my recollection of the book. And don’t feel bad if my recollection is better than yours, I’m not even sure if my memory serves me right.
So why not take a revisit to The Great Gatsby and see what is was all about as well as why it is such a classic.
Jay Gatsby is a mysterious millionaire who is new rich as opposed to old-money. He throws swanky, lavish parties which draws large crowds of people, referred to as “casual moths”, at his place. At one of these parties, Gatsby meets Nick Carraway – the narrator of the novel. Nick is immediately smitten by Gatsby’s charm and seemingly perfect life.
Soon enough, Nick begins to see that things aren’t as they appear and that Gatsby hides more than he shows. We find out that Gatsby was born into poverty in the Midwest, a self-made millionaire through shady business transactions, and his real intention in moving east is to gain back the love of Daisy Buchannan – who is now married to another man (Tom). Oh, and Gatsby isn’t even his real name. To top it off, Daisy Buchannan is Nick’s cousin, but wait, the plot thickens even more.
Tom, Daisy’s husband, has a mistress Myrtle who Nick finds out about through his current lover Jordan. We’ll come back to this later. Anyways, Gatsby convinces Nick to introduce him to Daisy, and eventually Daisy and Gatsby reconnect and begin their own secret love affair. Tom finds out and becomes enraged, but Daisy decides her allegiance is to Tom. Regardless, Tom sends her off.
Later, Tom, Nick, and Jordan are driving together when they see Gastby’s car has killed Myrtle (Tom’s lover). Nick rushes back to Gatsby and finds out that it was actually Daisy who did it, but Gatsby has decided to take the blame. The next day Tom tells Mytle’s husband George that Gatsby has killed her. George, obviously upset by the news, then assumes that Gatsby must have also been Myrtle’s lover. He finds Gatsby at his mansion in his pool, shoots him, and then shoots himself. All this drama makes Nick run back to his home in the Midwest and come to the cynical conclusion that the American dream and all dreams are dead.
Phew, and all that in 180 pages.
So what is the big lesson to be learned?
The greatness of the novel The Great Gatsby has a lot to do with the paradoxical nature of Gatsby himself. He is the personification of the American dream – successful, self-made, popular and seemingly confident. At the same time, he is filled with emotional suffering from placing his values so strongly on climbing the social and economic ladder. He holds a library of books which have never been opened. He is lonely and longs for someone who ultimately does not want to be with him. His story takes a cutting look at the nouveau rich and their false sense of values. Being part of high society also makes one fall victim to it, and Fitzgerald similarly felt the same way about his own life. The Great Gatsby tells the story of the American Dream and its deterioration.
Hopefully t will help you the next time you hear of Great Gatsby and an allusion to it. Just another interesting tidbit, Benjamin Button is based on a short story of Fitzgerald’s.
Have you heard any allusions to the Great Gatsby and in what ways? What else do you think Fitzgerald is trying to tell us? Why do you personally find The GReat Gatsby to be one of the great classics?