Seeing Baz Luhrmann’s recent spectacularly gorgeous and pyrotechnic cinematic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby made many people, including me, curious to return to the source of his inspiration. Luhrmann is a master of sparkle and spectacle, and the film masterfully captured the prohibition era glitz so memorably fetishized by Nick, The Great Gatsby’s narrator, and conflicted protagonist, and received wonderful performances from the academy award winning actors whom he cast in the film. But where his adaptation failed, for me at least, was at capturing the sadness and deep emotional conflict at the book’s core.
The Great Gatsby is a book most readers are only familiar with from reluctant high school reading
The Great Gatsby is more than a story of wealth, glamor, and the endless possibilities of being young, rich, and beautiful in the jazz age. It is, at its heart, ultimately a story about the failure of the American dream. The Great Gatsby is a book most readers are only familiar with from reluctant high school reading, when the depth and scope of the novel were most likely incomprehensible to them. It’s strange that this novel, which for years was regarded as one of the greatest works by one of America’s greatest authors, is, in modern times, almost exclusively read by those too young to understand it in any meaningful way. Sure, young readers will appreciate the text’s glitz and glamor, Fitzgerald’s eye for the absurd, and it’s twisted near soap operatic plot, but it takes a more discerning reader to appreciate the heartbreaking emptiness that lurks just beneath the gilded surface.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to an upper-middle-class Catholic family, at a time when Catholicism was still considered a slightly unsavory hobby by the Protestant ruling classes. The Fitzgerald family was comfortable enough, and even had a notable historical ancestor in Frances Scott Key, F. Scott’s namesake and the author of America’s national anthem. Still, Scotty, as the young Fitzgerald was called, longed to be part of one of the great families he brushed shoulders with in prep school, and during his time at Princeton. This class consciousness wormed its way deep into the young F. Scott Fitzgerald’s soul, and went on to inform the tension that lies at the center of much of his greatest work, including, of course, The Great Gatsby.
Although it is also a love story, a story about the evolution of the American dream, The Great Gatsby is, still, at its core, fundamentally a story about class. Daisy, Tom, Jordan, and, to a more complicated extinct, Nick himself, are all representatives of the upper class, old money world that Gatsby aspires to enter. But from the start, Fitzgerald shows us how deeply empty their lives are, how preoccupied with the esthetics details of their lifestyles they are, how endlessly bored they’ve become with their privilege. By becoming a writer, Nick seems to hope to escape from this meaningless, self-perpetuating consumerist loop. But he just gets sucked in even deeper, lives his life in that milieu, and ends up writing his masterpiece about the very people he claims to despise.
It is clear to the reader from the very beginning that such wealth is nothing to aspire to. But for the mysterious Jay Gatsby, the pursuit of wealth and a social distinction is the only thing that makes gives purpose to his life. Born into a poor family, Gatsby fell in love with Daisy as a young lieutenant in the army, and decided to dedicate his life to winning her through the attainment of an unimpeachable level of wealth and class. But Nick makes it clear that Gatsby loves Daisy as much for her wealthy background as anything else. When rhapsodizing about his beloved, Jay even says that she smells like money. Rather than loving her for her individual characteristics, Gatsby loves Daisy for the world of wealth and privilege she represents, desires not so much to be with her as to be someone who it would be socially acceptable for her to love.
In these times of growing class distinctions, when the gap between the richest Americans and the poorest is wider than at any time in our nation’s history since the great depression, The Great Gatsby paints a startlingly relevant portrait of class relations in American society. We live in a culture that places a growing emphasis on the acquisition of material goods, the attainment of a certain kind of exclusive lifestyle. But Fitzgerald shows readers that money isn’t the highest good, that there are greater things to strive for than material possessions, however, beautiful and impressive they may be.
After all, Jay Gatsby has everything he ever dreamed of, the house, the cars, the luxurious lifestyle, with beautiful women, famous friends and enormous parties in the countryside every weekend. He lives above the law, drinking his way through probation, and his money even gets him the girl of his dreams. But in the end, Nick is the only person who comes to his lavish funeral. As soon as Gatsby is dead and unable to provide them with favors and gifts, his temporary friends evaporate.
Most contemporary readers might think that The Great Gatsby isn’t relevant to anyone over the age of eighteen, that it’s a simple book with no moral content. But lessons like these make The Great Gatsby, along with the rest of Fitzgerald’s works, worth returning to again and again.
“The Great Gatsby” follows Fitzgerald-like, would-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he leaves the Midwest and comes to New York City in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kings, and sky-rocketing stocks. Chasing his own American Dream, Nick lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan” … More
“The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald that follows a cast of characters living in the fictional town of West Egg on prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922. The story primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion and obsession for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan. Considered to be Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, The Great Gatsby explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and excess, creating a portrait of the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties that has been described as a cautionary tale regarding the American Dream.”
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Quotes from the Great Gatsby
Courtesy of Goodreads.com. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
“I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”…more
An Overview from Barnes & Noble – “The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on” …more
(n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_great_gatsby_2013
The Great Gatsby. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Gatsby
The Great Gatsby Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/245494-the-great-gatsby
The Great Gatsby. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-great-gatsby-francis-scott-fitzgerald/1116668135?ean=9780743273565