Book Review: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - 1925

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a fictitious tale set in the early 1920’s New York, and told from the perspective of Nick Carraway–the only character in the book with some sense.

The movie does have something to do with me reading the book. I like to generally read a book before I see a movie so that I can decide if the film was a fairly accurate summarization of the published work (which it normally is not, however I do deem some movies sprouting from books to be satisfactory). With that being said, I likely won’t see the movie until it comes out on DVD. It depends on whether I actually make it to the theater before the movie is gone.

Maybe I should mention now, if you haven’t read it…there may be spoilers here. Also, I have no real format for my reviews at this time. I guess I am going to blog about it how I would likely talk about it. I am not trying to convince anyone to read it, I am only writing my thoughts and opinions.

Anyway, back to the review. This was a pretty fast read for me at 179 pages. It begins with some background about the storyteller, Nick, and it rolls on with the events that brought him to live in a house next door to Mr. Jay Gatsby. Around page fifty I began to get frustrated because Mr. Gatsby still had not made an entrance into the book personally besides being viewed from a distance. I began to form silent questions in my head as I continued reading. Where the hell was Gatsby, and why was he considered so great? Hm.

I began to think Gatsby was someone concocted in Nick Carraway’s fictitious brain. I knew better than that though. I had read a book synopsis.

The main players in the book are:

  • Nick Carraway – A man nearing thirty who came to West Egg, Long Island to be close to the city in order to build a career in the bond business. As I said above, he is the only character with any sense, reasonable moral compass, and is hesitant to judge others before he truly gets a feel for their character.
  • Jay Gatsby – Nick’s rich neighbor who possesses great mystery about himself throughout Long Island and into New York City. He hosts raucous parties on the weekends where uninvited guests constantly show up. Everyone seems to “know” him, but few really do. Gatsby is really a fellow who does not have a care in the world–except for one: Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby built his world in order to impress her. It is hard to really put his character into words. He is fairly self involved and scatterbrained.
  • Daisy Buchanan – She is rather naive and oblivious to the real world. In actuality, she is a frivolous twit (seems many of the characters in the roaring twenties were frivolous twits). She is a cousin of Nick’s, married to Tom Buchanan, and they have a child. She was a former lover of Gatsby. Little does she know, Gatsby lives directly across the bay from her home in order to feel closer to her.
  • Tom Buchanan – Husband of Daisy and former college peer of Nick. He is rather judgmental and scrutinizing towards others. He believes anything related to scientific studies must be true and enjoys having passionate outbursts about these scientific ideas. He looks the part of a successful man with a successful marriage, but behind closed doors his relationship with Daisy is distant and unfaithful. He is having an affair with a married woman.
  • Jordan Baker – A professional female golfer who has an indifferent attitude towards most things. Nick and Jordan have a casual relationship that isn’t focused on much. She has frequented some of Gatsby’s parties, and is a friend of the Buchanans. She is used as an accessory by Gatsby to arrange the initial meeting with Daisy.
  • Myrtle Wilson – Tom Buchanan’s mistress. She is married to a garage owner and lives in the Valley of Ashes. Her husband’s business is not doing well, but she gets a taste of a better life being the mistress to a rich man. Her affair with Tom indirectly is the end of her.
  • George Wilson – Myrtle’s poor husband. He owns his no-name garage in the Valley of Ashes. Times are tough for him, and he eventually realizes Myrtle has cheated on him. He isn’t really a prominent character until the end of the book.

It seems as if most individuals read this in their high school or college years. I had not. I suppose this book is considered a contemporary classic, and I can see why. F. Scott Fitzgerald had a beautiful way with words, and his characterization skills paint a good picture of the personalities of his characters.

Gatsby, for example, appears to be living the life of dreams. He is mysterious, somewhat self absorbed and sly–a schmoozer you might say. Ultimately, he has built his life on a lie and on dreams fueled from the past. Even though he is not an honest character (built his fortune from organized crime involvements), it appears he would like to be fairly honest with Nick and Daisy (only about certain things), unless it causes Daisy to dislike him. Many readers are enticed by love stories no matter how tragic they might be, and Gatsby’s love story makes him endearing by evoking the reader to feel a bit of pity for him. He really got the stick in the end. Not only did life rob him of love, but love robbed him of life.

Most of the other people in the book bothered me. I love reading fiction that takes place in a different time period, but were so many people in the twenties this careless and annoying? The way the characters often acted, they reminded me of this not-so-well-known movie my mom and I were lucky enough (sarcasm) to catch on TV where some rich aristocrats were staying at a mansion, and over the course of the night their behaviors began to devolve into animalistic tendencies. Their conversations made no sense. They were fragmented thoughts thrown together. The dialogue in The Great Gatsby is like this in some parts…as if human interactions were emptied of sincerity and depth. Maybe that is what Fitzgerald intended to do. If he created shallow dialogue with the characters who were meant to be disliked, the reader would side with Gatsby’s cause.

I truly felt Nick’s disgust at Tom and Daisy. I agreed they both were like children. Neither of them could take responsibility for their actions. They lacked some sort of inability to foresee the results their actions could yield. I would have liked to see them feel a bit of guilt for their parts in the madness.

One thing I was curious about that I am often curious about when I read a book, are locations and historical details. I wondered if there really had been a Valley of Ashes. It was described as a gray desert of poverty and ruin that the rich had to travel through in order to reach NYC. I wasn’t sure if it was a metaphor for something Fitzgerald was trying to convey, or if it was a physical location. It is a metaphor, but it also really existed as a location where the ashes from coal furnaces were dumped when they were collected from the city. You can read more about the Valley of Ashes at this website. Interesting!

I would recommend this book regardless of the characters in it being frustrating. If you have already read it, what were your thoughts? Feel free to share!

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