To reserve judgment is a matter of infinite hope
I’ve read this book twice now because I can’t quite get it the first time. The narrator, Nick Carraway, was so detached. He can’t really be trusted. And the tragic hero, Gatsby, was delusional. I had to remind myself after some background reading that the American Dream in the 1920s was the pursuit of wealth, no matter the consequence. And that was what Fitzgerald was trying to represent in this novel.
That living an easy and fast life does not result in happiness.
In Franzen’s The Corrections, the role of technology in our lives and the emergence of new ideas and industries fairly depict the contemporary American culture and experience. I mention this book because in a way, Fitzgerald wrote for his generation as Franzen wrote for his.
In the Great Gatsby, we read about Nick who, after serving in the first world war, goes to Long Island from the west, and tries to make something of himself in New York. Then he connects with the Buchanans, Daisy and Tom. Tom was his classmate in Yale while Daisy is his cousin. As he spends more time with the Buchanans, Nick discovers that they’re the most bored, most scandalous, and most careless people in the East. Later in the story, he regrets meeting them in the first place.
Gatsby is Nick’s wealthy neighbor who is given to theatrics. He built a mansion and every Saturday night, he populated it with people who are attracted by his display of luxury. In short, he is a legend because of his big parties, which Jordan, Nick’s love interest, describes as ‘intimate’.
Meaning: you can do almost anything in big parties and get away with it——cheat, lie, get drunk, get high.
And it is this theme of loose morals, loose codes and values that is present all throughout the novel like some loud jazz music to which every dancer is welcome to dance himself senseless. Fitzgerald captured the energy and fizz of the fast life so well that his characters all struggle to cope with it.
There’s this one poignant scene that I can’t forget because of what happens to Gatsby in the end. It was when Nick met Gatsby the morning after the fight with the Buchanans:
I thanked him for his hospitality. We were always thanking him for that—I and the others.
This is a failed love story between a man, who invents his persona and wealth, and a beautiful woman, who can offer nothing else than the sweet melody, the sound of money in her voice. It’s an empty dream and Gatsby will know in the end that reality is more complicated than what he had invented for himself. That happiness is more elusive and that his means to get it does not make him a correct man.
I read a story of a man who carries The Great Gatsby around because reading it over and over makes him feel like a genius. I think I feel the same now. I think I’ll read this again and again until some sentences and their meaning grow on me.