The forever assigned novel, The Great Gatsby. Unlike many, I never was assigned Gatsby in school, since I homeschooled. In recent years, it’s even become a banned book (for ridiculous reasons), so new students may not even read it; which I consider a mistake. Before I read this book, I considered it terrible. I had opened it up again and again, read the first five pages, and set it down once more with a, “Pah!” of disgust. I hated the writing at the beginning of this book. It was dense, dull, utterly uninspiring. Some of the imagery was gorgeous, but I could feel my soul dying from the beginning of this book. Spoilers for the novel, beware.
Pushing through, the novel picked up around the first party at titular character Gatsby’s house. Finally, something clicked. The story flowed, and I dropped into the world of Nick Carroway. That’s when I began to understand why this novel has stood the test of time and become great literature.
The Great Gatsby is not about Nick. It’s not even about Gatsby. The story revolves around society life of that era and the characters Daisy and Tom Buchanan. Daisy is a complacent character- a perfect little fool, as she put it- and that’s what she needed to be. Even through the eyes of Gatsby, who was dearly in love with her (or obsessed, as it often reads), she is seen as a charming, rich woman who offered a doorway into a world he had never hoped to see before. Half of his description of when he met her is less about her and more about the lifestyle she lived- and his obsession with reaching something of that level was born there.
I believe that Gatsby believes he loved Daisy. What I actually think is that he loved what she represented to him. When he, having reached the epitome of his own success, goes back to find his lost love, he even admits that it’s not the same and that Daisy is not the same. By the end of the novel, he is disenchanted and lost by this feeling that everything he thought would happen, won’t. Daisy, a weak-willed woman who floats through life in an even more eerie way than her friend Jordan Baker, claims she loves Gatsby but also loves Tom, and while she likes the rush of adrenaline Gatsby can provide, she can’t quite give up the imperfect life she already has. She knows her husband is a cheater- but when he says he loves her, she falters. She says she’s leaving him, but in the book it is described as “with great effort”- and when they sit together and talk things out, Nick describes it as “not happy but not unhappy either”.
Fitzgerald’s writing of this is subtle and beautiful. The romantic notes are deeply romantic, in the way that a single line can be enough to make your heart ache. The characters might not appear to be well developed- until the end of the novel, when you fill in the blanks with assumptions. He’s a heavily showing author, who puts in the hints and lets the reader form the picture. Except, of course, for his elaborately well-written descriptions, of which imagination is barely necessary.
Of course, the love affair of Daisy and Gatsby doesn’t really matter in the end. Tom’s own messy affair with an audaciously awful woman that I believe was used only for sex and never for the life Tom was promising her, was a truly intriguing part of the novel. His emotions at the end of her life were a nice touch, but I believe that they were more out of the fondness he had grown for her than any deep love. His bold lie comes to the novel’s end by way of a murder-suicide- one of the victims being the great Gatsby (the murder), the other being the husband of Tom’s lover (the suicide). This end was not well described, and in fact, was extremely subtle- caution, you have to know how to analyze to enjoy this book.
However, my favorite part of the novel comes with how the death of Gatsby is treated. Throughout the entirety of the novel, Gatsby is regarded as someone bigger than life. Then, his father comes to attend his funeral; and the scenes with that man, as he says goodbye to his “Jimmy”, the boy that he claims was going somewhere and would have done great things, were heartfelt. It was humanizing, and exactly what Gatsby’s character needed. The second thing that humanizes Gatsby is the actual number of people who attended his funeral. For all those glitz and glam parties, and all the people Gatsby loved and whom loved Gatsby, none of them said goodbye. Not even Daisy or Tom, who vanished on a trip last minute.
It was a crushing blow, an emotional hammer on the chest, and one that made this novel one of my new favorite classics. Not because I enjoyed the read- admittedly, the writing never stopped being hard to focus on, and I had to push through to read it. If someone says they’ve read this novel beginning to end, that’s an accomplishment. But rather, because of the implications of this novel. The societal commentary, the human nature of truly shitty people like the big, brutal Tom and his ditzy wife, both waltzing through life without a care of the destruction they may cause.
All of this is told through bystander Nick’s view. I would like to say he’s Gatsby’s only friend, but he wasn’t. He was just a man with some relation to Daisy, who happened to be present for the events; the downfall of the great Gatsby. But he was a man who listened more than he spoke, understood more than he said, and honored Gatsby in the end. He stood for Gatsby when Gatsby’s “friends” did not. For that, he becomes a great character, and holds this story together.
As a piece of literature, I think that this novel exemplifies its genre. It shows great literary devices, story writing implementations, and brilliant characterization. I doubted it, because it’s such an annoying novel to read; but then you do, and you sit and think about it, and the weight of it falls. A great man… just a man… and the people who screwed him over, whom many would consider “great” because of the picture they paint.