The Great Gatsby


Scott Fitzgerald and video of The Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.

Now I know why Scott Fizgerald is considered one of the finest American writers. I just finished reading The Great Gatsby. This little novel, just over a hundred pages long, is an absolute gem, a love story that’s also a morality tale. Nick Carraway, the young narrator, starts his story with his father’s advice:

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticising any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

Immediately, we know he comes from a well-off family. Money and status are central to this novel.

Jay Gatsby, the Great Gatsby, was a self-made millionaire who “represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn,” says Nick. Yet they became friends. Looking back — Gatsby is dead when the story begins — Nick says Gatsby  had “an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.” 

They became neighbours when Nick — a Yale (“New Haven”)  man — left his home in the Midwest to “learn the bond business” in New York after fighting in World War I.

He gives these details in a few sentences before plunging into the action, which begins with his meeting with his cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom Buchanan.

He doesn’t know Daisy had an affair with Gatsby five years ago. But Gatsby was a poor army officer who was then sent off to Europe. By the time he returned home and became a millionaire, she was already married.

“Immensely wealthy”, she is also charming and beautiful. “Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget,” writes Nick, recalling the day they met.

Gatsby was still in love with her. That’s why he bought a house near her. But they had never met since her marriage. Gatsby befriended Nick to get in touch with her. There’s a memorable descripton of their meeting in Nick’s house.

Tom, meanwhile, is having an affair with a mechanic’s wife. Vulgar, impulsive Myrtle Wilson, openly scornful of her husband, is a violent contrast to charming, delicate Daisy.

But it’s Myrtle, not Daisy, who comes to grief. In the end, Tom and Daisy will be responsible for the deaths of Gatsby, Myrtle and her husband. But hardly anyone sheds a tear for the victims. Though hundreds of people used to attend Gatsby’s parties, only a handful come for his funeral.

By then we have mixed feelings about him. Nick discovers he was a sham and a crook after all, just as he was always rumoured to be. There’s no excuse either for what Myrtle’s husband did.

But it seems unfair that Tom and Daisy  are not affected at all.  The rich lead charmed lives. Nick, who distances himself from them, writes: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . .”

The Great Gatsby is a sweetbitter story of love and ambition and corruption in high society and the toll it takes on those who aspire to that world. And the prose is simply out of this world.

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