What’s behind the enduring appeal of The Great Gatsby? The lives and dreams of its star-crossed lovers? Or the fact that it reads like a dream?
Reading it again, I was utterly entranced, such is F Scott Fitzgerald’s gift as a writer. He can show you beautiful people and places and make music with his words.
I fell in love with Daisy at first sight – when Nick Carraway, the narrator, describes her for the first time:
I looked back at my cousin who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. 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: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.
Daisy is sweet, beautiful, vulnerable. But, though she means no harm, other people die because of her. Their tragedies don’t affect her, however. She and her husband, Tom, continue to live in luxury. Nick, the narrator, remarks on the unfairness of the rich leading charmed lives while others suffer:
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 about money and class – and romance and aspirations, too. Jay Gatsby, the “Great Gatsby” of the title, is a self-made man whose past includes disappointment in love.
He and Daisy were in love, but he went off to fight in the First World War, and then she married Tom. Gatsby can’t forget her. When they meet again, they are drawn to each other… with fatal consequences.
Gatsby is a romantic hero, a tragic figure, but he is corrupt — a bootlegger with other shady dealings. He is an outsider. Celebrities flock to his parties, but society has not opened its doors to him. Only Nick and a few others attend his funeral.
Nick muses on Gatsby’s fate – the aspirations that made him a fortune but failed to gain him acceptance. The story ends with a haunting meditation on the pursuit of elusive dreams. Nick sits outside Gatsby’s house, facing the sea, thinking:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. … And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
That’s what makes The Great Gatsby so special, a romance touching on dreams and aspirations that sometimes verges on poetry.