THE GREAT GATSBY – BOOK REVIEW

About the book

The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel by American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in the Jazz Age on Long Island, near New York City, the novel depicts first-person narrator Nick Carraway’s interactions with mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and Gatsby’s obsession to reunite with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan.

Gatsby continues to attract popular and scholarly attention. Contemporary scholars emphasize the novel’s treatment of social class, inherited versus self-made wealth, race, and environmentalism, and its cynical attitude towards the American dream. Criticisms include allegations of antisemitism. The Great Gatsby is widely considered to be a literary masterwork and a contender for the title of the Great American Novel.

Characters

Nick Carraway – a Yale University alumnus from the Midwest, a World War I veteran, and a newly arrived resident of West Egg, age 29 (later 30) who serves as the first-person narrator. He is Gatsby’s neighbor and a bond salesman. Carraway is easy-going and optimistic, although this latter quality fades as the novel progresses. He ultimately returns to the Midwest after despairing of the decadence and indifference of the eastern United States.

Jay Gatsby (originally James “Jimmy” Gatz) – a young, mysterious millionaire with shady business connections (later revealed to be a bootlegger), originally from North Dakota. During World War I, when he was a young military officer stationed at the United States Army’s Camp Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, Gatsby encountered the love of his life, the debutante Daisy Buchanan. Later, after the war, he studied briefly at Trinity College, Oxford, in England. According to Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda, he partly based Gatsby on their enigmatic Long Island neighbor, Max Gerlach. A military veteran, Gerlach became a self-made millionaire due to his bootlegging endeavors and was fond of using the phrase “old sport” in his letters to Fitzgerald.

Daisy Buchanan – a shallow, self-absorbed, and young debutante and socialite from Louisville, Kentucky, identified as a flapper. She is Nick’s second cousin, once removed, and the wife of Tom Buchanan. Before marrying Tom, Daisy had a romantic relationship with Gatsby. Her choice between Gatsby and Tom is one of the novel’s central conflicts. Fitzgerald’s romance and life-long obsession with Ginevra King inspired the character of Daisy.

Thomas “Tom” Buchanan – a millionaire who lives in East Egg and Daisy’s husband. Tom is an imposing man of muscular build with a deep voice and arrogant demeanor. He was a football star at Yale and is a white supremacist. Among other literary models, Buchanan has certain parallels with William “Bill” Mitchell, the Chicago businessman who married Ginevra King.Buchanan and Mitchell were both Chicagoans with an interest in polo. Also, like Ginevra’s father Charles King whom Fitzgerald resented, Buchanan is an imperious Yale man and polo player from Lake Forest, Illinois.

Jordan Baker – an amateur golfer with a sarcastic streak and an aloof attitude, and Daisy’s long-time friend. She is Nick Carraway’s girlfriend for most of the novel, though they grow apart towards the end. She has a shady reputation because of rumors that she had cheated in a tournament, which harmed her reputation both socially and as a golfer. Fitzgerald based Jordan on Ginevra’s friend Edith Cummings, a premier amateur golfer known in the press as “The Fairway Flapper”. Unlike Jordan Baker, Cummings was never suspected of cheating.The character’s name is a play on the two popular automobile brands, the Jordan Motor Car Company and the Baker Motor Vehicle, both of Cleveland, Ohio,alluding to Jordan’s “fast” reputation and the new freedom presented to American women, especially flappers, in the 1920s.

George B. Wilson – a mechanic and owner of a garage. He is disliked by both his wife, Myrtle Wilson, and Tom Buchanan, who describes him as “so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive”. At the end of the novel, George kills Gatsby, wrongly believing he had been driving the car that killed Myrtle, and then kills himself.

Myrtle Wilson – George’s wife and Tom Buchanan’s mistress. Myrtle, who possesses a fierce vitality, is desperate to find refuge from her disappointing marriage. She is accidentally killed by Gatsby’s car, as she mistakenly thinks Tom is still driving it and runs after it.

Story plot

Nick Carraway, a young man from Minnesota, moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to learn about the bond business. He rents a house in the West Egg district of Long Island, a wealthy but unfashionable area populated by the new rich, a group who have made their fortunes too recently to have established social connections and who are prone to garish displays of wealth. Nick’s next-door neighbor in West Egg is a mysterious man named Jay Gatsby, who lives in a gigantic Gothic mansion and throws extravagant parties every Saturday night.

Nick is unlike the other inhabitants of West Egg—he was educated at Yale and has social connections in East Egg, a fashionable area of Long Island home to the established upper class. Nick drives out to East Egg one evening for dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, an erstwhile classmate of Nick’s at Yale. Daisy and Tom introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, a beautiful, cynical young woman with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. Nick also learns a bit about Daisy and Tom’s marriage: Jordan tells him that Tom has a lover, Myrtle Wilson, who lives in the valley of ashes, a gray industrial dumping ground between West Egg and New York City. Not long after this revelation, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle. At a vulgar, gaudy party in the apartment that Tom keeps for the affair, Myrtle begins to taunt Tom about Daisy, and Tom responds by breaking her nose.As the summer progresses, Nick eventually garners an invitation to one of Gatsby’s legendary parties. He encounters Jordan Baker at the party, and they meet Gatsby himself, a surprisingly young man who affects an English accent, has a remarkable smile, and calls everyone “old sport.” Gatsby asks to speak to Jordan alone, and, through Jordan, Nick later learns more about his mysterious neighbor. Gatsby tells Jordan that he knew Daisy in Louisville in 1917 and is deeply in love with her. He spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dock, across the bay from his mansion. Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle and wild parties are simply an attempt to impress Daisy. Gatsby now wants Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy, but he is afraid that Daisy will refuse to see him if she knows that he still loves her. Nick invites Daisy to have tea at his house, without telling her that Gatsby will also be there. After an initially awkward reunion, Gatsby and Daisy reestablish their connection. Their love rekindled, they begin an affair.

After a short time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Gatsby stares at Daisy with such undisguised passion that Tom realizes Gatsby is in love with her. Though Tom is himself involved in an extramarital affair, he is deeply outraged by the thought that his wife could be unfaithful to him. He forces the group to drive into New York City, where he confronts Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza Hotel. Tom asserts that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby could never understand, and he announces to his wife that Gatsby is a criminal—his fortune comes from bootlegging alcohol and other illegal activities. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom contemptuously sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attempting to prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him.

When Nick, Jordan, and Tom drive through the valley of ashes, however, they discover that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Myrtle, Tom’s lover. They rush back to Long Island, where Nick learns from Gatsby that Daisy was driving the car when it struck Myrtle, but that Gatsby intends to take the blame. The next day, Tom tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was the driver of the car. George, who has leapt to the conclusion that the driver of the car that killed Myrtle must have been her lover, finds Gatsby in the pool at his mansion and shoots him dead. He then fatally shoots himself.

Nick stages a small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to the Midwest to escape the disgust he feels for the people surrounding Gatsby’s life and for the emptiness and moral decay of life among the wealthy on the East Coast. Nick reflects that just as Gatsby’s dream of Daisy was corrupted by money and dishonesty, the American dream of happiness and individualism has disintegrated into the mere pursuit of wealth. Though Gatsby’s power to transform his dreams into reality is what makes him “great,” Nick reflects that the era of dreaming—both Gatsby’s dream and the American dream—is over.

Review

Reading classic literature has its own perks- you get to travel back in time, develop its relationship with the present, and explore the future. No doubt, The Great Gatsby has gone down as one of the most critically acclaimed works in American Literature which pigeonholed Francis Scott Fitzgerald as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. I have had a hard time grasping the narrative at once though. Thanks to Fitzgerald’s complex symbolism with elegant proses. The phrases are lyrical and poetic. Frankly speaking, I was googling more than I was reading the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The Great Gatsby is an essential commentary of the Jazz age- the gaudiest era in American history; the roaring twenties. F. Scott Fitzgerald portrayed America as it was losing its moral compass in a post-world war race to materialism besotted with a rapacious lifestyle. This is a book with intrigue and flawed characters struggling with a multitude of issues- coming to terms with one’s past, frantically pursuing self-serving motives, decadence, oscillating between imagination and reality, unfulfilled dream, lost love, loneliness, romance, and tragedy. Gatsby is at the center of narrative whose obsession with his lady love navigates us through the American that has lost its moral compass. One can not afford to miss how this poignant tale of longing and disillusion will end. But, it is not only the love story that you are looking for. It is also the description on the dark side of a resplendent America in the 20s and how uncompromised avarice could lead to terrible consequences. Jay Gatsby is the character that will surely live with you for a long time after you complete reading. The writer deserves plaudits for how subtly he explores all the themes mentioned above comfortably in a few pages. Shortness of the length of the book-just 200 pages- is its most appreciated point. Fitzgerald succinctly cut from one scene to another without causing any lacunae in the narrative. I felt a bit irritated only because of the complex language and elongated metaphors employed by the writer. After I completed reading, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it despite struggling through the pages for meanings. The Great Gatsby is not only a great piece of literature. I think it is is a great piece of art as well. I can’t wait to see its movie adaptation and to re-read it again sometime in the future.