The Great Gatsby (Book Review)

Title: The Great Gatsby

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Publication Date: 1925

Publisher: Charles Scribner’s Son (1925); renewed in 1953 by Francis Scott Fitzgerald Lanahan

Production copyright: 2013 by Audible, Inc.

Narrated by: Jake Gyllenhaal

The Plot

In 1922, Nick Carraway moves from the Midwest to New York’s Long Island neighborhood called West Egg. West Egg is a neighborhood comprised of the region’s nouveau riche, setting itself at cultural odds with the old money neighborhood of East Egg across the bay. His next door neighbor is a mysterious man named Gatsby known for his lavish parties and for the fact that no one knows the source of his wealth.

Carraway has a social connection to East Egg through his cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom, who attended Yale at the same time as Nick. East Egg is the old money neighborhood across the bay from Wet Egg and its inhabitants look down on the garish displays of wealth from their West Egg neighbors. Nick renews his social relationship with Tom and attends a party in New York City with him. At the party, Nick meets Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson. She lives in an industrial area between East Egg and New York City and is also married. During the party, Myrtle relentlessly teases Tom about Daisy until Tom strikes her in the face, breaking her nose and effectively ending the gathering.

Nick eventually gets an invitation to a party hosted by his neighbor Jay Gatsby. At the party, he spends time with Daisy’s friend Jordan Baker and forms a romantic relationship with her. He also meets Gatsby for the first time. Gatsby pulls Jordan away from Nick in order to speak with her alone. Nick learns more about his neighbor from her after she speaks with him.

Gatsby confesses to Jordan Baker that he knew Daisy when they were both much younger and she was living in Louisville. He tells Jordan that he loves Daisy and that he spends his nights staring at the green light on her dock from across the bay. He tells her that his lavish parties have all been an attempt to get her attention and to impress her. He wants help from Jordan Baker to arrange a meeting.

Nick Carraway thus invites Daisy over to his home in West Egg, for tea, and he arranges the meeting so that Gatsby can stop by while she is there. The meeting is arranged and after an initially awkward greeting, Gatsby and Daisy rekindle their romance and begin an affair.

Sometime later, Gatsby is invited to the Buchanan home. He stares at Daisy, in front of Tom, to the point that Tom realizes Gatsby is having an affair with her. Tom does not say anything to Gatsby about his realization right away. Instead, he insists that their party travel to New York City first. While there, he confronts Gatbsy. Tom tells Gatsby that he knows the source of his wealth and implies – in front of Daisy – that Gatsby arrived at his wealth through law breaking. Gatsby counters by telling Tom that Daisy never loved him. Tom scoffs at this, reminds Daisy of some of their own romantic history, and Daisy cannot bring herself to tell Tom that she never loved him. Gatsby realizes, though he denies it to himself, that Daisy’s loyalty is still with Tom. Tom is so self-satisfied that he has ruined Daisy’s infatuation with Gatsby that he tells her to ride home with him. Nick and Jordan Baker ride back to East Egg with Tom.

On the drive home, Tom, Nick, and Jordan discover that Myrtle Wilson was struck and killed by Gatsby’s car. Tom is heartbroken and convinces her husband that the car belonged to Jay Gatsby. Myrtle’s husband believes that the driver of the car was also her lover. He believes that because she chased the car, seeming to know it, out onto the road. However, Nick learns upon returning to East Egg that the driver of the car was not Gatsby – it was Daisy.

Myrtle Wilson’s husband tracks down Gatsby. He shoots and kills him outside his mansion. He then turns the gun on himself and commits suicide. Nick Carraway decides to provide Gatsby a funeral and learns that despite surrounding himself with people, Gatsby has no actual friends. Other than Gatsby’s father – who is amazed and impressed at the wealth acquired by his son – only one other person attends the funeral. Nick finds himself disgusted with all of the wealthy people in the East and feels a late camaraderie with now deceased Gatsby. Tom and Daisy go on with their lives as though nothing has happened. Daisy never writes or make mention of Gatsby, to Nick, again. Nick subsequently decides to return to the Midwest.

MY REVIEW:

This is a truly great book. It is unbelievably well crafted with almost no words wasted or poorly chosen. Thematically it feels as relevant today as when it was written. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Jake Gyllenhaal’s narration.

THEMES:

  • Superficially, this is a book about star-crossed lovers and extraordinary steps taken by Gatsby to uncross said stars. This effort is tragic, however, both in the sense that he ultimately fails and moreso in the sense that we learn Daisy was probably not worth his efforts.

    We leave the novel wondering what a man like Gatsby might have accomplished had his boundless energy and ingenuity been directed as something better.
  • Beneath the surface, this is a book about the corrosive influence of wealth on the American people and “the American Dream.”

    The novel’s setting is Long Island in the Roaring 1920s. However, the book is a reflection of the state of things “in the East” in particular. The wealth and opulence of the characters in the novel are in contrast with the social and moral failures of nearly every character we meet. Fitzgerald provides us with a sense of emptiness about all of this wealth. Gatsby is a financial success but does not care for any of what he has achieved. Daisy is a financial success through her marriage but she is unhappy with Tom. Tom is born into wealth but he is restless, cruel, and openly unfaithful to his wife. Even Gatsby – who we are largely led to care for – builds his wealth via bootlegging and organized crime.

    The one character who seems unaffected by the described corruption is Nick Caraway. He seems to owe his immunity to good advice from his father and his experiences during World War I which seem to ground him in reality. As a result, he is able to properly contextualize his lavish surroundings while so many others fail.
  • One interesting element of the novel’s examination of wealth is the contrast between the portrayals of old money and new money. Gatsby represents new money. He lives in an ornate mansion, wears a pink suit, drives a Rolls Royce, obtained his money through crime, and he flaunts his money in a hope to impress. His new money partygoers are portrayed as insincere, gossips, and they ultimately betray Gatsby’s generous parties with an unwillingness to even attend his funeral.

    Old money, as typified by Daisy and Tom, does not flaunt its money as brazenly. In fact, old money looks down on the West Eggers. We read through the description of Daisy’s home and her white flowing dress that the old guard possesses better taste. However, we also see that the old money in this novel seems almost completely lacking in compassion. Daisy and Tom seem almost indifferent to the lives lost in the wake of their behavior. Fitzgerald describes them as careless. Rather than dealing with the aftermath of Myrtle and Gatsby’s death, Tom and Daisy simply move away. Gatsby, who obtained his wealth through crime, at least has a sincere heart. However misguided his love might be, he genuinely loves Daisy.

    Ironically, Gatsby dies because he wants to protect Daisy and he sacrificially takes the blame for Myrtle’s death.
  • The American Dream is a focus of the novel. Generally, the shared American belief in upward financial mobility is viewed positively. However, Fitzgerald paints the characters in the novel as taking the pursuit of wealth too far. In the process of pursuing and obtaining more, they lose themselves. Daisy loves Gatsby but decides not to wait for his return from the war. Tom marries someone suitable rather than someone he loves. Gatsby throws his life away chasing after a woman whose ultimate loyalty is to money rather than to him.

    We are even led to believe that actually obtaining the American Dream might not be possible in one’s own lifetime. Gatsby obtains a vast amount of wealth but finds himself unaccepted by those in East Egg. He also finds himself on the wrong side of the law. In the end, despite all of his efforts, he is unable to overcome the financial station into which he was born.

QUOTES:

“In my younger . . . years my father gave me some advice . . . “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one . . . just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

“Why they came East I don’t know. . . . I had no sight into Daisy’s heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.”

“I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all—Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possess some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life. Even when the East excited me most, even when I was most keenly aware of its superiority to the bored, sprawling, swollen towns beyond the Ohio . . . it had always for me a quality of distortion.”

“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—”

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and . . . then retreated back into their money . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Final Thoughts:

I have always enjoyed this novel. It reminds me of the “rich people problems” television I grew up with, except that it is arguably more well written than “Beverly Hills 90210,” “The O.C.,” “Gossip Girl,” and their ilk.

Now I’m reimagining this book as a movie performed by the cast of 90210 (the original run of that show, not the unfortunate reboot.) Jason Priestly is obviously Gatsby. Shannon Doherty is Jordan Baker. Ian Zeiring is obviously Tom… why didn’t this happen?

One hundred years after this novel’s publication, Americans are once again lavishly wealthy in some locals, the influence said wealth continues to corrosively corrupt our pursuits and our morals, and thus the novel and the themes in this book continue to be releavant. I recommend a re-read if it has been a while.

Addendum: On the theme of rich people problems on TV, I read the scene where Gatsby dies while humming “Hide and Seek” (Mmm, Whatcha Say) by Imogene Heap. I know most of you under 30 will not understand that reference. You’ll have to trust me that it’s funny.

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2 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby (Book Review)

  1. Of the classics I read in school most of them I didn’t care about, a few I liked, the Great Gatsby I hated with burning fire of a thousand Star Wars fanboys tweeting about The Last Jedi

    1. Lol. I appreciated it in HS for its extreme brevity if nothing else. Initially on this listen I was annoyed by the plot. Young kids today would call Gatsby a “simp” I think.

      But I have a deep appreciation for how skilled Fitzgerald is with sentence structure and word choice. He can tell a coherent story without making me read thousands of unnecessary paragraphs of description.

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