**spoiler alert** The Great Gatsby is probably one of the more misunderstood and polarizing classics. Read simply at face value, one may take very lit...more**spoiler alert** The Great Gatsby is probably one of the more misunderstood and polarizing classics. Read simply at face value, one may take very little from it, and probably find it a dry, unpleasant experience. However, there’s so much going on in this novel under its seemingly simplistic surface. It’s a novel that is definitive Jazz Age, giving us a glimpse into this time period. It’s a novel about one man’s blind ambition to relive the past, to become the “self-made” man and recover love’s past. It’s stylish and poetic, illustrating the pursuit of a hopelessly romantic quest with lyrical, thoughtful prose. It’s also social commentary, the shallowness and superficiality of society and the principle characters projected before us. It’s also a novel depicting those of the Lost Generation, who, disillusioned, try to find their identities and place in the world after the war.
Told from a different perspective, The Great Gatsby might not have been the same story. Nick Carraway, at the novel’s outset, reflects on the story of Jay Gatsby, coming to the conclusion that Gatsby’s optimism and “extraordinary gift for hope” are quite unrivaled, and that “Gatsby turned out all right in the end.” This, despite Nick’s disapproval of Gatsby. Gatsby’s pursuit of the American Dream comes in the form of rekindling the past love of Daisy, Nick’s distant cousin. As Nick is thrust into the world of Daisy and Tom Buchanan and their circle of people, he comes to know of Gatsby initially only through rumors and stories. When he does finally meet Gatsby, he finds that there is a good deal of murkiness and mystery about the man and his past. Gatsby projects an image of grandeur that Nick is skeptical of: Gatsby hosts big parties, has a fancy car and nice clothes, a mansion, has “connections”, and seems to be the end all of wealth and lavishness. Yet, for all this, Gatsby wants to relive the past, to have Daisy admit her marriage is a lie, and return to him. Nick, as an outside observer of this quest, builds a friendship with Gatsby, even though there is still an aura of mystery about him, even though he is critical of Gatsby. To Gatsby, Nick recollects, anything is possible, even recovering lost time.
Yet, there is a tragic quality to The Great Gatsby on line with a Shakespearean play. Gatsby is that Romantic hero, but suffers much like Hamlet, with a fatal flaw that blinds him and propels him towards impending doom. Nick, reflecting on all that transpires, comes away with a more introspective and complex viewpoint about Gatsby and the various other characters. He sees through the façade that many build up around him. Perhaps Nick’s reflections are best summed up when he turns to Gatsby late in the novel and says, “They're a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
Fitzgerald’s novel is an enduring work, not only because of its depth, structure and quality, but because of its ability to examine the success and failures of dreams, the beauty and destructive power of ambitious goals.
Similar to many classics, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has a wide range of both fans and critics. One controversy that seems to always surface is the...moreSimilar to many classics, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has a wide range of both fans and critics. One controversy that seems to always surface is the use of the “n” word in the novel. In many ways, though, Twain’s use of the word was a realistic depiction of the South at this time. The overuse of this word is a bit of an irony because I think Twain’s intent is to illustrate how ugly this word is, and by not “sugar coating” it or other dialect contained in the novel, Twain is actually making a strong case against it, as well as other racial injustices at the time.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic because it has so much more going for it than just its adventurous side. This is a novel about morality, how we should treat others fairly and with justice. This is a novel that exposes the ugliness in the world for what it is. It is a novel about one boy’s transformation and need to make difficult choices. It’s about showing society’s ironic sense of justice, and through use of satire, breaking these down. Twain, through “no good Huck Finn”, shows us that life’s lessons come not from regulations put in place, but rather from experiences through other humans. There are many times when Huck has to choose between “good” and “bad”, and is often at odds with himself, but the ironic thing is that his intentions to do “good” make him feel like he is doing bad.
Freedom comes in several forms in the novel. Huck’s journey to self-realization and understanding the world comes within his journey on the raft after he escapes alcoholic, abusive Pap, and finds Jim. They meet with many different character types—some no good scoundrels, some genuine.
On the raft while heading down the Mississippi River, Huck breaks free from the burdens on land, and tries to experience the world. Additionally, freedom is explored through Jim attempts to escape slavery.
Jim, in many ways, is Huck’s saving grace, a father-type figure who helps Huck question society’s actions and impulses, especially with the issue of slavery. Jim helps Huck contemplate the world’s hypocrisy and immorality, especially man’s inhumanity to man, which Huck sees firsthand through the Grangerford/Shepherdson feud, and the Duke and the King’s despicable behavior towards the Wilks family. In short, Jim helps Huck grow up, and become a more thought-provoking character.
On another level, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is just a fun, entertaining, imaginative and often humorous tale. Huck’s episodes come alive with his imaginative spirit. He lives by the moment, and hates to be tied down to anything (such as being “civilized”). Moreover, this book is a satire that pokes fun at society’s conventions, although doing so in a light-hearted way. This book is one of my favorites, and, in my opinion, Twain’s crowning achievement. (less)
John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is an epic novel in many ways, but ultimately has a simple message that anyone who has had setbacks or struggles...moreJohn Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is an epic novel in many ways, but ultimately has a simple message that anyone who has had setbacks or struggles can relate to. It’s the story of the underdog. This underdog is fighting for a piece of the American Dream during the harsh 1930s Depression. Those migrant “Okies” who trekked west weren’t out to conquer; they just wanted to make ends meet, to be able to work, to survive, to provide for their families. In our current state of economic woes, we can identify with crisis these people faced-- the risks, the work involved, picking up and leaving everything: possessions, cherished items, homes. All this for the prospects of a better future that California and the West seemed to symbolize. It was a difficult journey and many didn’t make it; those who did often found out that the “land of milk and honey” wasn’t as rosy as the handbills indicated.
The conflicts of this journey West, the spiritual fight, is what Steinbeck depicts in a raw, poetic, realistic way that it is no wonder The Grapes of Wrath has become such an important novel for its historical perspective as well as literary merit.
Within the framework of the novel, we follow the Joad family—a microcosm of the displaced family having to head out West. The novel also shifts from the Joad’s story to “bigger concept” chapters dedicated to illustrating what the migrants were facing. Tom Joad, after being released from prison, finds Jim Casy, former preacher, and they discover that everyone from the Joad clan appears to be heading out. With little prospects, they make the journey with the family, and we follow along, encountering the many conflicts along the way. There are those who cling to their roots, who are skeptical about the prospects of California, those like Grandpa Joad and Muley Graves, who believe leaving is a form of defeat. However, with bleak prospects, the move is imminent and necessary, even though they realize it will be a tough road ahead.
Among the characters, Ma Joad, Jim Casy, and Tom Joad emerge as prominent figures. Ma Joad, the leader of the family who holds down the fort when things begin to falter or break apart; Jim Casy, the former preacher and spiritual man who sees the deeper soul of humanity; and Tom Joad, the rebel who makes strides to transform his character, to carry on Casy’s fight and the fight for his people, who speaks for an entire group when he says “I’ll be there.”
The Grapes of Wrath, on one level, connects Depression era migrants with the dream of heading west and finding some semblance of an idyllic existence. Although many dreams are dashed, it is the struggle of this journey that becomes a main symbol. On another level, this novel is a picture of a time period, people trying to make it and survive, something we all relate to, which Steinbeck aptly and poetically captures. This is a timeless novel on many levels. (less)