I read this for the first time five and half years ago. I re-read it to see if my views regarding the characters, story, lessons, and values would chaI read this for the first time five and half years ago. I re-read it to see if my views regarding the characters, story, lessons, and values would change after aging over five years. Old people always say that the way they look at novels changes with age. I decided to experiment with the great American novel, and I was not disappointed. My views changed. Probably not dramatically, but I do not view the characters in the same light as I did after my first reading.
Fitzgerald deserves a lot of credit for the way he constructed the characters. His meticulousness shines in their attitudes and character. There is a great deal of necessary vagueness, but that never obfuscates the reader from making an informed decision on who is who and why they are detestable or amicable. I will start with Gatsby. Five years ago, I saw him as the tragic protagonist, one utterly deserving of the reader's full sympathy for his plight, broken dreams, and sorrows. Not anymore. He is free from the deplorable nature of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, but being the most likeable of the least likeable is hardly a plaudits for the eponymous character. His insistence and persistence on a dream is to be commended in a way, but the dream is ethereal and quite frankly, she sucks. She is kind of a slut, too, though my understanding of dating mores in 1918 Louisville is unclear. Six dates with six guys per day, though? C'mon. I can feel sympathy for him when he is fighting for America in World War I and achieving excellence while his dream girl is gallivanting like a recalcitrant nimrod in the Midwest, but I cannot feel sympathy for his inability to let go of the dream and move on to something much better. There is obviously much better. While not presented to us, it has to be that Gatsby would have encountered better girls in his time while he built his wealth or through his extravagant displays of opulence at his mansion. The paragon example of the rich man who does not know how to be rich and overcompensates in hilariously and tragic ill-fitting ways (house is on the wrong side of Long Island, wears a flash pink suit), Gatsby's wealth is merely a means to a wrong end. The means of acquiring that wealth renders him sketchy, as well, but there is something romantic and eminently likeable about bootleggers who defied the idiocy of Prohibition. His life was essentially a waste, especially when it is considered at his funeral that his father saw that he was destined for great things. The foundation to be something great or something greater was set. He was a war hero, but the myopic focus on Daisy makes him quixotic as a compliment; moronic, shortsighted, and a loser as better descriptors. Nick Carraway sees this, as should we. I cannot sympathize with him anymore. If he had used Daisy as a motivation to acquire wealth and after seeing that option was no longer there, had actually changed his life, he would not be so pathetic. Pathetic is what he is, though.
The Buchanans are just wretched people. I am sure readers have no problems transposing them onto modern figures that they know and loathe. Seriously, what abominable people. I did not grasp how scum of the earth they were my first time reading it. Tom is obsessed with non-white people rising in the world. While a system of meritocracy exists, it is only available for the aristocratic. An odd system of aristocratic meritocracy prevails, so that the Tom Buchanans and Nick Carraways can maintain their positions as a powerful and wealthy people from wealthy families once the capital has been created. I doubt Fitzgerald was writing an elegy to the WASP elite, but certainly this is an early harbinger of that. There is only an elite class that Tom is willing to interact with (oddly, they would be at Gatsby's parties), but that class is confined much smaller than just to white. Consequences are not an issue for them because they execute abhorrent acts and escape while others pay for the consequences with their lives. I cringed with Nick shook hands with Tom at the end. He should have knocked his deplorable eyes out of his socket. Nick had declared his friendship with Gastby, despite disapproving of him the entire time he knew him. Much like Carraway, my views towards Gatsby are the same. Gatsby seems like a protagonist when compared to the morally decrepit Buchanans, but overall, he is only marginally better. Fitzgerald goes to great pains to make sure that we do not fall in love with Gastby (though apparently I did the first time) by making him out to be someone who acquired wealth illicitly and pursued a woman not worth a second glance.
The book has been used as a commentary of the American dream, and thus is always remains relevant as a critical read. My takeaway on that front is that it encourages us not to live with tunnel vision. I shudder when Fitzgerald criticizes the people of the East and New York, though I would claim that it is not New York but the ill-fitting aristocratic Mid Western people who ruin it. There are no good characters to be shown. The Wilsons are equally as pathetic, Jordan Baker is whatever defined, and Nick is too much of an observer and not an actor to be counted. It is almost a book of a decay of nothing. There were people here, they did some bad things, some goodness died, and now those people are not here anymore.
I gave it four stars when I read it five years ago. I am maintaining that. ...more
I read this four years ago and it is better than I remember. It helps to have the perspective of the college setting in this, though it would invariabI read this four years ago and it is better than I remember. It helps to have the perspective of the college setting in this, though it would invariably be better from the point of view of a grad student.
In a very subtle and sometimes flagrant way, this novel is hilarious. This is the only book I have read by either Martin or Kingsley Amis, so I am not sure if this style pervades their works, but this is outstanding. The quirks of Britain's university system are exposed beautifully through Jim Dixon. It is difficult to compare it to the American university system, so it might help to understand the British system. Dixon is essentially an assistant or adjunct trying to rise up in the professorial rankings, so that he can earn a permanent job. Of course to do so, he has to impress the Professor of History, Welch, who is a baboon. The trials and tribulations of Dixon jumping through hoops to obtain a job are funny by themselves, but they are enhanced even further by his silly side actions (phone pranks were obviously more novel in the 1950s). Characters like Michele are essential to a university. The overweening, preening, pretentious know-it-all idiot. Dixon's existence as a professor depends on the publication of his obscure piece on shipbuilding and a lecture he is selected to deliver.
Dixon's interactions with women are revealing into his character. It is difficult to ascertain if Unlucky Jim is a sympathetic protagonist. I would argue that he is incredibly unlucky and that he is sympathetic. He has to deal with nothing but utter morons, passing whims of his superiors, and a silly system. Margaret annoyed me throughout; I do not know how Dixon put up with her.
My three favorite scenes are the fight between Dixon and Bertrand (another fool), the lecture, and the prank that Dixon pulls on Bertrand. All three scenes are laughable.
The novel can be enjoyed on its own, but it would probably help to have a grasp of post-war British social, cultural, and intellectual history. I am not sure whether this counts as a post-war novel in that it treats the situation following World War II and its effects on the lives of the characters. Dixon is an RAF pilot, but I did not think the war influenced the characters throughout the book. Regardless, the book will be funnier and easier to understand in the context of 1950s social history. That, in addition to the sheer hilarity Amis provides, is the coup of the book. ...more