Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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May 29, 12

bookshelves: librarybooks, reading-group
Read from May 24 to 26, 2012

‘There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.’

The story of Jay Gatsby is narrated by Nick Carraway. Carraway had graduated from New Haven in 1915, had participated in the Great War and, returning restless, decided to move East and learn the bond business. In the spring of 1922, he rents a house in West Egg, Long Island next to the mansion of Gatsby – a mysterious host of large and extravagant parties.

It seems that few people know anything about Gatsby, so speculation is rife. Gatsby is wealthy and powerful, and knows how to get things done. And yet, while many flock to his parties, he seems to have no friends, only business associates. A man of mystery.

Nick Carraway’s second cousin, once removed, is Daisy Buchanan. Daisy and Tom (and their daughter Pammy) live on the more fashionable East Egg side of Long Island. Nick had met her husband Tom at New Haven and Nick calls on them soon after moving to West Egg. During his visit, Nick also meets Jordan Baker who tells him that Tom has a mistress, and finds that here as well that Gatsby, his parties and his wealth are a topic of discussion. There is a lot of restless energy here, as well as a sense of dissatisfaction, of boredom and of wanting more from life.

Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s mistress, lives with her husband Tom near an expanse of land known as the Valley of Ashes. A wasteland of sorts, between New York and Long Island, constantly under the view of an advertisement for an oculist.

‘But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.’

Through Nick and Jordan, Daisy is reintroduced to Gatsby. She had been engaged to him before her marriage to Tom, back when he had no money. Gatsby still loves Daisy, and hopes to recapture this past romance.

‘‘Can’t repeat the past?’ he cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can.’’

Unfortunately, for Jay Gatsby, he cannot repeat the past. And a series of unfortunate coincidences and tragedies obliterate his future as well as that of the Wilsons. It’s of no consequence to Tom and Daisy, the destruction that they cause and retreat from. They live in and for the moment, without loyalty and without care.

‘They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made …’

‘Her voice is full of money’, he said suddenly.’ And money talks in this novel, but it has to be the ‘right’ sort of ‘old’ money. There is no place for a parvenu like Gatsby, and there are few mourners at his funeral.

It’s been forty years since I last read this novel, and while I remembered the story fairly well, it had a different impact this time around. The first time around I wondered how people could be so fickle and shallow, this time I was more focussed on how Fitzgerald manages to complete such an unsettling story within fewer than 150 pages. All versions of the early 20th century American Dream portrayed in this book are flawed: those who can see the flaws can do nothing and those who strive to live it are doomed to fail. Equality is not realisable.

And if I read it again? Who knows what I’ll think of it.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Naomi Re-reading is an interesting psychological experience. Our experience of reading a book seems to be so connected to our own life experience and mind set. The old adage about no man stepping into the same river twice and all that. It's both humbling and keeps life interesting.


Jennifer (JC-S) I agree with you, Naomi. Always a different experience.


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