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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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's review
Mar 10, 2008

Read in March, 2008

The Great Gatsby is the story of a presidential primary.

—I’m sorry; my notes must be confused here. Ah yes. Let me begin again:

The Great Gatsby is the story of the emptiness of the American Dream. Set in and around New York City in the 1920’s, Gatsby explores the lives of the rich as they pursue fulfillment in an era of booming stock markets, prohibition, bustling crime bosses, and jazz.

Three figures dominate a cast of smaller, if no less compelling, characters, and the novel is narrated by the American People—I mean, by Nick Carraway.

From the outset, Nick identifies the eponymous character, Barack—excuse me—Jay Gatsby, as having an “extraordinary gift for hope.” Transplanted from the Midwest, he arrives with a splash, builds a magnificent fortune, and draws great varieties of people to his parties. With his good looks, his air of confidence, and his rise from anonymity, Gatsby is an emblem of America.

But the details of his life are unknown for much of the novel, and there remains an element of mystery that inspires many but repels others. People project onto him their own romantic or terrific vision of who he is: a war hero, the nephew of Kaiser Wilhelm, a murderer, or even the second cousin of the devil. In this way, he is as much a symbol of our own human imagination as he is of America’s possibility.

More familiar to Nick, however, is Daisy Fay, Nick’s second cousin once removed, and her wealthy husband, Bill Clin—I mean: Tom Buchanan, whom Nick knew in college. And yet, Nick acknowledges that they were yet “two friends whom I scarcely knew at all.” Nonetheless, it is Nick’s involvement in Daisy and Tom’s struggles with Gatsby that drive the novel.

For, Daisy and Gatsby were lovers years ago, and Gatsby still represents all that Daisy wishes for and desires. Yet, to secure her prosperity, she married Tom. By so choosing, Hillary—I’m terribly sorry… I must clear my notes. Let me try again—By choosing to marry Tom, Daisy comes to represent the struggle of all women in the 1920s. Women had just won the right to vote and many, like the flappers, began to explore women’s new freedoms in society. Caught in this conflict, Daisy assays to present a formal and composed visage, but her humanity—alternating between sadness and ecstasy—seems to reveal itself most in moments of tears.

At one point, it seems ecstasy will triumph. When Gatsby and Daisy first reunite, it is the stuff of dreams: “It was the hour of a profound human change and excitement was generating on the air.”

But this was not meant to be. Daisy’s husband Bill, er, Tom, we realize, is the dominating force. We first meet Tom “standing with his legs apart” and moments later discover that he has a history of affairs. He is sturdily built and, in Nick’s mind, “would drift on forever seeking a little wistfully for the turbulence of some irrecoverable [past].” At one point, he also reveals unsavory predilections when he declares, “Civilization’s going to pieces… Have you read 'The Rise of the Coloured Empires’ by this man Goddard?” In moments like this, Tom’s stamp of authority and will seem to take the air out of a room. Gatsby, he even charges, “threw dust into [Nick’s] eyes.”

Writ large, The Great Gatsby questions the nature and successes of all three characters. Gatsby, the dreamer whose smile has “a quality of eternal reassurance in it that you may come across four or five times in life,” proves ephemeral; Nick disapproves of him one moment, but later has “renewals of complete faith in him.” Tom and Daisy, on the other hand, “were careless people…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made.”

But reevaluated most of all is Nick. When Gatsby meets a tragic end at the hands of a misguided delusional, and when Tom and Daisy abandon everyone, Nick also rejects the very dream that brought him East.

Nick writes the story in retrospect, as if to confront his own complicity. “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope,” he says, but his hope evidently runs out. Overcome by the “foul dust” and “grotesque reality” stirred up by the Buchanans, and without Gatsby’s “romantic readiness,” America—

Nick, that is—

…is “borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Liz (last edited Apr 06, 2008 08:10AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Liz This is an OUTSTANDING review. This should be published somewhere with a wide audience and soon!

message 2: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan yes soon! so the world can discover this exciting new book!

Fire-fish This is one of my favorite books, how pleasing it is to discover your story behind it.

Rnlockett I enjoyed your review even more than the book itself!!

Sarah I always felt Nick left after Gatsby died because of the Gatsby represented the American Dream he was pursuing. Once he died, there was really no reason to stay east as he was there for the American dreams. I'm glad he realized what careless awful people the Buchannas were.

Sarah Oh I'm sorry, I forgot, great review!

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