Gina's Reviews > The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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Oct 23, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction

Over drinks, I’ve observed—like so many smart alecks—that much of The Great Gatsby’s popularity relies heavily on its shortness. At a sparse 180 pages, Fitzgerald’s masterpiece could be argued to be the “Great American novella.” Gatsby, like so many other short classics, is easily readable, re-readable, and assessable to everyone from the attention-deficient young to mothers juggling a kid, a career, and a long-held desire to catch up on all those books “they should have read but haven’t gotten around to yet”.

I’ve now read Gatsby three times, and I admit that on my first reading during (like handfuls of others) my senior year English class, I wasn’t particularly fond of the book; I believe I used the adjective “overrated” on numerous occasions. Daisy Buchanan seemed like a twit of a woman, and I found Jay Gatsby to be pathetically clawing in his attempt to attain her. Nick, my guide, only annoyed me further with his apparent hero-worshiping of a man I found one-dimensional and his adoration for the kind of woman I’ve seen other men purport to be goddesses, but in fact, are dim-witted simpletons with nice figures.

Over my two subsequent readings—pushed along by friends whose judgment I trusted and who swore the book was “so funny and ironic”—I discovered within Fitzgerald’s fable a sardonic social wit and a heavily layered critique of the American Dream: the poor, working (wo)man rising above his or her social situation to discover money conquers all.

Fitzgerald has a discerning ability for sharp critiques of the economically privileged and, like Jane Austin, has an ear for realistic, bantering dialogue. Through Nick’s narration, we see a world that so many Americans dream of (its enviableness only further accentuated by our open disdain for it): a life of endless parties, delicious food, beautiful clothes, and Paris Hilton. Nick who’s paradoxically drawn to his cousin, Daisy’s, and her husband, Tom’s, lifestyle with gloating contempt echoes the contemporary American idolization of an elite lifestyle that none but a select few attain.

We watch Daisy with her voice that “sounds of money” flit about with uncompromising shallowness and vivacious school-girl frivolity, and through her, see so many of the inconsequential remarks and actions others (as well as ourselves) have made for the sheer sake of “having a good time”. In spite of her frivolity and weak disposition, we become, like Gatsby, “overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.”

Through Gatsby’s veneration of Daisy, we not only imagine what so many Americans desire (success), but also we see the goal and glittering fixation of all humanity: beauty. And like many Americans in the throes of Capitalism, Gatsby believes that money can buy beauty as well as love. Fitzgerald articulates this disillusion with haunting force, particularly voiced through Nick’s obsessive repulsion with the extravagant society his social status has allowed him and the sadness he finds while watching a “working man” attempt to enter it.

One critique of The Great Gatsby, which could also be argued as a positive, is the limited scope of action and themes Fitzgerald chooses to encapsulate. We only see the wealthy elite (or people wanting to be the wealthy elite), and only Nick really has any depth of characterization. Unlike a tome, such as War and Peace, Gatsby fails to have numerous interwoven plotlines within a grand historical context. Yes, the Jazz Age is the novel’s backdrop, but Fitzgerald fails to engage in any discussion beyond a summer among the wealthy youth partying into the wee hours of the night in the West Egg. Yet, the control with which Fitzgerald expresses his limited themes makes the novel’s lack of scope forgivable.

Gatsby is short and easily accessible, and I have no doubt these aspects of the novel do lend to its everlasting popularity. At the same time, it should never diminish its truly admirable ability to tease apart some of the most confounding qualities American culture values: money, beauty, youth, hard work, and the ever effusive, love.
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02/12/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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message 1: by Misty (new)

Misty Dawn Here here! Talk about accessible - if Costanza can make a running joke about it in Seinfeld, you know it's played. Plus that Jay really gets on my tits.

Noel R That is a fabulous review

Andrew Truly great review, well argued and clearly articulated

Fionna think you covered it, I'm one of those mums ha ha!

Daisy Luo Great review

message 6: by Sj (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sj Love it!

Molly I really enjoyed your review. Well done!

message 8: by AMY (new) - rated it 5 stars

AMY I enjoyed reading your review. I also liked the format of this story because it was so very short and easy to read. I found the topic was easy to read to and this kept me picking up the book for several days. I completely loved it. I agree with what you said on historical context and how easily accessible this book is. Have you read any other stories by this author? I was thinking of reading another one of his. Do you know of any other classics by him?

Gina I've read This Side of Paradise and liked it fine. I've also read some of his short stories; the one I remember most fondly is May Day. I'm glad you enjoyed the review; I appreciate the love! Also, a non-Fitzgerald book that I just reread and think is wonderful is The Age of Innocence.

AMY wrote: "I enjoyed reading your review. I also liked the format of this story because it was so very short and easy to read. I found the topic was easy to read to and this kept me picking up the book for ..."

message 10: by Gina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gina Thanks everyone for the nice comments! I'm glad that other people enjoy the review. Happy reading!! =)

Caroline I couldn't agree more when you attribute the popularity of this book to its length. I've read this book multiple times and I still have a hard time seeing why it's a favorite for so many. I enjoy the setting and the descriptiveness but there are many books out there just as good that don't the same amount of credit. I think the shortness and that it is assigned in so many high school and college curriculums make it the favorite modern classic for people who don't read on their own or don't have the time to read.

Kashmir White Sometimes characters are vapid, two-dimensional and cliche because they're supposed to be. Sometimes narrators are just plain icky, and sometimes we're not supposed to be told what to think about certain people, eras or situations. Of course there's the underlying message of Gatsby, about the power to dream and hope as well as the corruption of the American dream. But often a novel's conciseness leaves the reader space to form their own opinions. I will say this: there are shorter books that are so tedious I'd rather have a root canal than read them again. I think this book is worthy of its classic status. It may not appeal to everyone, of course, but I believe the reasons it has endured for so long have nothing to do with its length.

Laura Gillard I really enoyed reading your review! I didn't have to read this book at school which probably helped with my enjoyment, I haven't yet gone back to those I did have to study so was very interesting to read how you found revisting the book.

Michael O'Neill I loved your review. You covered it very well. But, although there is probably truth to your opinion that it's length is part of its appeal, I think It is Fitzgerald's artistry of the English language that makes is so easy to read. Every sentence is perfect. The backdrop of the Jazz Age is simply that -- a backdrop. Reading this book is like drinking water.

Diamond Great review. I'm thinking to reread Gatsby. I wonder if I'll change my mind about my favorite Fitzgerald novel being This Side of Paradise. I really don't think Gatsby was his best work.

Traci At the same time, it should never diminish its truly admirable ability to tease apart some of the most confounding qualities American culture values: money, beauty, youth, hard work, and the ever effusive, love." Love this. Great review!

Cheryl I am glad I went back and read it. Maybe one weekend I will do the movie version marathon. It should make a good film. More complicated books have made successful, if not faithful, transitions.

message 18: by Liz (new) - added it

Liz Sheets Great review!

Jessica Walters Great review.

Susan (the other Susan) Well said. In part, it's brevity might make Gatsby the most American of all the classic American novels.

Susan (the other Susan) Its not it's. Autocorrect is my enemy.

Jossue I actually think I might go and read it again when I'm older because I agree as a high school student it's not the same.

David Gocool I concur

Virginia You have not mentioned what to me is particularly notable about this novel. I often ask myself, was Fitzgerald particularly prescient in 1925, or would any wise man see what was coming? The Great Gatsby is a fine metaphor for what was coming in 1929-1930:: it depicted a circus-tent speculative-bubble that would suddenly fold when common- sense met illusion (nick Caraway met Gatsby, Daisy/atom)

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