The Great Gatsby – Discussion (SPOILERS!)
Before you read this, I’d like to warn you that yes, this is a discussion full of spoilers. If you wish to read the spoiler-free review of The Great Gatsby, click here.
For my whole life, I have had the unfortunate displeasure of never reading this great novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In high school, my AP English course focused on Steinbeck, another great writer, and never got to The Great Gatsby. At the time, I honestly had no interest in the novel because I was somewhat skeptical based on some comments I had previously heard including the time era and the structure of the novel. However, a film adaptation was going to be released in May and I was intrigued by the trailer. I’ll admit that I am a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio and therefore decided to read the novel so I could watch the film afterwards. When I was shopping at Costco, I saw the book and finally decided to read it and I can assure you I did not regret one moment of it.
To say that The Great Gatsby is just a romantic tragedy is far too simple in my opinion. Underneath the drama, the romance, and the tragedy, we can uncover a philosophy that reflects on the expectations people have when it comes to the famous American Dream. I know that I am in danger of repeating what every other critic says when writing this review but I still hope to retain my own individuality.
I will begin with the following quote from the first page of the novel.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” (Fitzgerald pg1)
This was a piece of advice that the narrator, Nick Carraway, received from his father. You see, Nick came from a “prominent” family from the Middle West and he found himself moving to a small estate in New York so he could work in Wall Street where the bonding business was blooming. Nick also seems to be a follower rather than a leader and this is why he makes a good narrator for this novel. As the plot progresses, we see how his tolerance fails because soon, he looks down upon everyone other than Gatsby. Ultimately, Nick judges society as a whole and I can only help but agree with some of the messages thrown out throughout the novel. Before speaking about Gatsby however, I think it is necessary to discuss all the other less likeable characters.
First, I should visit Tom Buchanan, the shameless man who married Nick’s cousin. Tom attended college with Nick and therefore, we are able to receive a small back story from Nick. He says Tom was a rich man during his college years and he believes Tom never really felt satisfied with himself because everything after his accomplishments as a football player at New Haven was only anticlimactic. He is an extremely unlikeable character and that is being quite generous. He cheats on his wife, Daisy, with a married woman by the name of Myrtle Wilson and shows no shame at all. He even allows Nick to meet Myrtle knowing very well that Nick is his wife’s cousin. He seems to to hold some racist views and it is easy to quickly notice that he is a condescending man. He really does believe he is of higher class and brags about his “culture” and his “science”. This man is a jerk and there’s no denying it, but I feel that ultimately, his purpose in this story is to push the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy into an uncomfortable position that would remove the mask that Daisy has in front of her face.
Daisy is an interesting character, but regardless of that I learned to despise her far more than Tom Buchanan. Daisy is an enchanting woman who has managed to trap Gatsby with her charm. She is a symbol of high class and but is also a symbol of the unworthy. Gatsby had met Daisy in the past but had to leave her and return much later as a rich man in order to have a chance with Daisy. While Gatsby was away, Daisy found herself marrying Tom and they really don’t seem to have a healthy relationship. Her husband cheats on her, she seems so fake at times, and she doesn’t seem to care about her daughter. She’s not a secure person because she struggles making decisions and this is one of the factors that plays in the fall of Gatsby.
Now we can get to the great man himself. It is Gatsby who seems to be the greatest man in the world, but at the same time the most foolish. He’s enormously wealthy and his parties are as great as they can possibly be. The Roaring 20′s is a time of extravagance, luxury, and wild behavior and it shows every time Nick gets to go to these parties. Everyone goes to Gatsby’s place uninvited. They all speculate on the man’s past and some spread some very negative rumors while drinking Gatsby’s alcohol under his hospitality. Nick was invited to one party and later realized that he was not interesting enough to deserve an invitation. No, Gatsby had his own agenda and we learn that Gatsby is in love with Nick’s cousin. He met Daisy before the the first world war but his lack of class forced him to leave and after years he has now moved to West Egg, where just across the bay he can see Daisy’s place at East Egg. He hosted the parties in hope that she would walk to his place one day but I felt that he also wanted to surround himself with people in order to create a better image of himself so Daisy could see that he was more than a simple man now. A green light was visible just at the dock across the bay, and this symbolized how far away he was from reaching a dream that seemed ever so close.
Nick Carraway agrees to invite Daisy over so that she could receive the big surprise of seeing Gatsby again. This was one of my favorite parts of the book due to its awkwardness, a feeling which we have all had experience with at some point. But yet, there’s an admirable romance within this awkwardness. I was pleased with this meeting and felt an inner joy because Gatsby had finally made his first move. Right away I began to root for this mysterious man partly due to his charming attitude but also due to my dislike for Tom Buchanan, something that I had not yet forgotten.
We see Gatsby show off his estate, his clothes, his belongings and I could not help but think that Gatsby was buying her. Gatsby doesn’t only feel attracted to Daisy. He finds her valuable due to her wealth, her class, and her position. She was a rare gem and losing her before only made her more important to him. Her marriage with Tom also added to her worth in Gatsby’s eyes because she became the impossible dream that could be grasped if he tried hard enough. I began to believe that Gatsby didn’t really love Daisy; she was an obsession. He didn’t want Daisy. He wanted the green light he had seen across the bay. Daisy was not the kind flawless beauty Gatsby had put on a pedestal. Gatsby created a new character in his own mind and this was his way of holding on to the past he had never fully enjoyed. However, he later had to face the facts; Daisy was nothing like this imaginary character.
Later in the book, Tom finally discovers that Daisy had a relationship with Gatsby and we see the tension rise as Nick is forced to watch. Tom confronts Gatsby, realizing that he is losing his possession. We learn that Gatsby has a mask as well because some of his lies are revealed when Tom calls him out on them. He’s not the Oxford man people were led to believe. He only went to Oxford for a few months after the war which is a blow to Nick because he had trusted Gatsby. Gatsby retaliates and tells Tom that Daisy never loved him and he pleads to Daisy, wanting her to admit that she has never loved Tom and this happens to be just too much for Daisy.
She hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and me with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing — and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all. (Fitzgerald pg132)
At this point, I began to wonder whether Daisy loved Gatsby or Tom at all. This small quote indicates that she had never intended for her relationship with Gatsby to be revealed and her hesitation shows that her love for either of the two men could be doubted. She tells Gatsby that she loves him and that the past isn’t important anymore. She says she did love him Tom once and this is a big blow to Gatsby who wanted to “reboot” their lives. Tom then reveals that Gatsby was a bootlegger and Gatsby’s image as a man who made an honest living soon began to crumble and Daisy slowly slipped away from him.
I was surprised when I realized that I really didn’t care much for Gatsby’s “crimes”. Regardless of his dishonest rise to wealth, I still admired Gatsby for his determination. Most people in this novel don’t make an honest living and most of their wealth didn’t come from their own hard work. Of course, America abandoned Prohibition long ago and therefore I don’t see it as a crime but when compared to the other less likeable characters in this novel, I felt that Gatsby had a noble cause and in this era, people simply ignored the means as long as they got to their goal: wealth.
Tom took the initiative and made Daisy go home with Gatsby in Gatsby’s yellow car. Afterwards, Tom gave Nick and Jordan a ride. To Tom’s dismay, there was a commotion up the road. Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s other woman, was dead after being run over by a yellow car. Tom has lost one of his possessions, making Daisy even more valuable to him. Tom rushes home while Nick, waiting for a taxi, sees Gatsby hidden by the bushes. After they start conversation, Nick realizes that it was Daisy who was driving and Gatsby declares that he will take the blame. This selfless act only made me estimate him even higher but when Nick attempts to look at Daisy and Tom and sees them together conspiring, I quickly realized where this was going. Gatsby was a hopeful fool.
The next day, Nick visited Gatsby, who expected a phone call from Daisy so they could take off. Nick didn’t dare crush the man’s hope and his dreams, so he left and told him these last words:
“They’re a rotten crowd.” … “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
I agreed because by this time, I became cynical about the other characters. It’s hard not to become cynical about society as a whole when reading this novel because it emits such a negative mood and the ending sure helps push you in this direction. Wilson, the dead woman’s husband, went to Gatsby’s house and shot him before committing suicide.
The last chapter is incredibly depressing due to the way we see Nick cope with Gatsby’s death. Policemen, photographers, and nosy people invaded Gatsby’s estate. Myrtle’s sister, Catherine, insisted that Myrtle was happy with her husband and never cheated on him, which allowed the press to declare Wilson a mad man. Nick couldn’t care less because his concerns were focused on the abandonment of Gatsby’s body. For all the parties he hosted, none of his “friends” came to pay their respects. Gatsby, who sacrificed his life for his love for Daisy, did not get one visit from her. Only his father appeared (and also a man Nick met at his first party) so in the end, Gatsby had a quiet, lonely funeral.
It was quite interesting because as a reader, you can see how fake it all was. All those parties, ultimately, were hollow because no one was a real friend to Gatsby. No one cared. All that rich extravagance, the crazy jazz, the drinking and dancing — it was all fake once you have dug below surface.
Nick caught up with Tom some time later and Tom confirmed that he told Wilson about Gatsby. Nick reflected on their personality by calling them careless people who went around causing problems leaving behind the remains for others to pick up. Nick returned to the bay and thought of the green light. He reflected on how Gatsby had looked at that light with longing, hoping to grasp it not knowing that it had already escaped him.
Here is the ending, the best part of the book:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
This is arguably one of my favorite quotes from all literature. It’s simplicity and elegance really highlights Fitzgerald’s talent as a writer. Fitzgerald continues to expose the foolishness of men who follow dreams that cannot be obtained. Sometimes, people try to relive their past like Gatsby, hoping to correct where they had previously failed, not knowing that you cannot change the past.
Throughout the novel, we see that the American Dream has been corrupted by the wine, the elegance, and the wealth which would soon disappear. People’s priorities were not in the right place. There was a hollowness in the people and we saw how materialism prevailed and morality declined. People like Daisy did not care for love, they want to be objects. They want to feel cherished and valued by others, even if it hurts those other people. Gatsby was a victim of this and it led to his grave.
The green light is an amazing symbol that sticks in your mind for days. It’s brilliance and elusiveness is what makes it so beautiful but it is not as close as it seems. It is an illusion. Gatsby failed to realize that between him and the light was an infinite stretch of water.
Was America this empty back in the Roaring Twenties? I could not answer that because I only know what the history books tell me. They tell me of rising stocks, a love for jazz, and an increase of wealth with the Great Depression around the corner. However, is America like this today? Do we still have a love for materialism and other unworthy goals? I think that to a certain extent, we do.
Today, our country has a swagger like arrogance that reminds me a lot of Tom Buchanan. We feel like we have accomplished everything and are at the top of the world but at the same time, we complain about the country’s misfortunes and the separation between the upper class and the lower class is as big as the bay that separated West Egg from East Egg. To a certain extent, society has been “dumbed down” and our morality has been pushed away by other concerns such as money, power, and the illusion of importance.
However, I like to take a positive view full of hope, like Gatsby. I hope that we can improve one another rather than selfishly lunge ourselves at the opportunity to help ourselves, even if it means hurting others in the process. There are many people around the world who dedicate their lives to helping others and it is these people that give our society hope. It is time to revisit the American Dream and make sure that we have finally found a dream worth fight for because unfortunately, there are some dreams that are worthless and Gatsby’s death is evidence of that.
Posted on September 20, 2013, in Classics, Discussion, Romance and tagged American Dream, Daisy, F Scott Fitzgerald, Gatsby, Great Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nick, Roaring Twenties. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.