The Great Gatsby is a classic Jazz Age contemporary novel penned by American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book centers around the wealthy elite of Long Island in New York City. The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, an unbiased and unopinionated narrator of the events related to the Summer of 1922 spent in the mansions of the rich on Long Island, especially the mansion parties of the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby. The Great Gatsby, like most of Fitzgerald’s novels, is based on his personal life, especially the time he squandered his money on high living and grand parties with frivolous and shallow people from the elite sections of society. In The Great Gatsby, the mysterious and famed Jay Gatsby makes the acquaintance of his new neighbor Nick Carraway, the narrator, during several parties he holds at his mansion. Gatsby invites a random host of famous and rich people for his parties, all or most of whom he does not know personally. The fact that these people still come to his parties and in droves indicates the elite’s desperation for attention and to have fun and gala time at another’s expense. As we read The Great Gatsby through Nick Carraway’s eyes, we are astonished and then incredulous at the number of unknown people Jay Gatsby invited to his parties. Like Nick, we are curious to know more about Jay Gatsby but fail to do so until the novel’s end. At the end of the book, we realize how simple Jay Gatsby was, or rather James Gatz’s beginnings and how his luck, ambition, good looks, excellent conversational skills, and meticulousness managed to transform him into the rich millionaire he became and came to be famously known as – Jay Gatsby. The novel The Great Gatsby brings to light one man’s ambition where his love interest was concerned, his wrong notions on loyalty in romance, and his utter ruin because he trusted too much in material wealth instead of good character, values, and sound morals. The Great Gatsby, apart from the fact that everyone seems to want to equate it with Fitzgerald’s own life, is nevertheless a brilliant example of the moral decadence of the rich in American society of the 1920s. The world of Gatsby seems like a Jazz Age Babylon where money can seem to buy anything, so long as you have the money!
In this book review, I’m going to stress the major themes of the text and crucial aspects like the title, the climax, and the character’s relationship with each other. The main themes of this novel, The Great Gatsby, center around life in the Jazz Age, which is considered one of the most remarkable periods of contemporary American history and is written about even today. It describes what Americans call ‘the flapper’ culture, the age of jazz music, and the time when a lot of economic prosperity was seen in American elitist society, with most people spending their money on grand parties because they did not know any better way to spend their money. The colorful descriptions of Gatsby’s parties are probably an actual depiction of parties held during 1922, the year in which this story is set. It depicts the blossoming of American culture after the Great War and America coming out as a great Superpower during that time.
The Great Gatsby as a title alludes to the great and legendary people among the party-goers at Jay Gatsby’s mansion. Nick Carraway hears all sorts of rumors and tales, famous and infamous, about Gatsby’s life. However, the real story of his life will only be told to Nick on the evening when Daisy runs down her husband’s mistress while in Gatsby’s car. Gatsby, in desperation, then tells Nick the story of his life. More inputs about Gatsby’s life are provided by Meyer Wolfsheim, the Jewish Mafia personage, and Gatsby’s father, the only relative who comes to Gatsby’s funeral. Many false rumors were circulating about Gatsby, who seemed as it were to have achieved the American Dream. He had managed to become a successful millionaire who could afford to hold lavish parties and serve liquor to his guests like tap water. However, we notice that Gatsby’s ‘greatness’ was not about the false claims about his life which most probably he himself circulated. Instead, the greatness of Gatsby lies in the fact that as a young boy with a dream for excellence, he rose to become a millionaire striving stubbornly to have his idea of love and perfection fulfilled to impress the woman he loved. Indeed, when one reads the last part of the story, one feels for this otherwise very naive character who thought that his Daisy was as faithful to him as he was true in every way to her. His passion for her fueled his American Dream. After they met, he realized that she was far more prosperous than he could ever be. He was determined to do well for himself and give her whatever she was accustomed to. When he realized she had married, he was determined and stubborn enough to believe that Daisy would still remember him and continued becoming richer. Gatsby’s iron determination and eye for detail are what make him stand out as a classic character in American literature.
The Great Gatsby is a mix of romance, drama, suspense, and thriller. It seems to have everything that one would want in a great novel without being overbearing. Fitzgerald has appeared to sculpt the characters alive for the readers without the overpowering quality we would see in a British novel. Unlike Maugham and Forster, Fitzgerald does not have conclusive endings to his plot lines and sub-plots. Indian readers will easily recognize many instances in this novel which define the American way and theme of writing. The Great Gatsby would influence most American writers who would emulate its writing style. Fitzgerald himself seems to be significantly influenced by John Keats, R. D. Blackmore, Oswald Spengler, and Sherwood Anderson. However, one senses the undercurrents of antisemitism and racism, which is very uncomfortable to read until one realizes that Fitzgerald was trying to paint Tom as a villain and so was showing how pea-brained he was to believe that ‘whites’ were superior to the immigrant ‘blacks’ and ‘other races’. Our low opinion of Tom is set in place right at the beginning of the novel with a heated reference by Tom to a racist book in the market talking about ‘superior races’ and ‘inferior ones’. This ideology of Tom sets the scene for the confrontation with Gatsby. ‘Mr. Nobody’ and Gatsby’s strange and vague origins made the pea-brained Tom think that Gatsby was colored.
However, the central theme is about the pretentiousness of the elite, wealthy, rich, and famous in the 1920s and, I guess, in every age. We notice the brutal irony that as long as Gatsby hosted his grand parties, no one cared whether they knew him or not; everyone came to enjoy themselves at his parties. However, on the day of his funeral, only three people accompanied the hearse: Nick, Jay’s father, and an old guest called ‘Owl Eyes’ who seemed to know Gatsby by the books in Gatsby’s library and so truly respected him. Other than Gatsby’s servants and these three individuals, no one else attended the funeral. As a winner, Gatsby was a loner and died a loner, a loser in love and life. Gatsby’s massive expenditure on his parties was futile and useless. It did not give him lifelong friends nor tempt Daisy over to his side. The parties drained Gatsby’s finances, and his dissatisfaction with the fact that Daisy was not deciding to be his was lowering his spirits. We see this distinction between the economic classes cropping up throughout the text. Nick Carraway seems to be the bridge between everyone from different sections of society who had dealings with the Gatsby-Daisy affair. We see the life of the middle class through the life of the Wilsons, especially Myrtle Wilson, the mistress of Tom who yearns for the luxurious life Tom bestowed on her. We see the arrogance of Tom, able to get anything that he wanted, and the way he had power over his frivolous wife Daisy, whom he ruled with his money power. We see the image of all entrepreneurs in Jay Gatsby who, for the sake of love, tried to climb the social ladder using dishonest means and Meyer Wolfsheim’s help to grow rich. He did this in desperation for the sake of love. However, even Daisy rejects Jay because he is not as wealthy as Tom and because she was not the woman he thought she was – the ideal woman. Gatsby mentions to Nick that Daisy reeked of money, which was something that motivated him and demotivated him at the same time. Therefore, in The Great Gatsby, we see the many layers of the economic classes, the frivolities of the rich, their boredom with life, their rash thinking, and their relaxed dispositions. This is especially seen in the couple Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who, on the spur of the moment, think of peculiar ideas to pass the time and who do not know what to do and how to spend all the money they have.
Jay tries to be like Daisy and Tom, but he is too good and genuine to be like them. He was chivalrous, engaging, determined, and motivated but madly in love with a wrong woman. We, therefore, come to the next theme of this story, love. The fact is, whether it be the love between Jay and Daisy, Tom and Daisy, Tom and Myrtle, or Nick and Jordan Baker, we realize that only Jay’s relationship was intense, and that too only where Jay’s maddening love for Daisy was concerned. There are several indications in the book that Jay was disappointed with Daisy’s behavior as a woman. But nothing could have been worse than the confrontation scene at the hotel when Daisy claimed that she loved both Tom and Jay but could not make up her mind. Also, when Jay blamed Daisy’s car accident on himself, it was painful for him to see Tom and Daisy pack up and leave the place without Daisy even having the decency to speak with him. One sees that Daisy was only in love with money and was never worthy of Jay’s love. She was having an affair with him to pass the time, and in no way did she want to leave Tom. She was using Jay, which is the typical behavior of the rich in every society. Where Tom and Myrtle are concerned, we realize that Tom was a male chauvinist pig who found nothing wrong in having an affair with a woman despite being a married man. However, he takes offense when he finds Daisy has an affair with Jay. Myrtle is oblivious of Jay Gatsby, but because of the misunderstanding regarding her death, her husband, George Wilson, shoots Jay Gatsby and then takes his own life. Where Nick and Jordan are concerned, they were only in love with each other because they were thrown together so much during the many summer parties at Jay Gatsby’s place and everything surrounding the Gatsby affair. At the end of the story, they too realize that they should go their separate ways. The love stories intersect very beautifully, especially in the thrilling part of the tale about the car accident. Jay realizes that Daisy would never be his ideal woman and does not think of him when with Tom. It is possible that if George Wilson had not murdered Jay Gatsby, Jay would undoubtedly have died of heartache.
Obsession with money, parties, and elite lifestyle is the crowning moments of this novel titled The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald does a beautiful job in vividly detailing for the reader the descriptions of the parties held at Gatsby’s place, which brings back to one’s mind the essence of the Jazz Age, an age in American Culture with which not many Asians are familiar. Through the descriptions of the cars, machines, and technology of that time, we see how far America was progressing scientifically and how the rich squandered their money on movies, gambling, liquor, and much more. Jay is a misfit at his own parties, a complete failure. He always seems to stand out because he is genuinely the ideal that he sought in Daisy. If Jay had tried to reason with himself, he would have realized that his so-called ‘love’ for Daisy was nothing but infatuation, and he should not have allowed it to grow into an obsession. On reading the text, Nick and we think the whole idea incredulous that to gain Daisy’s favor and seem rich in her eyes, Gatsby used to hold these parties and throw away money carelessly. But the truth is that he was doing all this for love. His American Dream had deeper connections to his half-finished love story, which he wanted to reclaim from Tom. However, he could not beat Tom where money was concerned because Tom was far more prosperous and less emotional than Gatsby.
The love story between Daisy and Jay seemed doomed from the start. Nick notices it, and so does Jordan, but they keep silent as Tom is also having an affair. Here we see the theme of sexuality cropping up where we notice that Daisy seems to be a weak heroine, always wanting a crutch with an excellent bank balance to fill her needs. On the other hand, Jordan Baker is independent and an athlete who controls her emotions and is very focused compared to Daisy. Jordan is more resilient though she has a lot of pretensions about herself. Like Nick, she helps us link the Daisy-Jay and the Tom-Myrtle story together. Myrtle Wilson hates her hen-pecked husband, whom she thinks is weak and prefers the attention of Tom. Tom lavishes money on Myrtle like one would do on a pet. The symbology of the pariah puppy Myrtle picks up with Tom’s money symbolizes Tom picking Myrtle up from the lower ranks of society to be his mistress. Just as Myrtle is fond of the puppy, Tom is fond of her. But he certainly does not care or love her per se. Thus, we see three central women figures here in this novel titled The Great Gatsby, all different from each other. I am sure not one girl in the twenty-first century would want to emulate them.
The novel is a page-turner, is easy to read, and can never be dated. Indeed, it is an American Classic that has influenced and is still influencing writers both in America and abroad with its lucid prose, excellent analysis of characters, various themes, and driving plotline. I have tried to focus on the novel’s central themes in my book review and have purposely neglected Fitzgerald’s role in the text. I hope to do so soon. The moral to this story is about the pretentiousness of materialism which would be dwelt upon in the coming decades more closely, especially by American philosophers. The decadent parties full of beautiful people only added temporary fame to Jay Gatsby. Ultimately, it did not lead him to his lady love. I would have idealized him as a true genuine personality, but we must remember that he achieved his monetary success through dishonest means. Thus, money cannot buy everything. True love is not what wealthy Daisy had for Jay or Tom. We can sometimes find true goodness even in the rich, though most of the time, their perversity and ignominy make them appear more barbarian than human.
I enjoyed reading and reviewing this American classic titled The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I hope to read, review and analyze more of Fitzgerald’s novels in the coming weeks. If you are interested in reading my reviews of Fitzgerald’s short stories, you can check them out here. If you are interested in reading another American classic, you can check out my adaptation of the American Classic by Washington Irving titled The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. If you want to read a gentler American classic novel written as a diary, you can check out my adaptation of Jean Webster’s Daddy-long-Legs. I hope to read, review and analyze more American books soon.
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