Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Great Gatsby

Having read F. Scott's Fitzgerald supposedly classic novel, This Side of Paradise, I felt compelled to read another of his works. I wanted to decide if I really considered him as a classic author, who my kids should read.

While The Great Gatsby was not as much of a stinker as This Side of Paradise, I didn't feel particulary enriched or enlightened by it. Basically, it's a story of lovers, cheaters and fabulous wealth set in New York City and Long Island of the roaring twenties.

The whole story is seen through the eyes of a midwestern guy, Carraway, who is out in New York trying to make his fortune. He seems like a decent guy, and I kept wondering all through the novel why he was hanging out with such trash. Even though almost all the characters were "upper crust", they were losers.

The main character, Gatsby, is ridiculously attractive and mysteriously wealthy. He tries throughout the story to win back Daisy, the woman loved before the war. Mostly, he hopes she will be so dazzled by his wealth and possessions that she'll fall once again into his arms. Problem is, Daisy is married to the brutish, violent Tom. Plus, she is basically a shallow, weak person.

There are various subplots that mostly made me feel hopeless about humankind, and don't deserve mentioning.

There was one line right in the beginning of the novel that I loved. Carraway's hope for his future blossomed as he considered the summer ahead of him:

"There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down out of \
the young breath-giving air."

I think Fitzgerald caught the magic of being young and healthy, with so much fresh life ahead.

At the end, the author sums up the lameness of his characters pretty succinctly:
"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - 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 had made..."

The book was mildly entertaining, in a voyeuristic way. Like a glorified soap opera, with good dialogue. But, like Paradise, Gatsby left me wondering if people were, or are, as shallow and cruel as his characters. Maybe they were just the people that existed in F. Scott Fitzgerald's mind.