The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Welcome back! I just finished reading The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which I had never read before. My kids were more fortunate than I — they just finished reading this book in school and had the benefit of discussions with a teacher who was trained to help appreciate all the symbolism and deeper meaning in the book. I might have enjoyed the book more if I’d had the benefit of this. As it was, I did not like really any of the characters in the book enough to really care about what happened to them, so it was challenging to get through it.
Just to review the story for those of you who haven’t thought about this book in awhile…
The narrator is a man who is a neighbor/tenant of Mr. Jay Gatsby. He observes that Gatsby has frequent elaborate parties in his ostentatious mansion on Long Island. What we come to learn is that Gatsby’s innate drive for wealth and notoriety is propelled to new heights by his love for a woman, Daisy, with whom he’d fallen in love 5 years prior. Daisy is now married to Tom, who is cheating on her, and Gatsby’s goal is to lure Daisy away from Tom. Without giving away the whole story to those of you who have not read the book (or those of you who want to read it again), suffice it to say there are complicated relationships and Gatsby comes to a bitter end.
There is a lot in this book about class relationships — essentially, about the callousness of the “haves” and the jealousy of the “have-not’s.” What seems to matter less to everyone in the story is love, and the denial of the importance seems to bring everyone to their piece of the tragedy. This idea, basically that money can’t buy happiness, is what I see as the take-home message for the reader, but it is almost painful to get to that end.
Unfortunately, each character is almost completely unlikeable. The narrator is a kvetch and is fairly self-righteous in his telling of the story. He frequently promotes his own virtuous honesty but is hypocritical in each of his relationships, appearing to like the other characters but secretly hating them all. Gatsby is probably the most sympathetic character, but he is distracted and uses people to his own ends. Each of the other characters lacks depth and feels very flat, including Daisy. In fact, it is frequently noted that everyone loves her, but it is very unclear — at least to me — why! The conversation between characters is either trite — boring, even — or just outright blunt and vulgar. Worse, though, there is also a lot of chatter about the other incidental characters that feels superfluous and drags out the story without giving it any more substance.
I understand that there is a remake of the movie in the works. I pray they find what I could not in this book in order to make it worth seeing!