Friday, November 14, 2014

The Great Gatsby

Title:  The Great Gatsby
Author:  F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publication Information:  Scribner. 1925 (original publication). 180 pages.
ISBN:  0743273567 / 978-0743273565

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Favorite Quote:  "And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy."

Do an Internet search for "Great Gatsby," and you get millions of hits. Books upon books have been written about The Great Gatsby. Many consider it to be F. Scott Fitzgerald's greatest novel. The Modern Library has ranked it second on its list of the 100 best novels. On the competing Radcliffe Publishing Course's list of the 100 best novels, it ranks first. It is required reading in many English courses, and has been deemed a "classic" - something judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind (dictionary definition of classic).

An interesting side note - F. Scott Fitzgerald commission artist Francis Cugat to create a cover for the book as he was writing it. The cover art was completed before the text of the book. The eyes on the cover show the reflection of a naked woman. Some sites state that the reference in the book to the billboard for optometrist Dr. T. J. Eckleburg is an homage to how much Fitzgerald loved the artwork.

What more can be said that hasn't already been said in the 89 years since the book's original publication? Yet, heated debates continue everywhere book lovers meet - from reader discussions on book sites to erudite academic halls. Books about this book are still published - the most recent one I found was published this September! That truly is the magic of this book. Decades later, we are still puzzling over what the book means and who the characters are; each reader walks away with their own interpretation. Each interpretation seems viable.

The Great Gatsby is not a plot driven book. It is the depiction of characters and a depiction of the times. The world is the decadence and lavishness of the Roaring Twenties. The essential story is of Jay Gatsby's longing for Daisy Buchanan. They knew each other once, but now Daisy is married to another man.

James "Jimmy" Gatz is from the family of a poor German American farmer scraping a living in North Dakota. Jimmy Gatz reinvents himself into Jay Gatsby and whole-heartedly pursues his dream of wealth - a wealth that Daisy Buchanan is born into.

Jay Gatsby is an almost mythical character. He is the epitome of the self-made man. In the Urban Dictionary, the term "gatsby" is synonymous with extravagant, cool, and stylish - definitely the public image of Jay Gatsby. In the book, he cultivates an aura of mysteriousness around himself. Many flock to his home for the lavish parties. Yet, very few know him. Rumors fly, ranging from deeming him a financial genius to him being a crook.

To me, Jay Gatsby is a sad character. He is handsome and wealthy. He is surrounded by people. He lives a lavish lifestyle. Yet, at the end of it, he is alone. No matter how much wealth he accumulates, he seeks what he cannot have. The question is what does he want? Is it Daisy? Is it the self-assurance of those born to the society and the wealth? Is it acceptance? Is it the belief that he has reached his goal of success? I have my thoughts and interpretations, but I wish I knew for sure. Alas, we never will, and that is why we still continue to talk about this book.

The narrator Nick Carraway is an outsider, on the periphery of this world. Part of it to some extent, yet able to offer some commentary. Through his eyes, we get the public version of Jay Gatsby - what he chooses to show. This narration style never completely pulls back the curtain on Jay Gatsby's motivations and emotions. The book never really reveals who Jay Gatsby is; that is the mystique of the book. I am left wondering about who Jay Gatsby truly is and what makes him tick.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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