The Great Gatsby

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

About the book: •    The Great Gatsby follows Nick Carraway, a neighbour of Jay Gatsby. Nick narrates his experiences, looking back over his time as a bond salesperson in New York during the early 1920s. •    The novel also features Tom and Daisy Buchanan who are wealthy from inheritance and live in the Old money, East Egg district. •    They contrast Jay Gatsby, who has new money and lives in West Egg. His huge mansion is the focal point of much of the book.   •    Gatsby is seen as a showman, his wealth a display merely used to impress people and whose actions are carried out for the wrong reason. There are strong undertones that he has a criminal connection. •    However, Gatsby is the only hopeful character in the novel. The narrative forms around his ‘extraordinary gift for hope’ and we are invited at times to pity him. •    Nick becomes embroiled in this world, despite not really fitting into either faction. •    At the end of the novel, Fitzgerald creates a clear impression that all characters represent or are victims of the American dream, asking us to criticise the ‘glamour’ of the roaring 20s. About the author: •    F. Scott. Fitzgerald was born in 1896 and joined the army in 1917. The Great Gatsby was written in 1923 meaning he was writing about his own time and arguably drawing from his own experiences. •    The novel was intended as a satire, so Fitzgerald is essentially satirising and criticising the conditions of the society he was a member of. •    Later in life, he developed alcoholism and was diagnosed with depression showing he was aware of the consequences of the 1920s culture. •    The Great Gatsby was initially unpopular, and Fitzgerald died thinking it had failed. •    However, after his death and during the advent of the second world war the novel grew in popularity and is now described as ‘the great American novel.’ My first experience of The Great Gatsby was aged 13 when I reluctantly went to the cinema to see the film with my Mum and some family friends. I didn’t really want to go; I was a bit anxious and didn’t particularly enjoy going to the cinema. Long story short, my judgement was a mistake. Obviously, the film, as I only later found out was nowhere near as brilliant as the book (a rule to follow with every book to film adaptation!) It was enough, however, to give me a decent enough idea of the novel itself and I adored it. Although, after that short burst of joy, and a trip to the bathroom to wipe mascara smudges off my face, I didn’t return to The Great Gatsby for 4 years. Suddenly aged 17 I encountered it again when studying the text for A-level English literature. The minute I picked it up, I fell in love, not only with the book but with English Literature as a subject. This is why The Great Gatsby is so important to my life and why it’s first the first blog post- it is the reason I love and study literature. The Great Gatsby made me realise the impact novels can have and just how important literature is. As I delved further and further into the book, Fitzgerald’s beautiful use of language captured me. This is most famously shown perhaps in his description of Gatsby’s extravagant parties- ‘in his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars’. As our class began to study the text, it was clear just how many interpretations there were of this fairly short novel (only 9 chapters). I found each one equally exciting and I quickly became obsessed and still am. So why should you read it?  Well, it’s not called ‘the Great American novel’ for no reason. The fact that Fitzgerald wrote the piece as a satire is often forgotten despite being subtly hinted at right from the first page. Nick Carraway tells the reader he is ‘inclined to reserve all judgements’ an ironic statement as he spends the following nine chapters offering a series of scathing criticisms towards events, characters and society. However, Nick is also a heavily biased narrator in this respect often neglecting to judge Gatsby (‘only Gatsby… was exempt from my reaction…there was something gorgeous about him’) who is arguably not as ‘great’ as his friend wants us to believe. The glamorous lifestyles depicted through illegal alcohol sales, speakeasies and large parties which contrast the personal hopelessness of certain characters, alcoholism, obsessive behaviours etc form the crux of the narrative. Fitzgerald mocks a culture which is continuously glamorised, alerting us to that they are purely a façade used to hide reality. The sentiment explored here is undeniably relevant today. When replacing 1920s high glamour with modern celebrity culture or at a personalised level, the pressures many feel to fit into certain ‘trendy’ lifestyles we see the poignancy. The Great Gatsby is essentially a call to arms, informing us that the pressure to be part of a ‘cool’ culture is futile, misguided and leads to unhappiness. Simply, Gatsby tells us surface appearance is not the be all and end all. The apparently happy and privileged lives we perceive as ‘cool’ are plagued by issues beyond face value. Despite being set in the 1920s Fitzgerald’s message is continuously applicable to a modern reader. He never presents a clear victim or villain and although there are certainly more villainous characters all fall foul to false promises sold to them as a result of ‘The American dream’, a phenomenon being repeated today. There are so many different facets to The Great Gatsby that a short blog post, doesn’t give it justice. I fell in love thousands of times over, crediting it with my choice of eventual degree and hopefully career. I want you to fall in love, this deeply too. Fitzgerald was quoted saying he wanted to produce ‘something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.’ He has in this beautiful and striking novel done just that, creating a piece that transcends culture and time and will forever be my ‘greatest novel of all time.’