I’ve noticed that I’ve mentioned The Great Gatsby in a few blog posts now, yet I’ve not actually reviewed it. So, with the rain slashing down the windows and the fact that I’ve no idea what to read next, it seems the perfect opportunity to review one of my all time favourite books in the hope that I can inspire others to read it and love it as much as I do.
The novel is narrated by Nick Carraway, retelling the events of the time surrounding 1922. As the novel opens, Nick had moved to West Egg, Long Island from the Midwest. His plan was to seek his fortune as a bond salesman. Some time after his arrival, Nick decides to travel across the Sound to a more fashionable part of East Egg to visit his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. Tom is described as being a huge, oppressive, angry man that Nick knew in college. It is at this visitation that Nick meets professional golfer, Jordan Baker. Both the Buchanan’s and Ms Baker live incredibly privileged lives, which contrasts significantly with Nick’s more modest lifestyle.
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
On his return home, Nick notices his neighbour, Gatsby, standing in the dark, on his own, with his arms stretched towards the water. Reflecting across the water is a solitary green light. This light is essential to the plot development, especially in the eyes of Gatsby.
Nick receives an invitation to accompany Tom to meet his mistress, Myrtle Wilson. Myrtle is a middle class woman, whose husband runs a garage and gas station which seems fairly successful. The station is in the Valley of Ashes, a run down and neglected part of town, which marks the convergence of the city and the suburbs. There is a real sense of this place being in limbo, in the middle and again, the complete opposite to Tom’s home life. It feels unlikely that anyone would want to stay there, just merely pass through.
The group meet and journey to the city. Myrtle phones her friends and they all get together to spend the afternoon drinking in Myrtle and Tom’s apartment. Naturally, because of the extreme drinking, the afternoon ends in an argument between Tom and Myrtle about his wife, Daisy. Drunkenness turns to rage which results in Tom breaking Myrtle’s nose.
Nick reverts his attention again to Gatsby, who is still a mystery to him. What is interesting is the weekly parties for the rich and the fashionable. Invitations are never sent out as people arrive knowing that they would never be turned away. Surprisingly, Nick receives an invitation. He attends and in turn, bumps into Jordan Baker and Gatsby himself. Gatsby, of course, is the gracious host but there is something amiss with his behaviour. He’s tense and on edge, as if he was waiting for something to happen. As the party comes to a close, Gatsby takes Jordan aside for a private conversation. As a reader, we are left in the dark, but Jordan’s reaction suggests she’s been told something that’s amazed her.
As the novel progresses, paralleling the summer, Gatsby and Nick become good friends and Jordan and Nick also begin to see each other on a regular basis, despite Nick’s view that she is notoriously dishonest. Nick and Gatsby journey into the city one day. There Nick meets Meyer Wolfshiem, one of Gatsby’s associates, and his link to organised crime. On that same day, whilst having tea with Jordan Baker, Nick learns the story that evoked the reaction in Jordan at the party. Gatsby, is in love with Daisy. They met years earlier when he was in the army. They couldn’t be together because he did not (yet) have the means to support her.
Over the years, Gatsby made his fortune all with the goal of winning Daisy back. He brought his house so that he could be across the Sound from her. The green light to attract her attention. He hosted the immense parties in the hope that she would notice. The time comes for Daisy and Gatsby to meet, face to face. Gatsby asks, rather shyly, for Nick to invite Daisy around to his house for tea, where Gatsby will turn up unannounced. You get the sense of importance to Gatsby here.
“He looked at her the way all women want to be looked at by a man.”
The time comes, Nick’s house is prepared to perfection due to Gatsby. He clearly is the hopeless romantic, he wants his reunion to be perfect. When they meet, they are described as being nervous to begin with, to reflect the time gone by between them. However, soon they become comfortable with each other, leaving Nick to the sidelines. As time trickles by, the three move the party from Nick’s to Gatsby’s where he takes delight in showing Daisy his stunning house, his vast array of belongings, showing her how far he has come, how he has left poverty behind, implying now he can support her. They can finally be happy.
The narrative gains complexity here as Nick lapses into his memory, telling the story of Jay Gatsby. He was born James Gatz to a unsuccessful family. Gatsby decided to change his name at 17, the same time he met Dan Cody. Cody became Gatsby’s mentor for 5 years, as he went around the Continent three times. By the time of Cody’s death, Gatbsy had grown into a man, and defined the man he wanted to be and become. He refused to acknowledge his past from that point on. He fabricated his own history, he was Jay Gatsby, entrepreneur.
In a drag back to the present, we learn that Daisy and Tom are going to attend one of Gatsby’s parties. Tom, obviously spends his time chasing after various women. Meanwhile, Daisy and Gatsby sneak over to Nick’s garden for privacy, whilst Nick kept guard. When the Buchanan’s leave, Gatsby informs Nick of his secret desire: to recapture the past. Gatsby is adamant in his beliefs that it is possible to recapture the past in its entirety.
“Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!”
The summer continues to roll on and Gatsby and Daisy begin to grow closer, seeing each other regularly. As a result, things were always destined to come to a head. There is, crafted I thin the language, the impending sense of doom. On one fateful day, which happened to be the hottest and unbearable of the summer, Gatsby and Nick travel together to East Egg to have lunch with the Buchanan’s and Jordan. The heat, being too intense for her, Daisy suggests that they take a trip to the city. Daisy, in defiance, pays special attention to Gatsby, attention which is not missed by Tom.
“Ah,” she cried, “you look so cool.”
Their eyes met, and they stared together at each other, alone in space. With an effort she glanced down at the table.
You always look so cool,” she repeated.
She had told him that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw.”
Tom decides to fetch a bottle of whiskey. Tom, Nick and Jordan drove in Gatsby’s car, while Gatsby and Daisy drove Tom’s car. Tom has to stop for gas at Wilson’s garage, where he sees Wilson is not himself. Both men have found out about their wives affairs. Wilson, knowing Myrtle’s secret, results in him feeling physically sick and announces his plan to take Myrtle out West. This means, Tom has lost his wife and mistress in the space of an hour. Surrounded by his own fears, he heads to the city.
They end up at the Plaza hotel, where they continue drinking, hauling the day closer to its fateful end. Tom, hot headed and passionate, begins to question Gatsby about his intentions with his Daisy. Eventually, the truth comes out: Gatsby wants Daisy to admit she never loved Tom, and only loved him. But, she is unable to do it. Therefore, Gatsby declares that Daisy is going to leave him. Tom, to his credit, knows Daisy better than that, and knows she won’t leave him. His money and power from generations will always beat Gatsby’s new wealth. Tom exerts his authority and orders Daisy and Gatsby to head home in Gatsby’s car. The final three, follow.
On their return journey, as Tom’s car nears Wilson’s garage, they can see a commotion. There’s been an accident, and when Tom pulls over to investigate, they learn that Myrtle Wilson has been killed by a passing car that never bothered to stop. It appears to have been Gatbsy’s car. They continue home to East Egg. Nick, clearly disgusted by the morality and behaviour of the people with whom he has associated with, meets Gatsby outside the Buchanans’ house where he’s keeping watch for Daisy. Dread haunts the air, as it is revealed that it was in fact Daisy who was driving the car, but Gatsby is willing to take the blame for her.
Wilson, naturally distraught over his wife’s death, sneaks out and goes looking for the driver who killed her. Nick retraces Wilson’s journey, ending up at Gatsby’s by early afternoon. Wilson seeks his revenge on Gatsby, by shooting him, and then turning the gun on himself.
Responsibility for the arrangements of Gatsby’s burial falls to Nick. What is unnerving is that no one seems interested or even emotional about his death. Daisy, Tom and their daughter leave for a trip, the attendees of the parties hide away and Wolfshiem refuses to publically mourn. It’s heartbreaking to see that in death Gatsby is thought of differently than when he was alive. His popularity has diminished. He is almost forgotten.
Nick, deflected and disillusioned, decides to head back Midwest. However, he bumps into Tom Buchanan. Nick refuses to shake hands with him because he realises that he was behind Gatsby’s death. It was Tom who told Wilson that it was Gatsby who owned the car that killed Myrtle. Nick leaves disgusted.
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”
On his last night, Nick heads to Gatsby’s mansion and then to the shore where he first saw Gatsby. The novel ends prophetically, with it dawning on Nick about how we are all like Gatsby in our own little ways. The novel ends with one of its most famous lines.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I love this little book, I really do. However, it always angers me how Tom gets away with all that he’s done. I wish Daisy had a bit more about her as well. However, her position as a woman, would mean that she needed Tom’s power. If Gatsby and Daisy did get together, then the book would have been heavily criticised for having a fairytale ending. I always want more because I adore Gatsby. This book is quintessential of the American Dream, of man wanting to better himself. When Gatsby died, the American Dream died too. It’s reflective of Fitzgerald himself, for his own life was marred with troubles.