Ladies and gentleman who read my blog, I would like to introduce another guest blog post, done by Sam Glass. I hope you enjoy his take on The Great Gatsby as much I do!
The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, and one of the seminal works of American literature. You’ve read it before. Probably in high school. Read it again. In a world where the relevance of the novel is questioned with increasing persistence and aggression, The Great Gatsby is a perfect example of how literature can act as a unique mirror for the complexity of our individual and collective character. Plus, it’s a genuine pleasure to read, and at times very humorous! Nothing tickles your funny bone quite like disillusionment.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Quick Read? Yep—it’s less than 200 pages.
Difficulty: Surprisingly approachable! But the thematic subtlety allows for many enjoyable and revelatory re-readings.
Synopsis: Nick Carraway, a recent Midwestern transplant to an affluent New York suburb, quickly finds himself embroiled in the strange culture of his neighbors—among them Tom, an old college buddy; Daisy, Nick’s cousin; and Jordan, Daisy’s sardonic friend. People in East and West Egg spend a lot of time consuming, conversing, and enjoying the trappings of their wealth. About a quarter of the way through the book, however, Nick meets the titular Gatsby. We learn about Gatsby in bits and pieces—he throws lavish parties, cultivates an air of mystery, and enjoys referring to friends as “old sport.” His wealth is the subject of not-entirely-unfounded suspicion. Though Nick is able to make small motions toward an independent arc, the majority of his narrative focuses on his friendship with Gatsby, and Gatsby’s attempt to woo Daisy—his adolescent sweetheart—away from her husband Tom.
What makes this book awesome?: In the future, when homo robotus or the aliens or whomever study the ancient United States of America, The Great Gatsby will prove exemplary of how American culture informed universal human wants and fears. Beyond the beauty and fluency of the prose—which is some of the most beautiful and fluent ever produced—Gatsby is a hard, poignant look at what it means to desire, and what happens when that desire is sated (sort of).
Jay Gatsby has been called “America’s First Antihero.” The charge is not without merit. He’s shady, annoyingly colloquial, and sometimes rather pathetic. But Gatsby’s fervid wish to escape a past he finds shameful and his powerful belief in the attainability of dreams make him a horribly relatable character as well. America has long been a haven for those unable to bridle their ambition, and the novel’s grisly conclusion belies the purported “success” that Gatsby experiences before and during the action of the book.
The Great Gatsby penetrates America’s most pervasive mythos, the rags-to-riches success story. In the end, Gatsby’s desires let him down because they’re seeded in fantasy. His idealism, his optimism, and his ambition—because they service a specious goal—result in an unreal and untenable kind of happiness (and eventually, his downfall). The Great Gatsby is an awesome, frightening book because it perfectly dispels a very appealing notion: that achieving our desires will consequently make us happy.
If only it were that simple.
Some neat-o facts:
F. Scott Fitzgerald was the man you wanted at all your raging parties during the 1920s. This guy, right here.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald is certainly famous for heavily influencing the American 1920s “Jazz Age,” but he was also famous for his zany wife Zelda Fitzgerald. In fact, she was so crazy that Fitzgerald’s best buddy Hemingway encouraged her to drink heavily in order to be able to tolerate her better. Classy advice, Hemingway.
- Unfortunately this heavy drinking that was so encouraged meant that Fitzgerald’s health was poor, causing him to pass away in 1944, a sad fact that means his prolific career was cut short far too soon.
- The Great Gatsby has been hailed as “The Great American Novel,” and Modern Library cites it as one of the best novels written in English in the 20th century. So really, if you haven’t read it yet, it truly is the paragon for all 20th century American novels after it.
- While Fitzgerald was alive, his other books sold better than The Great Gatsby. Its literary genius was not recognized until after Fitzgerald’s death.
- You can play an 8 bit video game version of the book here. Yes, it exists. Thank you Japanese video game company, for making all of our literary dreams come true!
Sam Glass loves reading books, talking about books, writing about books, and perusing artsy pictures of books on book-enthusiast blogs. Unsurprisingly, he works for the Great Books Summer Program. Sam also enjoys writing, television, England, cheese, and hypothetical scenarios. He graduated from Tulane University in 2011, and is thinking about returning to school to pursue a higher degree in literature. At present, however, he is preoccupied with a more immediate goal: moving out of his parents’ house. Some of his favorite authors are David Foster Wallace, J.D. Salinger, Nick Hornby, W.H. Auden, and George Orwell. He hypothesizes that J.K. Rowling will be as critically acclaimed as Charles Dickens in thirty years, give or take.