Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Review: The Great Gatzby

My resolution to read 40-50 books in this calendar year led me to read a book that, frankly, I should have read a couple years ago, The Great Gatzby.  An American classic, the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the most famous literary works written in the twentieth century and is required reading in numerous high school and college literary classes.  Due to this, a wide variety of papers, articles, and criticism has been written about this book, and I am sure that anything I have to add will be nothing more than redundant rambling to anyone who has studied it in depth.  However, as many people have not read the book and as I cannot but help give my opinions and criticisms, here I am giving my two cents.

The Great Gatzby is a novel about Nick Carraway, who, trying to make a name for himself in New York, meets and becomes well acquainted with Jay Gatzby, a mysterious multimillionaire with a secretive past.  Gatzby is known for throwing wild parties at his mansion, parties that start on Friday nights and go until Sunday morning.  This is, of course, contrary to what is expected of people who are of such means as Gatzby, and most of New York's elite scoff at him publicly (although they secretly enjoy attending his parties).  Among other things, Fitzgerald's novel is a harsh criticism of America's upper class in the 1920's, evident by the distaste Carraway (the narrator) has for most of the people he meets through his adventures with Gatzby.  Fitzgerald does such a brilliant job at showing the absolute worst personality traits of the rich (snobbery, self-contempt, superiority, etc.) that the reader at times also feels the same disdain.

Perhaps the most famous and, therefore, most over-taught themes of The Great Gatzby is the theme of colors.  Fitzgerald's use of colors to describe lights, nature, clothes, and various everyday objects symbolize various virtues, vices, and other subtle themes.  As noted, this is a subject that, I feel, is so overly touched upon that I can add no original thoughts to it, so I will not.  If this is a topic that interests you, it would be worth your time to look into some scholarly literary journals for articles and papers that are dedicated to it.

The theme that I think is the main idea of the novel is the idea that one cannot recreate the past, and that once one realizes it, one can either give up on life altogether or make the best of the situation.  Throughout the book, Gatzby is trying to revisit and rekindle his romance with his beloved Daisy (Nick Carraway's second cousin, twice removed), whom he had fallen in love with right before he had to leave and fight in World War I.  While he was gone, Daisy married Tom Buchanan, a burly member of her high society who epitomizes everything Fitzgerald feels is wrong with the upper class.  When Gatzby is unable to relive the same feelings he felt years before, and is unable to make her feel them as well, he basically gives up on achieving any happiness in life.  As it turns out, Gatzby spent so much time living in the past that he was unable to sustain any real friendships, and no one shows up for his funeral except his father and Carraway.

The Great Gatzby is truly one of the great American novels and will continue to be studied and read for many years to come.  One reason for this, in addition to all of the literary themes, is that the author's own life was very similar to those of his characters.  It would be well worth one's time to research and draw comparisons between events in the book with events in Fitzgerald's life.  In any case, it is a great culture piece as it depicts what life was like in the American 1920's, an age many find intriguing.  It is a short novel, easily read in two or three days; it is, however, full of subtle messages that take much longer to comprehend and understand.

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