Book Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Paperback 180 pages)

Posted: January 12, 2013 in Books

the great gatsby

Nick Carroway lives in West Egg, Long Island.  He is a bond trader.  One day quite out of the blue, Nick is invited to his neighbor’s house for a party.  Nick’s neighbor is Jay Gatsby, long known in this part of Long Island for throwing the most opulent parties in the area.  At this particular party, he meets Jordan Baker, a golf pro, who is quite drunk at this party, and has taken an interest in Nick. At long last, Nick finally meets Gatsby, they trade some small talk about WW I and soon the party is over.

But there are many parties to follow, and Nick and Gatsby become fast friends, although Nick is never sure of the origins of Gatsby’s wealth, or education, or background.  Gatsby’s intentions become clear enough soon enough.  He wants Nick to have a party for Daisy Buchanan, Nick’s cousin, so that Gatsby can re-introduce himself to Daisy.  Daisy and Gatsby had known each other five years earlier, and Daisy didn’t marry him then, because he was poor.  Five years later, Daisy is married to Tom, a big, hulking (Tom hated that description of himself) brooding former football player.  Complicating matters further, Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, wife of a local dim witted auto shop owner.

Undeterred by the fact that the love of his life is now married, Gatsby tries to rekindle his love with Daisy, and after an awkward first meeting, Daisy is professing her love for Gatsby for all to hear, including her husband Tom.  Still the five of them, Nick, Jordan, Gatsby, Daisy and Tom strike up a clumsy acquaintance, and take a drive to New York City together.  Upon returning from that trip, something happens that changes their lives forever.  What is it?  Do Gatsby and Daisy ever get to rekindle their romance?  Does Nick find out more about the shadowy Gatsby?

I first read this book 30 years ago.  I read it with all the enthusiasm of a teenager wanting to pass an English Lit class, which is to say not very much enthusiasm at all.  Luckily, for myself, I decided to give this book another try.  I read this book in 4 days, not only that, every time I left it, I wanted to read more of it.  The book inhabited me, like few have.  The descriptions of West Egg are lyrical, almost poetic.  The parties Gatsby threw are like some dream out of the Gilded Age, and I wanted to be at those parties.

Moreover, there are important themes discussed in these pages. The theme of love lost is one of the central themes that Fitzgerald brings to the forefront. Can a love that is lost ever be re-kindled, and if so, is it ever as good as it was the first time?  There is an answer that Fitzgerald provides, but I won’t divulge it, that is part of the pleasure of reading this book.

The theme of friendship is also examined in this book.  Nick is probably Gatsby’s closest friend at the end of the book, but how well did he really know Gatsby?  Was it a friendship based on mutual admiration, or was Nick more interested in being seen at a Gatsby party, than finding out about Gatsby?  Did Nick feel used by Gatsby, so that Gatsby could meet Daisy?  Was Gatsby using Nick to meet Daisy, and not for any other purpose?  There were passages in this book that made me wonder if Nick even liked Gatsby.  That brings up a further question of who Gatsby’s friends really were.  Did he have any true friends or were they all hangers-on and sycophants? Fitzgerald provides an answer to that question quite emphatically at the end of the book, but again I will not give it away. 

There is a more fundamental question, howevver, since Jay Gatsby is an alias, it begs the question, who is the real Gatsby?  What is his background, his education and how did he amass such wealth?  Fitzgerald answers this question bt not completely, and it seems like the author is being purposefully vague her.  He wants Gatsby to remain a man of mystery, to even the reading audience, because that mystery makes the character more appealing.

I cannot leave this book without some deserving criticism however.  The character of Mayer Wolfsheim is a horribly negative Jewish stereotype, and I must say, I was repulsed when I read this character, because it was such a horribly negative portrayal of a Jew, the physical description seemed to concentrate on his large nose, his other attributes seemed to be that he was a gambler, somehow involved in the Black Sox scandal, of fixing the World Series.  The image of Wolfsheim mars an otherwise wonderful book. I don’t know why Fitzgerald would include it, other than to maybe reflect the anti-Semitism of the age.

The Great Gatsby:  A great book.

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