Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 (out of 5) stars
In honor of Valentine’s Day (which I know was yesterday), I thought it would only seem fitting to celebrate one of the most romantic days of the year, with one of literature’s most famous love triangles in one of the world’s most famous novels: The Great Gatsby.
Published in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), The Great Gatsby tells the story of Jay Gatsby through the eyes of a young bond salesman and war veteran, Nick Carraway, who has just moved to the West Egg of Long Island. There, Nick reunites with his wealthy cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom Buchanan, who live on the East Egg side of the city, reserved for those born into wealth. Nick soon discovers how Tom and Daisy carry some secrets of their own, while also becoming more and more curious about his reclusive neighbor, Jay Gatsby. It is not too long until Nick actually befriends his affluent neighbor, who is as lavish and extravagant as he is mysterious and secretive. Gatsby, despite throwing many extravagant parties, is the subject of much gossip and rumors, inspiring Nick to spend more and more time with this man and learning from others as much as he can. From this, Nick, and the audience, soon discover Gatsby’s greater goals and intentions, through his connection with Nick as well as the Buchanans, Jordan Baker, and many more characters.
(Warning there will be very, very mild spoilers from here on): First of all, I should mention that I read this book for my English class, and not just for pleasure. Having said that, I did really enjoy this book and learning about the author and time period from which this book takes place. That is why I still would like to share my general thoughts on the story, writing style, characters, etc.
First, I would like to talk about the plot/story. The book is relatively short, being only a little over 200 pages. Yet, I didn’t feel that there any pacing issues, and this might be because it was a relatively simple story. While Nick is the narrator, it is Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom who drive most of the action, so we only see and learn about these character’s and their motivations as Nick learns it. As previously mentioned, there really isn’t much plot to the story up until that last third. It mostly follows Gatsby in his quest to reunite with his former lover while he and other characters struggle to keep up their images while also keeping their secrets and relationships in balance. For me, the story really was the least interesting part, compared to the characters, themes, and rich, descriptive language, up until the last third where everything really took a left, dramatic turn.
Going into the characters, I think that the structure of the novel made most of the characters far more intriguing than, if say, the story was told from Gatsby’s point of view. Nick, despite being the narrator, is relatively uninteresting. This never possed a problem for me though both because Nick being used as a catalyst for the audience makes Gatsby himself far more intriguing. Since we could only learn things about Gatsby through Nick’s eyes, it was often difficult for me to tell if I could trust him or not, and what his true motivations and desires were. While I had a good grasp on him by the end of the story, I still wanted to know more about Gatsby’s past, his thoughts, and his life. While this may seem like a negative statement, I think the fact that I got so much and still wanted to know more is very telling about what a great character Fitzgerald created.
Anyways, while Nick is not the most interesting characters, Fitzgerald does make it clear early on that Nick is the type of person who mostly listens and observes, which is why he learns so much. Much of his purpose also lies in his relationship to Gatsby since Nick acts as this middle ground to help Gatsby reunite with his former lover. This was probably my least favorite part of the story. The love triangle wasn’t done bad or anything like that, in fact, I like how either way the relationships weren’t so cut and dry and seemed far more complex than just a “who does she love?” solution. I just found that part of the story to be less interesting than, say, the last third. I won’t give it way, but the story takes two really sharp turns, one that carries a lot of dramatic tension through the ending, which I could honestly say was really unexpected and tragic.
Let’s talk about the supporting cast now. Similar to Gatsby, much of the supporting cast is presented as one thing, but whose motivations and goals also become unclear and raise questions. At first, I didn’t really like Tom that much. He just seemed like a total caricature (think Billy Zane’s character from Titanic) to me that I could not stand him. As the story progressed though, there seemed to be this underlying humanization that made his actions did not seem as one note. I especially liked the scenes between him and Gatsby and the interesting ideas that constantly shined through in their rivalry. I often think people overlook Jordan Baker, who I really like. From a historical perspective, she seems like a complete 180 from what was expected of women back then. She enjoys her lavish lifestyles, but also likes to play sports and doesn’t rely on a man to carry her through life. Wolfsheim (despite being a major stereotype of the time) is still a fun and crooked character that I’m still not so sure how to feel about. One character I really didn’t like was Daisy. She just seemed unintentionally boring and I didn’t really draw a connection to her. Some of the choices she made were either confusing or downright frustrated me.
The best part of The Great Gatsby for me was the writing. Even the simple act of two characters saying goodbye was so descriptive and atmospheric that I felt I was being put right into this world. The language, at times, was so poetic and descriptive that you could find so many hidden meanings and symbols behind the simplest of things. Why is the light green? Why mention the clock? Why choose to describe the “valley of ashes” this way? Fitzgerald was so clever in knowing what to describe and how to describe it to put me right into this lavish world with these extravagant homes and people. He also knew what to omit so as to keep me asking questions and to let my own mind fill in the gaps. Even the simplest gestures that characters took carried so much weight and purpose behind them. Nothing about the characters or setting was just told bluntly to you. The majority of impressions I got about people was from the way they were simply described. I just loved how detailed and atmospheric the writing was.