The Great Gatsby – Musings and Memories

Curled up in my oversized chair, I plied the pages of The Great Gatsby… at times smiling over some witticism, at other times choking back tears. The tragedy of false hopes, shapeless dreams, and empty materialism was getting to me. Was this novel really that “great” (pardon the pun), or was I just getting older and sentimental?

I hadn’t planned to read it this year, but when Stephen said he was rereading it for the Classics Club challenge, I jumped at the chance of a readalong. It was a revisit for both of us. I first read The Great Gatsby in 2015, nearly seven years ago. At the time, I gave it a middling 3.5 stars.

“Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!”

My ties with the story go back further, though, to the release of the 2013 film. I mostly ignored the hype, except for my would-be boyfriend sending me Lana del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful.” It was fitting, though perhaps not in the way he intended… I never cared for the lyrics, but the melody haunts me still.

When I finally got around to reading Gatsby, I thought I had matured. I was impressed, but with a sense of detachment. These were selfish characters, vastly removed from me in their lofty 1920s microcosm of parties, alcohol, and general debauchery. The book was interesting, even touching, but I didn’t love it. I certainly didn’t learn from it.

After all, what did I have in common with Daisy, the southern debutante who falls for a poor soldier but marries the comfortably wealthy, shockingly cruel Tom Buchanan? Or Jay Gatsby, the title character, whose mysterious mansion across the water from Daisy’s is the site of endless parties and frivolity?

Nick, the protagonist, comes to West Egg, New York—home of the nouveau riche—with much the same feeling of detachment. He soon discovers his neighbor Gatsby has moved to the area with the dream of winning back his young love, Daisy. Gatsby believes that now he is a “somebody,” with wealth and prestige, he can reverse the past and be reunited with her. Too little, too late…

His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.

Eventually I watched the film and hated it. Well, the second half was pretty good, but the first half was so crass as to make it nearly unwatchable. In spite of any book quotations, the movie, in my opinion, completely missed Fitzgerald’s poetry. Because nobody writes heartache like Fitzgerald. The substance of The Great Gatsby delves deeper than the surface-level bawdiness and riches which the film emphasizes (arguably, given the sudden popularity of 20s-themed parties). The novel, rather, pushes that aside to expose the things every human being wants—being loved, understood, and needed.

I should have first read it as a cautionary tale. As a murder mystery, a dark comedy, and a tale of horror. That’s how I read it this time. Every strained scene, every painfully oblique conversation added to a general feeling of dread, even though I knew what was coming.

Gatsby’s futile desire to rewrite the outcome of his past is symbolized by the green light coming from Daisy and Tom’s house. He stares towards it at night, dreaming of his happy reunion. In short, he’s crazy… drunk on nostalgia. I can say that with conviction because in the years since that first reading, I carried my own “green light” which failed as spectacularly as Gatsby’s, though thankfully not with such dire consequences. Still… if I had “gotten” the novel the first time, could all of that have been prevented? Maybe.

But the book does not try to sermonize. It’s simply Nick Carraway’s recollections of a tragic friend and neighbor.

I’ll just end by saying I felt more empathetic towards Daisy this time. There was much more to her than “spoiled rich girl.” Her fidelity to Tom, her lack of drinking, and most of all, her ultimate decisiveness lent a weight to her character I didn’t notice before. Not saying she’s particularly likeable, but we can be quick to take Jay’s side while forgetting that a woman in this time period, in spite of her wealth, was in a position to make few choices. On some level, I understood her forging ahead in life and owning up to her decisions. Jay should have respected her more than he did.

5 stars this time, and recommended.

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Marian

Blogger, YouTuber, reader, and scribbler. I love classic literature, tea, and rain, preferably all at once.

11 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby – Musings and Memories”

  1. wonderful post… i’ve never read it, or anything else by F and it’s probably too late now. i’ve pretty much learned the hard lessons and it’s no longer fun to read about those sorts of things any more… my loss, most likely, but that’s where i am: old and tired…

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    1. Understandable! You might want to try his short stories? I haven’t read them myself, but apart from tragic romances, he’s also known for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which I guess would come under speculative fiction. Looks like Gutenberg has it under his Tales of the Jazz Age collection: https://gutenberg.org/ebooks/6695

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  2. I read TGG in my twenties and loved it. F is quite insightful, at least about the seedy side of nature. I read it again a couple of years ago. I didn’t get as much out of it, maybe because I’m older and his insights did not provide as much of an epiphany, but I always enjou F’s writing style and power of expression.

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    1. Yes, Fitzgerald is one of those writers whom I can say is not overrated. I’m eager now to re-read This Side of Paradise, hopefully soon. I liked that one more than TGG, first time around.

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  3. Reading this and watching The Razor’s Edge in the same time period worked out very well. Thanks for joining me on the re-read, as I enjoyed our discussions on both. It’s interesting how both novels critique the upper tier of society and their often-empty lives. Nick and Larry D would have a long conversation, I’m sure, at the end of their respective novels!

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    1. Yes! One thing I do love about The Razor’s Edge is that everyone does exactly what they wanted to do with their lives, whereas by contrast Gatsby’s obsession “derails” his (albeit questionable) success and causes havock. And yet I wouldn’t say The Razor’s Edge has a happy ending, either…

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  4. I read it for the second time a few years ago and liked it marginally better than my first high school read. I just can’t get past the bleakness of Fitzgerald’s writing with very little redeeming about it. And it’s more of a crime because he is such a good writer. But he’s determined to paint the seediness of life in all its stark reality and then leave the reader with ONLY that. I believe it’s a waste of a talent. For me, Wharton does a societal critique in a much more creative and layered way.

    Have you read Tender is the Night? That sort of did it for me with Fitzgerald. I’d like to read all his works to say I have but I’m not expecting to get anything positive out of them.

    In any case, a great review, Marian! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your read-along with Stephen. It’s always enjoyable to have someone to read-along with, no matter what the book is like!

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    1. Hey, that’s fair 🙂 Funny thing is, I actually felt that way about The House of Mirth… felt it was too bleak and horrible. But you know, different strokes for different folks!

      I have tried Tender is the Night and did not finish it. The random affair we were supposed to care about was really distasteful to me… My favorite of his so far is This Side of Paradise, and I also liked The Last Tycoon. I’m not sure either one would appeal to you if Gatsby was a miss (This Side of Paradise is even more niche).

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  5. The first time I read Gatsby, in my 20s, I was disappointed. What was the fuss all about? Reread it in my 30s, and it blew me away. I think I just needed to live through a few disappointments myself to really understand why someone would cling to an illusion.

    There’s a 1940s version starring Alan Ladd that I find much more faithful to the book than the DiCaprio version. If you’d like to try a different one, ever.

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