The Great Gatsby is commonly read in secondary school, but I missed out, and the upcoming film release was just the inspiration I needed to finally read it. That, and a husband who read it about a month ago, and really wanted to discuss it.
The story is short, and seemingly straightforward. Jay Gatsby is a wealthy man known for throwing huge, lavish parties on his Long Island estate. His next-door neighbor, Nick Carraway, narrates the story and views Gatsby with a sort of detached awe.
I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited — they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby, and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with an amusement park. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission. (p. 41)
Nick’s friends, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, are also new to Gatsby’s parties, but not new to wealth, being part of old, established Long Island “aristocracy.” Gatsby himself maintains an aura of mystery. No one knows much about his past, and speculation abounds: he’s a bootlegger, he killed a man, he served in the war, he went to Oxford … or perhaps not. But he’s clearly “new money,” and Daisy and Gatsby have a shared past which becomes a central conflict in the novel.
The Great Gatsby is a tightly written work of only 180 pages. Fitzgerald quickly immerses the reader in 1920s society, infuses his characters with a certain emotional desperation, and uses them to portray everything he felt was wrong with America during this period, especially greed and the quest for wealth. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but to a great extent they are simply vessels for Fitzgerald’s message. And despite being short on both character development and setting, Gatsby still feels complete, with a strong plot and thought-provoking themes. I’m looking forward to the film to see how these themes are brought to life.