I haven’t read this book in about 7 years, so after watching Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation, I was curious to see how it stacked up to the original book. And I have to say, Luhrmann did a pretty good job of maintaining the spirit of the story.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is a masterful writer. I could just disappear in his prose and never come back. The premise of the story is fairly simple, but the way it’s told is complex and beautiful and tragic all at once. Young Nick Carraway arrives at New York to eke out a living and find the American Dream for himself. He finds a small house in West Egg, a fictional borough, and reconnects with his cousin Daisy, while meeting his mysteriously wealthy neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Not all that appears to be good is so, and by the end, I was exhausted and disappointed, like Nick, by the ennui and shallow glitz of the wealthy individuals who peopled the novel.
Jay Gatsby is an interesting character to study. As a self-made man, he recreates himself and accumulates wealth in order to become the kind of man that will secure him the woman he was too poor to woo when he was a soldier. Yet we realize that Jay’s dream is crumbling and an illusion, much like the green light at the opposite end of the pier from which he gazes. The futility of his dreams seems frustrating, but it ultimately reflects what Americans collectively experienced at the end of literary modernism.
The Great Gatsby is an American classic for a reason. It depicts the dissolution of the American Dream in the face of war, of a money-driven culture, and of fading ideas of class and wealth. I will definitely be including this novel (and referencing the film) in many a class to come.