Once upon a time in the Jazz Age…..
I finally finished reading The Great Gatsby and my first reaction is – why the hell did I wait so long to read this magnificent work??? Why the hell did I believe that this very stereotypical tale would be written in same trite manner set in an era and country that in itself continues to make people curious and on this lay the principal reasons for popularity of the book alone? I was so wrong!!
I think one of the main reasons which made me hesitant to pick up this book was the fact that at a very young and a very impressionable age, I had read Tender is the Night and really dislike it. Somewhere in my sub-conscience, I knew that as a connoisseur of literature, I should give this book a try and in fact had borrowed it from the library at least twice and bought a copy more than year ago…but until today, I just did not summon the courage to read it. But now that I have, I must own, I am blown away. I am humbled and in complete awe of the immense talent of Scott Fitzgerald that he could take an oft-repeated tale and turn it into something beautiful, tragic and a cathartic experience.
I am sure almost everyone is familiar with the story of The Great Gatsby. The story is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, an educated, wealthy and a sincere Mid-Western, and begins with his moving to East, New York to work for Bonds. He is soon re-acquaints himself with Buchanan’s, Daisy being his second cousin and Tom being his senior at college. The Buchanan’s are typical products of the Jazz Era, with loads of money and restlessness. They had travelled in Europe, lived in Chicago, before moving to New York. At the very onset of the novel, it is made clear that Tom Buchanan is a libertine and keeps a mistress, Myrtle Wilson, who is the wife of the garage owner, George Wilson, who services Tom Buchanan’s car. Nick also becomes friendly with the mysterious Jay Gatsby, his extremely wealthy neighbor, with a reputation of having killed a man and a host to lavish parties, through which he hardly appears and is rarely seen by the party attendees. Nick soon discovers a past between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan and soon this past comes to become the present of the lives of the two, with tragic results ends with Nick moving back to the West, with the conclusion that Tom, Jay, Daisy and he himself, were all at the heart westerners and that’s why none of them could get completely comfortable under the skin of East.
What makes this book wonderful is the word portrayals and characterization. For instance when Nick first describes Gatsby “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament”–it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.” Through the book, while Gatsby and Daisy are the principal figures, the author also subtly delineates the character of Nick Carraway, who is presented as a contrast to all the denizens of East, with his sincerity and true sophistication that comes through. It is Nick Carraway’s own admission that comes as a proof of his honesty of character “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”. Fitzgerald is at his best as he masterfully creates verbal imageries and brings home to the reader the irony of the tale, with a gentle disapproval of his generation and their conduct. His description of George Wilson and Tom Buchanan making similar discoveries about their wives is presented with an illuminating insight “I realized that so far his suspicions hadn’t alighted on Tom. He had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world and the shock had made him physically sick. I stared at him and then at Tom, who had made a parallel discovery less than an hour before–and it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well. In fact the book is filled with such piercing observation – “Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead”.
I know I have quoted practically the complete book, but the very beauty of the book lies in the words – used so subtly, yet so powerfully as to make one speechless and instead quote forth the book. In the end, all I can say is, this is a must read and I am only sorry that I made my acquaintance with this masterpiece, so many years later! The preface, (which I always read after reading the novel, since they create half-baked ideas that intrude into the tale) describes how on its first publication, the book was deemed a failure and only after it was distributed to the soldiers during World War II that it began to rise in popularity! I am once again amazed how a worthy work, gains all the value, when it is deemed completely value less.