Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Classic Looking at the Debauchery of the 1920's Jazz Age

I am sure that many of you have already read this book and myself included. However, sometimes, depending on the particular circumstances at a given time, a book offers a new perspective. The first time I read this book was in my early 20's while I was in college for literature course and while I couldn't remember the details of my impressions from that time I remembered that I liked it then.

I have read a lot of books since then and of course have transitioned to several phases in my life throughout the passage of time. There have been quite a few books over the years, and even recently, that have reminded me for some reason or another about this one and in some way.

Add to this last year's renewed interest in this story with the release of the move with Leonardo Dicaprio and Tobey Maguire. I had planned on seeing it at some point but wanted to reread the book before doing so.

This books holds up. It was an easy read, but I required me to look up a couple of the definitions as obviously expressions and our choice of words have changed over time. The book is told from the perspective of Nick Carraway who seems to have traveled East for a new start and is working in some mundane position related to bonds. He lives in the poorer section of Long Island, in a rented house in West Egg. However, his neighbor, Jay Gatsby lives life in the most extravagant ways. The home is the site of some wild parties full of excess that go on throughout the night and into morning, with many of the more respected rich citizens of the East Egg in attendance. It is interesting to watch as the snobbery of East Egg are more than happy to partake in these events offered by their host but still manage to look down upon him as not one of them.

Through the course of the story we learn why Gatsby has come to this location to live and how most of the course of his life was a design to achieve an ultimate goal in winning back Daisy Buchanan, the love of his life. Years ago, Jay Gatsby was a poor solider scheduled to go to battle when he met Daisy, a young socialite in Louisville. He fell in love with her and went to war. Daisy on the other hand eventually married the wealthy Tom Buchanan and had a child. Gatsby discovers where she lives and sets up in a home directly across the Long Island Sound so that he can view her home from where his stands.

Daisy's life is not necessarily a happy one and certainly her marriage to Tom is less than ideal but in reading the book this time around I felt that she would never leave Tom for passion. The riches of her life, and her ability to do basically nothing to guarantee her comforts, is not something she would give up. I think she would prefer to turn a blind eye to her husband's history of infidelities and his lack of respect for the sake of appearances as well as wealth. When Gatsby reappears in her life I think she sees him more as a diversion than a future, and she is more than happy to make him her own toy much like her husband has done with women over the years.

I think that this book has a lot of themes that have been dissected over the years but one of my general impressions was that this book was a lot about contrasts. Rich vs. Poor, New Rich vs. Old Money, Passion vs. Love, and then some more complex ones with the other relationships going on in the story.

I have a feeling that my first read of this book I felt a strong sense that Daisy was a heroine and that she should end up with Gatsby and leave her old life behind that bound her. This time I was not interested in her ultimate happiness but felt that Gatsby was a sad soul who was never happy with what he had. In the end he paid the ultimate price for his love for her that was not returned.


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