Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Genre: American Classic
Rating: 5 / 5 stars
Reading Challenges: Back to the Classics – 20th Century; Read Your Name – F
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.
Week 1 (Jan. 6 Pages 1-45)
Are there any characters whom you are relating to yet? If so, which one and why? I am also liking Jordan Baker. She’s the mysterious, but seemingly independent woman in the book. Daisy is not real, she’s an idea, and as such, she’s not a particularly relatable character. I get the feeling unlike Daisy, Jordan sees the world around her, warts and all. She’s not swayed by the glitz and glamour.
During the party that Tom holds in Manhattan with his mistress, he breaks her nose. I’m interested in how Fitzgerald plays this into the book. I think this incident is to show the kind of man that Tom is. He’s used to being in control, having people do everything he wants. Because Nick is the only new person to the party, he mentions the event. But I think rest of the party goers ignore it as a common occurence. I read this more as characterization than a comment on the culture.
On page 38 of the print edition, (after Nick had gotten in the elevator with Mr. McKee) it says:
…I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands…
…then I was lying half asleep in the cold lower level of Pennsylvania Station…
Did something happen between Nick and Mr. McKee? It’s possible. Fitzgerald strikes me as the type of man living in France and America in the 1920s that might have been open to the possibility. More likely, I see this as a show of excess and disconnect with some of the characters. Mr. McKee is trying to break into the East Egg society and will try to make associations with anyone. Because of his being brought to the party by Tom, Nick is a potential networking (I know 21st century word, but it still applies) connection and possibly client.
At the end of this week’s reading, Jordan and Nick are taking a self-guided tour through Gatsby’s house when they come upon a gentleman in the library.
I found it interesting that the gentleman has somehow already pegged Gatsby. This is something I did not realize when I was younger (that he was called out so early in the book)… We get lots of great references to Gatsby, his character, his past, his future, before we even meet him. I love how Fitzgerald sets the read up with this image of Gatsby and then we get to meet James Gatz… It’s a great reversal.
One extra thing that I kept thinking about while reading is Fitzgerald’s beautiful descriptions of the characters. We see Tom early one described as having “two shining, arrogant eyes” and “a body capable of enormous leverage–a cruel body” (11). Daisy gets a similar treatment with “her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it” (13) <– such a contradiction, yet perfect for her character. But my absolute favorite is the first glimpse of Gatsby “Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens” (25). Just gorgeous writing!
Week 2 (Jan. 13 Pages 46-90)
What do we think of Nick at this point (if you already know the story, please don’t give ideas based on facts beyond this point)? What do you think we are supposed to think of Nick at this point? I am going to second the comments made by several people with Nick’s line “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known” (pg. 64). This just makes me think he is dishonest. But in Nick’s mind, he’s the only honest one of the bunch. He’s the objective observer of this glamorous life. In his mind, we’re supposed to like and relate with Nick. Personally, I think he’s completely deluding himself by thinking as an “outsider.” He’s a part of the group. But this might be a reflection of Fitzgerald’s mindset at the time. He’s an outsider (but not really).
But I can still read the gray names, and they give you a better impression than my generalities of those who accepted Gatsby’s hospitality and paid him the subtle tribute of knowing nothing whatever about him.
– page 61
Do you think Gatsby deserves/needs his sympathy? Why did Fitzgerald decide to include that quote at this time… as we are just getting to know Gatsby better (in the present tense of the story)? Gatsby is the tragic lost hero. He’s the little boy lost. He’s the embodiment of the disillusionment felt after World War I. We see an entire Lost Generation wrapped into one package. Every time I’ve read this book, I feel sorry for Gatsby. He has no real substance to his person. There’s no one to give him direction or ground him. He’s floating through the glitz and glamour, but nothing’s real. We see this in all the conversations he has with Nick. There are bits of realness, but then Gatsby lapses into what he thinks Nick wants to hear.
Are you starting to not trust Gatsby or does this make him seem more cunning and powerful? (references to his Mafia ties) Neither. He’s little boy lost. He’s not taking advantage of these “opportunities” in a malicious way or a cunning and powerful way. I see it more as he doesn’t know what to do. People propose plans, he goes along with them. I guess this plays into my feeling sorry for him.
Did anyone else feel the anxiety and embarrassment when Gatsby and Daisy were reunited at Nick’s? This whole scene is excruciating. obviously Gatsby and Daisy were young and in love once, but that time has passed to everyone but them. They still act like unsure teenagers around each other; not acknowledging the time and events that have happened since their last meeting “Five years next November.” I want to slap these two silly. Tell them they both made bad choices, but must live with the consequences. To me, this is the most aggravating scene in the entire book.
Week 3 (Jan. 20 Pages 91-135)
I see here that Gatsby is almost trying to punishing Daisy. It’s as if he wants to say, “look at me… look at what you’ve missed out on.” Later in the reading, we realize he is trying to have her understand that he is powerful and rich. What is worrisome is the length he goes to trying to prove this, along with the depth of his insecurity. To me, Gatsby is the ultimate insecure man. He came from nothing, but feels like he has to prove something to everyone around him. He desperately wants to be in the “in crowd.” He thinks money, wealth, and possessions will do it for him. And he’s trying to show Daisy all of this. I want to grab Gatsby and knock some sense into him. All around, he’s a tragic figure in my mind.
And the plot thickens… What if he hadn’t found needy, old Dan Cody… what do you think he would have done to turn himself into Gatsby? Do we think he did it for Daisy, or would he have used her to do it if needed? If not for Dan Cody, I think Gatsby would have gotten involved with those shady characters sooner. And he wouldn’t be helping run the deals, but probably the runner. Daisy was a symbol of what Gatsby wanted. She’s a tool, nothing else. He believes that he loves her, but she’s not real.
And on the subject of cocktails…. I have to agree with Fitzgerald. Gin is the way to go. I usually go with a gin and tonic, but Gin Rickeys are also beautiful cocktails. J can’t stand gin (he likens it to drinking PineSol), but I love it, the aroma, the taste, the non-hangover I have the next day. It’s the best alcohol.
Gin, bathtub or otherwise, was extremely popular in the 1920s. Gin Joints and Speakeasies abounded. Often, your gin would be served in a teacup in case of a raid! Gin was a favorite of Fitzgerald, and this was his absolute favorite drink, the Gin Rickey:
- 2 oz. gin
- 3/4 oz. lime juice
- Top with club soda
- Lime wedge
- Pour gin and lime juice into a chilled highball glass filled with ice cubes. Top with club soda, and stir gently. Garnish with lime wedge.
Week 4 (Jan. 27 Pages 136-End)
The ending always gets me. It seems so pointless, so sad, so melancholy. From a literary perspective, I appreciate the ending. It fits Fitzgerald’s atmosphere and tone. But a little part of me always wants Gatsby to live, Daisy to leave Tom, and Nick to find his place in the city. I guess I’m just a sucker of happy endings. Oh well… It’s still a beautiful novel and one of my all-time favorites.