18. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald.
History: First published on April 10, 1925. After World War I, the American economy was thriving, the stock market was growing quickly, and the decade was known as the Roaring Twenties. It was also a period of great social upheaval. In November 1920, women had been granted the right to vote, alcohol had been prohibited by a constitutional amendment and a predominantly African-American form of music, jazz, was becoming mainstream. Fitzgerald had dubbed this era the "Jazz Age". The Fitzgeralds moved to Great Neck, Long Island in 1922, appropriating Great Neck as the setting for The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald's neighbors included such newly wealthy New Yorkers.
Plot: The story is presented as a recollection of Nick Carraway, from the midwest and graduated from Yale, who has come to New York to learn the bond business. He is living in Long Island, and friends with Daisy and Tom. Tom gives him a lift to the city, and picks up Myrtle, with whom he is having an affair. There is a party that night and Nick meets Catherine, Myrtle’s sister, who approves of the affair. Tom and Myrtle get in a drunken fight and Nick leaves, but has to get up the next day and go to work with a hangover. Nick's next-door neighbor is the wealthy and mysterious Jay Gatsby, who every other weekend throws lavish parties hosting hundreds of people. Nick receives a formal invitation from Gatsby's chauffer and attends. The party is wild and fun, but he finds that none of the guests know much about Gatsby and rumors about the man are contradictory. Nick meets Jordan Baker at one of these parties who tells him that Gatsby is in love with Daisy, and hopes she will come to one of the parties. Gatsby has asked Jordan to ask Nick to get him a meeting with Daisy. Nick agrees: the reunion is initially awkward, but Gatsby and Daisy begin a love affair. An affair also begins for Nick and Jordan, but Nick knows of Jordan's shortcomings and predicts that their relationship will be superficial.
Tom eventually notices Gatsby's love for Daisy and confronts Gatsby about his affair with Daisy.. Tom then alleges that Gatsby is a bootlegger and expresses his loathing of him. Gatsby tries to defend himself to Daisy, but Nick and Tom observe that he fails and that Daisy is now beyond his reach. Confident that he has bested Gatsby, Tom tells Daisy to drive off with Gatsby in Gatsby's car. Meanwhile, George Wilson, husband of Tom's mistress Myrtle, has been arguing with his wife. Myrtle runs outside only to be struck and killed by Gatsby's car, which is driven by Daisy. Daisy and Gatsby speed away. The next day the half-crazed Wilson, confronts Tom about the car that ran over his wife – Tom denies this and says it was Gatsby’s car, and Wilson finds Gatsby floating in his pool and kills him before committing suicide nearby. Nick is dissappointed at the funeral in which very few people are there, but meets Gatsby’s father. Nick severs connections with Jordan, and moves back to the midwest and becomes a bond salesman.
Review: Early on, Nick earns the reader’s trust, and as the other characters become less honest and it becomes clear that very little they say or do is genuine, the reader can only sympathize with Nick when he begins to despise those around him. Eventually, the games they play break down, making the display of true emotion--and more specifically, true desire--distinctly striking. At that point, the novel also becomes a story of consequence and ascends its prior tedium; the recklessness of these characters leads to their demise. In Gatsby, we're introduced to a doll-house. We're shown a world of glass, and though Fitzgerald makes us disgusted with what we've seen, there is something overwhelmingly tragic about watching the whole thing crumble to the ground.
Opening Line: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”
Closing Line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Quotes: "It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment."
"Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch, like silver idols weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans."
Rating: Very Good.