fiction

Wealth, Youth, Beauty, Misery: Gatsby

I've just finished The Great Gatsby, first time since high school (hey Ms. Mac!) and thanks to John Green, object of my latest author-crush, I have a newfound appreciation. Seriously, you should check out this video.


Oh ya, and the latest screen adaptation is coming to a branch near you. 

James Gatz fell in love with Daisy when he was a soldier and she was a teenage debutant. Daisy went through gentlemen callers by the dozen, but clung to Gatz, for a time. But James was a "Mr. Nobody from Nowhere" and Daisy couldn't wait around for him to become a somebody from somewhere, so they both moved on. Some years later, Jim Gatz became Jay Gatsby, a charming, wealthy "Oxford man" and Daisy Fay became Daisy Buchanan, with a summer mansion and a philandering husband and a baby daughter.

Gatsby may have come across his newfound wealth by questionable means, but that didn't deter anyone from attending his outrageous parties at his beachside mansion.  Besides, he did it all for Daisy, he wanted her back.

Talk about lack of sympathetic characters.  The major players of the book are all from the Midwest and are young, handsome and, to varying degrees, rich.  It's the age of prohibition, but that doesn't stop our richlings from indulging in fine liquor at lavish parties on luxurious east coast beaches. Tom Buchanan,  Daisy's husband is an ex-footbal star.  He's old money, a bit racist, having an affair, and what's worse, he's just a jerk. Daisy seems to have no input on control over any aspect of her life. Our narrator, Nick Carraway and his summer fling, Jordan Baker are perhaps unwitting voyeurs to the Gatsby-Buchanan drama, but they seem to revel in it. Nick is decent, but even he doesn't want to like Gatsby, a caricature of perfection, who had a smile that “...concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.” They are all young, beautiful, rich, carefree, and ultimately miserable. 

What holds the novel together is that you can empathize with Gatsby, and maybe all of them. Who doesn't want to be young and carefree?  Who doesn't want to relive their golden past? Perhaps you would have made different life decisions, but you have the benefit of hindsight and as a reader, not a character, also of being omnipotent.  I don't want to give away the ending, but I'll just say that there's a horrific car crash, and a murder-suicide in the end.  Tom and Daisy come away physically unscathed.

I think that Tom and Daisy are meant for each other.  "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made." They blow into town for a frantic summer and leave death and destruction in their wake.  In the end they simply move on to the next fashionable town or whirlwind vacation.  

Does being rich mean that you can brush off your responsibility toward your fellow man? And Is the pursuit of wealth for love and acceptance a worthy pursuit?  Of course, these are loaded questions, because if the answer is "no" then why do we continue these pursuits?

Posted on: September 20, 2013, by Jenera Burton, Piedmont Ave branch