Classic Corner: The Great Gatsby

Rating:
5/5

Name: The Great Gatsby

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Year: 1925

Genre: Tragedy

Hi guys and this is one of my first book reviews of 2022 and also one of the first “Classic Corner” reviews I’ve done in a while, the last one being From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming. In this review, I will be looking at The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald which is often described as one of the greatest American novels.

This isn’t the first time that I read this novel, the first time being back when I was a student doing my A Level in English Literature I had to compare this novel to another classic American novel – The Catcher In The Rye but after seeing on Pinterest a list of short classic novels I thought it would be nice to read between two longer reads and worth a revisit.

In comparison to The Catcher In The Rye this is the book I preferred but perhaps in a future review I will possibly give that one another look as well.

The Great Gatsby takes place during the summer of 1922 and is told from the perspective of the main protagonist Nick Carraway, who is a Yale graduate from the Midwest who has moved to New York’s West Egg to work in the bonds business. The West Egg and East Egg of the novel is really the coast of Long Island and is two peninsulas that form a bay.

He moves into a cheap property next to a huge mansion owned by the elusive Jay Gatsby. The novel opens though with Carraway visiting his cousin and her husband for a meal, Tom and Daisy Buchanan over on East Egg who also has her friend, golfer Jordan Baker there, who tells Nick his neighbor’s name. We learn that Tom is having an affair with a woman called Myrtle Wilson, whose husband George owns a garage in a poorer part of the city. After the meal, Nick returns home to find Gatsby looking across the Bay to East Egg at a green light.

Nick actually goes with Tom to see Myrtle and he takes her to a flat that he has bought for her where she acts out a fantasy of actually being with Tom and not in her disappointing marriage to George. Around the same time, Gatsby invites Nick to one of his famous parties which are attended by anyone whose anyone and Jordan Baker also turns up.

Nick and Jordan begin a relationship, and Gatsby also learns Nick knows Daisy and he once had a relationship with her around the time of the First World War. However he had no money and was sent away to fight and upon his return she had already married and left to France with Tom. Since then however he has acquired enough wealth to own his mansion on West Egg and is now looking to get Daisy back. As their paths collide however, it could result in the biggest tragedy the characters have ever faced.

One of the first things to note is the novel is incredibly short, with print versions being around 150 pages (the version I read was an eBook version but was also very short). However the novel is richly in how it presents the “Jazz Age” and the Roaring 20’s right at the heart of where it happened, in New York. 

One of my favourite things about this novel and has been from the first time I read it is the plot is on one level very simple but underneath exposes far more complex ideas and themes.

The basic plot is a married couple both going to have affairs with different people, the husband with a woman who is socially beneath him but wants to advance herself. His wife who falls in love again with a man from her past who is also socially beneath her but is deeply in love with her or the idea of being with her, even to the point of obsession. However when the affairs come out there is a huge fallout with devastating consequences for all involved.

Underlying all of this is a social commentary on what life was like during this era and it is amazing even now, almost a century on, how some of our values haven’t changed. In The Great Gatsby, anyone who is anyone turns up to Gatsby’s parties, just as anyone whose anyone in Hollywood today turns up to Oscar’s and Grammy’s parties, whilst ensuring they are photographed either by paparazzi or on social media, in order to be seen at these parties.

There is also commentary on the superficiality of wealth and cautionary tales on how it doesn’t buy happiness. Gatsby has accumulated all the wealth and status that he needed but it still wasn’t enough to get back the girl he always loved. Tom and Daisy on the outside had it all whilst both having affairs. Even on the other end of the spectrum, Myrtle is married to George who is appears has undying love and loyalty to her, yet because he is poor she wants to have an affair with another man for the lure of power, money and status which ends up as her undoing.

There are also smaller details, when Nick describes Gatsby’s mansion in the opening chapter he says how it is overgrown with ivy, yet everything underneath is “spanking” new with Gatsby wanting to give the impression he had come from old or inherited wealth but never quite managing to reach it fully. Even the locations of West Egg and East Egg are also used to provide a contrast between the old and new money of America at the time.

The novel provides commentary on the decadence and sheer recklessness of the 1920s. The First World War had cost millions of lives and during the 20s people were ready to make up for it with wild partying. This resulted in the USA passing a prohibition amendment in 1920, limiting the sale and importation of alcohol. This also meant a rise in criminal “bootleggers” who imported and sold alcohol at parties similar to Gatsby. There are a number of incidents in the novel involving cars, with one person running themselves off the road early on in the novel and Jordan Baker stating that it takes “two to make an accident”, foreshadowing what was to come whilst also being used by Fitzgerald as a metaphor for the rich characters’ carelessness.

There is also commentary on the societal and gender inequalities between men and women at the time. When the novel was published, women were gaining more rights and at the time had recently gained the right to vote in the UK and the USA. There was also a rise in “flapper” girls – girls who wore shorter, knee length skirts and rebelled against the socially accepted norms of the time. However, there is also a lot that women had to still accept – for example in the first chapter Tom’s affair with Myrtle is barely concealed from Daisy, with Tom openly taking phone calls from her. This is in contrast with when Tom discovers Daisy and Gatsby’s affair and how that sets the wheels in motion for the books climax. There is also an interesting quote which Daisy mentions about her daughter in the first chapter that she hopes she will be a “pretty little fool” – showing clearly society was patriarchal and hypocritical towards women.

For an older novel, the book is overall quite easy to follow and is an entertaining read and each time I have come back to the novel and even thinking about it whilst writing this review there has been something new to think about so it is well worth a read. Let me know in the comments below what you think about the novel as well as any other suggestions you have for me to read!

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