“Gatsby believed in the green light”, and this book certainly makes you want to believe along with him.
Set in the gaudy, raucous, Roaring Twenties this classic American Novel explores the fragile power of the American Dream – the belief that in America, if you work hard, you’ll make it. If only it was so simple.
Narrated by young bond seller (once an aspiring writer) Nick Carraway, the neighbour to the mysterious Gatsby, the book follows the summer of 1922, as lived by the inhabitants of Long Island. Divided into ‘East Egg’ and ‘West Egg’, or more obviously ‘old’ and ‘new’ money, these rich, fashionable people tear through life without the faintest regard for those who get thrown by the wayside, those who are spat out of the unforgiving machine of capitalist America.
Jay Gatsby throws extravagant and dazzling parties, apparently for no reason, inviting all of neighbouring New York’s upcoming and existing celebrity into his sprawling mansion. Yet as Nick remarks, “people were not invited” to Gatsby’s parties, “they went there”. Attracted like “moths” to his shimmering wealthy splendour, Nick tells us how they flocked there; yet the one moth Gatsby was hoping to attract seldom appears. Daisy.
Daisy Buchanan is Nick’s cousin and Gatsby’s lost love, the “green light” he hopes to recover from his broken past. Yet Daisy is married to Tom Buchanan, the brutal representation of reality that threatens to shatter Gatsby’s “incorruptible dream”. Tom himself is an abusive, adulterous brute who throughout the novel continues an affair with the desperate and tragic Myrtle Wilson; she’s married to the weak and weary George Wilson, who owns the gas station on the road to New York under the watchful eyes of Doctor T.J Eckleburg, a old forgotten advertisement for an optometrist.
Tragedy seems to inevitably strike in Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy, and the book ends leaving readers with a potent sense of hopelessness. (That is, if you reach the end of the book!)
This book is my favourite of all time, and being so I have recommended it to all my friends – with limited success. Many have called it boring, and have failed to finish it, and others have felt it simply doesn’t live up to the hype that surrounds it; much like Gatsby himself, funnily enough.
Whatever the opinion of the story itself, most can agree that Fitzgerald’s writing is exquisite; he weaves together the dark image of 1920s America with a skill that eclipses genius and moves into the region of the divine. The tragic beauty of his imagery – such as Eckleburg, the only God America has, and the green light, which summarises the hopes and dreams of a nation – is such to be marvelled at.
One can only wonder what the soldiers of the 40s (who received this book free whilst fighting in the Second World War) thought of the exclusive and fleeting world this book provides a small window into, and of the near repulsive extravagance of its characters.
Despite its controversy, I strongly recommend you read this book.
Although I am rather biased, I still think that the messages it conveys are important and worth considering in 2016. Too caught up in reality, our society leaves little room for the hopes and aspirations of the few dreamers left among us, spitting them out on the roadside in a similar way to the characters in The Great Gatsby.
This book teaches us that just as a balance must be found between Gatsby’s dreams and the reality he was faced with, so we must try to find a balance with the harsh realism our society perpetrates, and the dreamland our imaginations strive to make reality.