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The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

by on January 25, 2012

Overview

New York in the roaring 1920’s, the coolest place in the universe. Nick Carraway, like so many others, is drawn to the city lights like a moth to a flame, and in those days, that flame was money. He knows a married couple in town, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who have attained the American dream. They’re young, beautiful and so rich they never have to work again (although that’s not exactly a change). Jay Gatsby, Nick’s next door neighbor, is a mysterious fellow nobody seems to know who throws lavish parties and harbors a secret love of Daisy. That should all turn out fine.

 

My thoughts

I’ve been meaning to read The Great Gatsby for many years now. Recently I’d heard news of a new movie version, being made by hit and miss (and miss and miss) director Baz Luhrmann, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. I’m going to breathe deeply before I go off on a tangent about the apparent acting skills of Mr. Maguire, and just say that despite this, I’m excited to see it. Since my tastes lie more towards the visual, I usually like to see the movie first. Many will disagree with me and say that movie adaptations are like foreign-language translations of novels; can be good but never quite capture the magic of the original. This may be true, but think of movies as having dessert before the main course; shorter and sweeter, and often enough for me.

I really love that era from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. Life was simpler, slower, and everyone was so damn cool. This novel brings all that across, but with an undertone of satire. Fitzgerald takes a look at the American dream, and finds it hollow and dead inside. All these people are rich, beautiful and have no idea what to do next. The pursuit of happiness, to them, was the same as pursuit of wealth, but they didn’t realize that these things aren’t exactly coexistent. Gatsby appears to be the only one who’s different. His pursuit of happiness meant becoming rich, but in the end it was only a stepping stool to getting what he really wanted. He’s the only one who, in his own misguided way, has a healthy outlook on money.

Money is simply a tool to make things easier. My father used to say that the only real pleasure that came with money was the chance to focus on one’s real goals in life without having to worry about financial troubles. It frees your mind from the restraints that modern society has placed on you, that to be a productive person you must have a mortgage and half a dozen credit cards. That you have to live on borrowed money because you’re living on borrowed time. I might be getting a bit up in the clouds with this rant, but as usual, my father was right.

The Great Gatsby is an incredibly clever book. In-between florid passages telling of New York’s elite is a subtler and darker subtext about the ills of extravagance and opulence. It’s timeless in its intelligent satirizing of the American Dream and New York’s financial elite and it might as well be set in Reykjavik in the year 2007, as it  mirrors events going on in today’s world so intrinsically. This novel has definitely earned its place in the canon of great literature, and is best read when one is open to its message. The message being that money isn’t evil, but it definitely brings out the worst in people.

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