The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —
One-sentence summary: The story of Jay Gatsby’s rise, who pursues unrequited love by making himself a millionaire through bootlegging, and eventual downfall is a chronicle of the Jazz Age and an enduring indictment of the myth of the American Dream.
My rating: (a favorite!)
When read: First read in high school and/or college. Last read in December 2006.
Why read: First time, assigned reading. Second time, for the sheer enjoyment of it.
Impressions: I have been slowly and fitfully working my way through the classic novels I last read in high school and college, in order to enjoy them without a term paper or final exam hanging over my head. In rereading The Great Gatsby, I was less concerned with the symbolic meaning of the gigantic eyes of T. J. Ecklesburg and more struck by the alien landscape of the ash field those eyes looked down upon. I was less worried about what the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock meant exactly and just knocked down by the image of romantic futility painted by Gatsby waving his arms at that dock. In other words, I was more open to the experience of the novel as a great story, rather than great literature. I feel like Daisy and Tom, with their vapid shallowness and complete lack of compassion for other people, are as relevant representations of our culture today as they were of Fitzgerald’s then. The American dream is still a powerful myth that has not yet been debunked, and Gatsby could have been as easily victimized by it in the early 21st century as he was in the premiere age of the nouveau riche. The mark of a true classic is not that it is still being taught in college classrooms, but that it is still a recognizable and moving story decades after it was written.
Current status: I have a copy in my library. Frequent rereadings are planned.
- The Modern Library named The Great Gatsby the second English-language novel of the 20th century. Ulysses was number one.
- The cover — one of the most famous pieces of book jacket art in American literature — was actually completed before the novel. Fitzgerald loved it so much that he “wrote it into the novel.”
- Fitzgerald didn’t like the title. Judging by his preferences – Trimalchio in West Egg; On the Road to West Egg; Under the Red, White, and Blue; Gold-Hatted Gatsby; and The High-Bouncing Lover – it was probably best that someone else had chosen the title for him.
- The Great Gatsby was largely forgotten by the time of Fitzgerald’s death, but gained readers when it was given free to American servicemen during World War II. Its status as a classic wasn’t realized until the 1960s.
- The novel has been filmed five times and is undergoing a sixth adaptation.
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