In the early 1900s, America gave way to a new age of aesthetics, which came to be known as modernism. New thinking and new ideas characterized it in various disciplines – including but not limited to art, music, communication, architecture, engineering, political science, and literature. The work of modernists put to question the previous age of impressionism (1880s-1899); it was Ezra Pound who simply said, “Make it new,” when it came to the age of modernism.
Author F. Scott Fitzgerald made a great impact on American writing and Modernism with his most renowned novel from 1922, The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald brought readers both then and now into the Prohibition era that engulfed New York where morals were loose and liquor was cheap. The story also gives way to a new technique of writing where readers start at the end of the story with a broken narrator named Nick Caraway. Caraway already knows where this story will go, and his opinion on the other characters as well as himself has already been decided. This gives a first person subjective point of view which proves to be unreliable throughout the story. Why unreliable? Because our narrator believes that he is the most honest person in this novel, yet as the story progresses we realize that this is not the case.
Nick Caraway comes to Long Island to get into the bonds business and make a name for himself on Wall Street, living in the ‘New Money’ half of Long Island known as West Egg. We then delve into the lives of East Egg residents Daisy and Tom Buchanan who prove to be unlike anything Nick has ever seen before. They are ‘Old Money’ and Tom is not afraid to flaunt this. When Nick goes on a trip with Tom to drink and party, he sees that Tom is in the middle of an affair with his mechanic’s wife, and then Nick reveals to be in a relationship with a woman back where he’s from. Yet he tells readers that he is the most honest person he knows. Is Nick really that honest if he is flirting with women and partying with them despite his relationship? This theme occurs throughout the story even after we meet the titular ‘Great’ Gatsby.
The main story of The Great Gatsby is Nick’s relationship with Jay Gatsby as he tries to win over the woman he loves, which is Daisy. There is mystery that surrounds Gatsby and as the story progresses we learn more and more, only to discover that Gatsby came into his wealth through bootlegging and more. He gains all of his money and throws these magnificent parties that people show up to without an invite and drink the night away. This mystery that surrounds him is revealed to be a facade so that he can attract Daisy to these parties and he can take her from Tom Buchanan, a man who treats her like an object that he can use whenever he pleases before casting her aside when he becomes bored. Because of Nick’s subjective narration, he holds Gatsby on this pedestal and readers have to read between the lines to realize the underlying truth: That Gatsby (despite his intentions) is just as deceitful as Tom. Yes he loves Daisy, but he is using his money and power to attract her to him and give her security. Tom did the exact same thing when he married her when she was introduced at the age of 17 at a debutant ball. The marriage acted more like a business exchange as opposed to a real marriage based on love. Is Gatsby so great if he is simply trying to buy Daisy, just as Tom did? Like I said, Tom is a rotten man and Gatsby does indeed love Daisy; but the spectacular irony of the matter is that Gatsby has unintentionally put himself right in Tom’s shoes, proving that he is just like him.
One other aspect of The Great Gatsby that I love is its concept on the American dream. During the roaring 20s, immigrants were coming to America to fulfill a dream of their’s, whether it be money, power, happiness, or all three. For Gatsby, that dream was Daisy Buchanan. Everything he did, wether it be bootlegging, throwing parties, or coercing Nick into helping him, it was all to win the love of Daisy. The harsh reality, though, was that Daisy was always beyond his reach, as symbolized by the green light at the end of her dock that Gatsby would always reach out to from his. This all translates to the concept that the American dream is an unattainable thing. We can earn all the money we want, and we can have everything in the world that we work towards; but once we have those things, our greed makes us want more and more. This can have positive and negative affects on people. One can become consumed by the notion of becoming the American Dream and forever be damned to a life of always wanting more; or they can use this concept of an unreachable dream as a way of constantly bettering ourselves.
Matthew McConaughey’s acceptance speech when he won the Academy Award for best actor this past year reminded me of this a lot. McConaughey talked about how his goal is himself ten years from now, and then when he gets there his next goal is himself another ten years from then. That is a great example of how a dream can better ourselves and not necessarily consume us. I think The Great Gatsby sends a great message with Gatsby’s inevitable failure. He let Daisy consume himself and as he outstretched his arm for her, he never realized that she was already behind him. As unreliable a narrator as Nick Caraway was, his last few sentences are words that can resonate with us to this day.
“… tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Overall Rating: 9.5/10 – Phenomenal
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is timeless and it’s themes are relevant to this day. If you for some reason never read this in high school or college, I highly highly HIGHLY recommend this book. It’s short in comparison with other novels out there; but it is some of the best writing in American literature. Also, I will touch up on the movie that came out this past year for a moment.
Overall I thought Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation did the novel itself justice. It sticks to the source nearly to a tee, I never had any issues with the way the story was written for the screen. The camerawork was nauseating at times with the fast movements and increased color correction; but that’s Luhrmann’s choice as the auteur. I thought the last 20 minutes of the movie were fantastic and the end of the story was translated to the screen magnificently. Leonardo DiCaprio is pure typecasting as Gatsby, Carrie Mulligan was great as Daisy, I’m not the hugest fan of Tobey Maguire, and I’m not the hugest fan of Nick Caraway so I enjoyed not liking him throughout the film. A lot of people argued that the music was very out of place, using original songs from popular artists such as Jay-Z, Beyoncé, André 3000, Lana Del Ray, Fergie, Will.i.am, and more. I actually enjoyed this a lot – I thought it was a great juxtaposition for music during the prohibition era like jazz and gospel that was tabooed then with music that is considered tabooed nowadays. I’ll give the film a 6.5/10
Here’s a trailer to the movie in case you were wondering
IMAGES: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1368904/thumbs/o-GREAT-GATSBY-facebook.jpg, http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1122158/thumbs/o-GATSBY-facebook.jpg, http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Sjr-dWYtVk0/UY6ZXLCHl6I/AAAAAAAALdo/qdFcfVhPtWQ/s1600/Jay-Gatsby-Leonardo-DiCaprio-The-Great-Gatsby-2013-Baz-Luhrmann.png