Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review #24: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This book is thwarting my efforts in reviewing because it's rather difficult to! I will proceed to try ;)

So, it's the roaring 1920's. The Jazz Age. The decade when, quoted from NY Times, "gin was the national drink and sex was the nation's obsession". World War I has just ended and America's economy has never been better. People were filthy rich and not squeaky clean. The wealthy Americans were wasteful. Extravagant parties, cars, alcohol, irresponsible wealthy bastards and all. Most of all, there is the American Dream. The idea that if you want material wealth, you can obtain material wealth.

Creepy ass cover is creepy. Was told it is iconic. The more I stare,
the more enamoured I am.. 
In the summer of 1922, we're introduced to our rather hypocritical and judgmental narrator, Nick Carraway. He's recently moved to West Egg in New York. He's the cousin of Daisy Buchanan, our heroine. She lives in East Egg (more fashionable than West Egg) with her husband, Tom. Tom is a laughable character. He's brute, thick, muscular, aggressive and obscenely wealthy.

If you're unfamiliar with the novel, then you're probably wondering who the frack Gatsby is. 
He is rumoured to be a bootlegger, a killer, a fraud -- it's ridiculous how the people who  have never met or know him attend his lavish parties.

Gatsby is the book's hero and Nick's wealthy neighbour. This novel tells the story of Gatsby who has a singular, obsessive and naive dream. This dream of his, however romantic, will prove to be his likely downfall. 

(Spoilers ahead in case you're catching the book/movie with Leo in it)

Let me preface this by saying I hated this book in the beginning. It took me more effort needed than a 800-paged novel. I was disappointed that the book touted as the "greatest American novel" turned out that way for me. Surely, I was reading correctly? I didn't comprehend the plot, didn't know what the angle was or what the significance of what I'm reading. All I knew was that there were crazy people, crazy parties and crazy address names like East and West Egg. I was ready to flip the table... until I did some research on the book.

That little piece of American history I told you above about the Jazz Age, I wasn't aware of. The problem I had was that I didn't know the historical context of the novel. So what if they were having parties? So what if there's a philandering husband? I didn't realise that Fitzgerald was making a social commentary (a satire, perhaps) on that period. It's funny, I was reading one of the most "American" books ever published and I knew nothing about that period.

After some research and feeling stupid, I started reading and really liking it. There were many hidden symbols and motifs which got me thinking: I have dreams, everybody does. Unlike Jay Gatsby's singular and obsessive dream, mine is vague -- intentionally. Gatsby knew that he wanted Daisy. Here comes the famous symbol, the "green light". Gatsby lives in the West and Daisy in the East, but his house is directly opposite Daisy's. There's a green light on Daisy's dock and all he wants is that green light which is Daisy. Another interesting symbol was "The Valley of Ashes". It is this land where industrial ashes are dumped and this was significant because it symbolises how Americans are pursuing material wealth at the expense of their morals. You'd find many symbols like these.

I want to say that Gatsby is an admirable hero. My reason is is tenacity and his drive. I know many will pummel me with cheese in disagreement but think about it. He has been obsessed with her for five years. He was a soldier in the war when he met Daisy five years ago. He promised her everything although he has nothing and she just couldn't wait so she marries Tom. He was penniless and was without any "goggnections". And you know what he does? He trains himself day and night to "polish" himself to fit into the wealthy society -- he literally has a schedule from 6am, it broke my heart a little in the end. He goes through illegal dealings to make his money. He bought a house opposite Daisy. He throws lavish parties for strangers JUST SO he'd have a chance to see her (but she never comes). And, finally after five years, opportunity comes in the form of Nick Carraway who's Daisy's cousin. The whole process astounds me.

He is a fool, though, look at him. On his deathbed, with nobody except Nick and his father. Nobody. The hundreds of guests who attend his party -- where are they now? Daisy, whom he loves and the source of his demise -- where is she? His Jewish partner in crime admired him but doesn't want to be seen attending is funeral. This shows how money can't buy you everything.

What made me rather emotional was the fact that Daisy's "voice is full of money" (Gatsby told Nick). Daisy is born in the comfort of a wealthy home, she is sheltered and has known no other. She chose the comfort of wealth when she chose Tom. Because she's wealthy, she has the power over which man to marry. The fact that she tossed Gatsby around like a salad made me abhor her. What a b****.

Now I know why it's so thin, if it was 800 pages long, we'd all pass out from that much critical reading. When Hemmingway, who was confused with Fitzgerald's book cover, asked him about it, Fitzgerald said: don't judge a book by its cover. Indeed.

Genre: Classic American literature
Pages: Puny 188 pages

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