The Compulsive Reader: Classics Corner: Ten Things I Like About The Great Gatsby

Friday, May 18, 2012

Classics Corner: Ten Things I Like About The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is one of those books that seems to be inflicted upon everyone at some point in high school English classes, and despite its brevity and being relatively modern and accessible compared to say, oh, Dickens or Melville, it is also one that people either love or hate...no in between.

That's just my perspective, anyway.

I'm not sure how this happened, but I somehow escaped having to read it during my high school years, and have since gone through my undergrad classes not exactly pretending to have read it, but not saying anything to the contrary either. It's not that I wasn't ever going to read it. I just hadn't gotten around to it yet. But I totally had a copy of it on my shelf of Serious Books. And then my American Lit survey assigned it, and it was just convenient.

I think I devoured it more than actually reading it over Spring Break, and I came to class all bright-eyed and eager to talk about how cool it is and how much I liked it and then...the class discussion killed my excitement. Popped it like a balloon. Just, gone.

So, since this is my happy corner of the internet where I can talk about pretty much whatever I want, here's what I was going to say about The Great Gatsby, before that class period:

Ten Things I Like About The Great Gatsby

1. Nick Carraway. He's a narrator I can relate to and I like the way he strings together his thoughts and sentences. He comes to New York to figure out his life because he can't find what he's looking for in the Midwest. He may be confused about his life, but he's also way more grounded and realistic than Gatsby or Daisy.

2. "I'm the most honest man I know." Nick Carraway says this early on in the book, and he also talks a lot about how he values honesty--he can't stand it when Jordan lies. But the context of the statement and the meaning makes you also wonder at Nick's character and why he stated that. I love that there is that added depth to his character.

3. The most awesome metaphor of the Valley of Ashes and the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. Enough said.

4. Jay Gatsby. Despite how conflicted and misled he may be, there's just something about the guy. I mean, I could do without him calling Nick "old sport" all the time (really? "Old sport?" It's SUPER ANNOYING), but I just feel bad for him. He's so quiet and all he does is in the hope that he can meet Daisy, the woman that he thinks is the love of his life. I mean, it may be a little naive of him, but there's an almost innocent quality about him that makes you want things to work out for him. Too bad he's so far gone and Daisy isn't good enough for him.

5. Tom and Daisy Buchanan's stupidity. Okay, I know that this is probably not something you're supposed to like about a novel, but their marriage is like a train wreck. I can't look away. Tom cheats, Daisy is reckless, and even though they seem wildly unhappy, they deserve each other. They are careless with others and they represent the worst of the filthy rich. They're good characters to hate.

6. The way that Fitzgerald portrays women. This may sound odd, because there aren't exactly many "good" female characters in The Great Gatsby, but Fitzgerald was probably the first American male writer to not make females fade into the background. He portrayed them as human beings who have affairs, make mistakes, and actually play roles in how the novel unfolds. They have power. Even if they all make bad decisions and I'd like to slap them all.

7. The pacing. It's less than two hundred pages, and I flew through it. The way that Fitzgerald sets it up to take place over the course of a summer is very symbolic, and the action unfolds nicely.

8. The issues of entitlement and wealth. I like how Fitzgerald emphasized that wealth can make anyone feel entitled and above morals and laws. It's not just Tom who cheats or breaks laws. Even Gatsby--mild mannered, naive, likable Gatsby--bootlegs so he can be rich enough to get Daisy's attention, and then he takes the fall for Daisy when she kills Myrtle. And they all think that they can just get away with it. There is this lawlessness that stalks these rich characters, and Nick doesn't like it.

9. The reason why this story is so relevant--it's all about finding purpose. Nick comes to New York to get a job and be useful, to find his purpose. But, he doesn't find it. He thinks that befriending Gatsby and helping him get to Daisy will help him achieve this, or at least help Gatsby achieve his purpose. He has nothing to do but watch as the train wreck of events unfolds and try to pick up the pieces. Maybe his role in it isn't to try and save everyone--which he completely fails at--but to observe it, learn from it. At the end, he decides to go back West. And who would blame him?

10. This book is so quotable!
"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. 
'Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.'"
"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..."
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

And there are a TON more. What about you guys--any favorite Gatsby quotes? If you've read it, what did you think? If you haven't read it, I recommend it!


Unknown said...

Yea I have to agree with you, there is this GRAND fascination with this book. I never really enjoyed it in high school when I read it. I think it was way beyond me. I read it again last year for the second time, and I was blown away by it. It's incredibly writing, and an even more incredible plot. I enjoyed reading your take on it :). Maybe you'd like to see my thoughts on it... :) Here it is: http://personalliterarybookfrenzy.blogspot.com/2011/04/whats-so-great-about-great-gatsby.html

The book girl said...

I think in high school they kind of kill the enjoyment of just simply reading The Great Gatsby. There's a quiz every chapter, essays, responses... I personally loved it the second time around, but when I read it my junior year, I resented it. I love your list!

Amber said...

I remember liking The Great Gatsby when I read it in high school. Have you read The Beautiful and Damned? I read it not too long ago but didn't like it as much. F. Scott Fitzgerald was able to effectively articulate great commentary (which you highlight in your list)on wealth and purpose in The Great Gatsby with relatively few number of pages compared to The Beautiful and Damned.

Anonymous said...

"'Civilization's going to pieces,' broke out Tom violently. 'I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Coloured Empires by this man Goddard?'

Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be--will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific suff; it's been proved.'"

One of my favourite parts of the book, not because of what Tom says but because I get to call him a blundering troll and laugh at his lack of a brain.

ritathecheetah said...

The Great Gatsby is by far my favorite book. It's so beautifully written, and its symbols and metaphors are unparalleled. I just finished rereading it for the 4th time today, I was so excited when I saw you posted this.
I am such a dork about this book but it's definitely one of the most powerful books I was ever forced to read and then actually enjoyed.

Mary Preston said...

It has been a very long time since I read THE GREAT GATSBY. Time to re-read I'd say.

Lauren said...

I'm not a fan of the book, but I do love this line:

"People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away"

Unknown said...

Just passing through a year later and wanted to leave a comment. First, I was sad when I read that the class discussion "killed" your excitement as that is not what it is suppose to do; and I don't know who was at fault, the professor or the students or both. But I do know as a teacher, if students don't do their work, we cannot do ours, So sorry that this happened. Second, I too, felt that Nick was a good choice for the narrator even though he wasn't as "honest" as he claimed (his secret affair with the office girl, which makes him like Tom in a way...). I liked how he revealed little facts about Gatsby when he did as it made the book read more like a mystery at times; but did you know that Fitzgerald at first the narrator be third-person omniscient, but after the second or third chapter, he felt this wasn't working, so he re-wrote them using Nick as the first person narrator. I agree with your observation of Gatsby in a way, that he was naive, but only when it came to Daisy, as he really was a bastard even in his youth! And you are "spot on" about the issues of entitlement and wealth, but with old money more so than the new money as I could not see Zukerberg thinking this at all! And lastly, to those who did read it more than once, like I tell my students: Good books are like virgins; they don't give it all up the first time! So to you, I hope you will read it again if not only for this reason, but also due to you changing and growing since you last did! :-)