As writers and readers, we must all have an opinion on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920s novel “The Great Gatsby” it would be sacrilegious not to! The book is perhaps the most famous American novel in existence, with many also considering it to be the best, which says a lot considering the competition it’s up against. Regardless of where you feel the title belongs, whether that be with Steinbeck, perhaps Kerouac or indeed with Gatsby itself, Fitzgerald’s novel is truly something special. Even if we don’t like the book for the traditional reasons it has been praised for we can still all learn hugely from its efforts. Here are just some of the things I picked up on when I read Gatsby:
The American Dream
The American Dream is something that pops up time and time again in American literature… I mean why wouldn’t it. The integral part of the American lifestyle suggests that anything is possible in a meritocracy such as the USA. The ideology has been criticised and praised in a huge amount of American novels, but Gatsby seems to capture the problems with the American Dream in a completely different way.
Writers like Steinbeck all out suggests that the American Dream doesn’t exist in his more well-known novels, however Gatsby looks in more detail at how the myth of the American Dream interacts with Privilege and wealth.
The contradiction of the American dream in the Great Gatsby is filled with the snobbery and condescension you’d expect to find in a classic piece of English literature like that of Dickens or Jane Austen. By talking about these elements in his novel, Fitzgerald is showing us how privilege can act as a glass ceiling within the American social circles, an idea that now in the twenty-first century has become extremely fashionable.
Fitzgerald makes us feel like people from new money and old money backgrounds will never mix, that despite Gatsby’s best efforts to become the man people want him to be he will never be able to achieve his goal.
The idea of privilege negatively affecting society is something that is perhaps even more relevant now than it was in the 1920s, it’s definitely a talking point of twenty-first century which render Gatsby, although perhaps a little old, exceptionally relevant.
The Rose-Tinted Passages of Time
The way Fitzgerald captures memories is also something of mastery. I’ve never once read a book which manages to capture the very human feeling of the past being beautiful yet unattainable as much as The Great Gatsby.
Fitzgerald’s novel imposes that we can never go back, that the past can never be returned to and that we shouldn’t put too much faith in it. Jay Gatsby’s complete denial that his past love affair is not perfect, how it isn’t the way he imagined it and how it never could be is captured with such a human naivety which was extremely touching when I read it. Fitzgerald’s use of this theme makes the story feel undeniably human something we all want our writing to convey.
Hello Old Sport
It’s no secret that Gatsby has the annoying tendency to repetitively call people “old sport.” Whether you’ve seen the film or read the book he consistently refers to people as this very old-fashioned and quite frankly annoying name! Some people love it but I unfortunately can’t quite accept this quirk, nobody’s perfect I guess!
I hated it! But then I started to understand how it made me feel about the character. Fitzgerald’s use of the phrase old sport is restricted only to Gatsby’s character. As a writer when we implement these unique quirks into individual characters we’re telling the audience something, consciously or subconsciously. Gatsby’s character from the beginning of Fitzgerald’s novel is always seen as unique yet a familiar almost fatherly individual, and it makes sense why he is that way if you’ve read the book.
When I first read the scene where we meet Gatsby in the novel, I instantly thought his character was older purely from the dialogue attributed to him. That might just be because terms like old sport in this day and age are reserved for older gentlemen, when they were previously pretty fashionable, but I do believe that Fitzgerald is trying to tell us something.
Gatsby comes across as an older man, a wiser and far more mature man than his years could ever suggest… At the beginning anyway! The further you delve into this theory you begin to spot more quirks, more sign posts that Fitzgerald left for his audience to understand his characters.
Where the book shines is in it’s characters and their development, every single one of them is believable and feels remarkably real. Even if you’re not a fan of any of Fitzgerald’s books Gatsby is something we can learn from. These little quirks like “hello old sport” can seem excruciatingly annoying but they make the characters who possess them seem so unique and human.
The development of characters like Daisy and Tom are exceptional; they embody a societal group and culture which can only be considered privileged, yet show an extreme vulnerability and weakness in the face of their conflicts. Every character has strengths and weaknesses, virtues and flaws and because of that my experience of reading The Great Gatsby felt almost seamless. Everything seemed to click and fit together with ease.
A Highly Stylised and Unique Voice
The main reason why Fitzgerald is praised to such a high regard is due to his luxurious and elegant voice. The writing is truly amazing, poetic and effortless. By reading Gatsby as a writer we can all learn so much. I definitely did. The narrative, the characters, the philosophies all found within the Great Gatsby are things we should all pay attention to even if we aren’t writers. The book is still, in my humble opinion, just as relevant now as it was back in the 1920s. So yes, Gatsby is great. It truly is the Great Gatsby and there are so many reasons why.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby
I hope this post inspires those of you who haven’t read the Great Gatsby to pick up your own copy, or gets those of you have already read the book to think about it in a modern context. In a time where words like privilege are bandied round so readily, Gatsby, a book nearly one-hundred years old says much more about social justice than people give it credit for.
Let me know if I’ve missed anything that needs to be in this post, by putting it down in the comments, I’m sure books mean completely different things to different people and I’d love to hear what Gatsby means to you!