Monday, October 15, 2012
The Workings of a Good Lie: A Book Review on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I know. Fitzgerald is normally part of the assigned reading in high school. Not the case for me. I can honestly say that I was never given this book for assignment; not in high school, not in college and not even in graduate school. So, did I miss out in reading this book back then?
No. Because the sad truth is that I didn't like this book.
Perhaps that was too harsh. Let's try this another way then; I didn't like the characters. The only element of the book that I truly enjoyed was the writing. The writing was good. At times, Fitzgerald was able to spin a turn of phrase that I found unique, beautiful even. But the people in this book were horrendous. I understand it's considered to be a genuine reflection of the jazz era but goodness, after reading this I'm just glad that I never had to experience life in times like these. The glitz and the glamor of the jazz era seen here in this book is apparently a facade to mask the truth where people are nothing more than shallow, worthless creatures who use money to hide the fact that they are less than human.
Let's start with the narrator. Nick Carraway has a connection to all the important characters in this novel. To start with, he lives next door to Gatsby and he's cousins with Daisy. From there, the web of characters branches out as Nick is then introduced to various people through both Daisy and Gatsby, from the guests readily available to fill up Gatsby's parties to the more intimate relations seen through Daisy. Besides the solid background given about his childhood in the Midwest and his time fighting in WWI, I can't say that I know for certain what his aspirations were. He seemed to have a tendency to become enthralled with the showy parties and guests seen at Gatsby's parties only to come back a few weeks later to find that he couldn't understand their appeal. He's known to be quiet, reserved and a great listener who ends up the keeper of secrets about various people. I know that his role was meant to be the observer but I do wish that his convictions could have been better explained. I had only the most vague idea of what he wanted in life and what he expected from the people around him. He became stronger towards the end of the book, able to distinguish between the truth and the exaggerated lies of his fellow companions which helped to separate him from pack in the story which was definitely a plus for him. His loyalty to Gatsby was also somewhat admirable in the face of the downfall seen after the climax of the novel. Overall, I did end up agreeing with the concise assessments he made about a couple of characters at the end of the novel; his ability to give the biting truth about these people made me feel only slightly better about having read their story. I just wanted to see more of what made him strong and loyal from the start and not have it seem like an afterthought that of course he would be loyal to his friend in the face of all adversity that came for Gatsby in the end.
Daisy Buchanan, her husband Tom and their friend Jordan Baker are some of the worst characters of the novel. Jordan for the most part is not a necessarily developed character. She's considered to be somewhat of a romantic interest for the narrator, Carraway, but the actuality is that she's mainly seen to be a cynical and deceitful young woman. She comes in and out of the story and it is this inconsistency that makes it difficult to see the appeal to her character or understand the feelings that Carraway had for her. Daisy and Tom are no better. For the most part, Carraway sees his cousin as beautiful and enchanting. It's in the process of looking past the cracks in her veneer that he begins to see just how shallow and selfish she truly is. The word "bully" is the only word necessary to understand Tom Buchanan as a character. He acts like an entitled, arrogant bastard and he's a damn hypocrite for the most part. Every time this character appeared, questionable actions, decisions and opinions followed. As a side note, I have no idea how he managed to convince Daisy that she married him out of love but I dislike Daisy enough to say that they deserved each other. The unfortunate truth is that these characters are the ones that yield most of the power over the course of the story. And I find them horribly disgusting as people.
Jay Gatsby is a man on the verge of gaining his dream, a long-awaited reunion with the love of his life, Daisy. Except the woman that Gatsby loved never existed. He's built up an image in his mind of a woman worthy of beauty and extravagance when the sad matter is that these very things are the reason for her weak character. She wields too much power over the life of Jay Gatsby, and if one truly thinks about it, Gatsby was more obsessed than IN LOVE with this horrible woman. And it's that unhealthy obsession (but really, what else would an obsession like this be except unhealthy?) that in the end detracts from Gatsby's overall character. The admiration that could be felt for a man who built his life out of almost nothing has to contend for the fact that Gatsby's motivating factor was a need to recapture a moment that never existed. If he could lie to himself about this all-consuming love between him and Daisy, what else in his life receives the same treatment?
Lies. This book is filled with lies and deceit. Nearly every character in this book, in some way, lied and cheated in order to better their own situation with absolutely no regard for others. The trick of it was that some of them were better at it than others. I guess that's the point of the book and THAT is something that I can admire about the workings of Fitzgerald's writing in this book.
Rating: This one's going to be a little different.
In terms of writing, the book gets an 8 from me. I know that a lot of the complaints about this book is with its simplicity but I found that to be a refreshing aspect of its writing.
In terms of plot, 5 stars. I wanted to like this book but the story was too much of a demonstration of the power of the wealthy to bully others and never receive consequences for their actions.
And the characters? 2 Stars. Horrible people, the whole lot of them. Carraway and Gatsby were two characters set adrift in a world filled with people I wouldn't even consider to be human. And that's a tragedy in and of itself.