Reading Time: 6 minutes
I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald several years ago, maybe in college, and I liked it a lot. Then, a couple of weeks ago, while aimlessly surfing the web, I bumped into a review of the movie with Leo di Caprio and decided to reread it. I thought it would be fun to read while listening to the audiobook, and it was a great idea. Also, another review of a classic book in this blog wouldn’t hurt. So here it is, The Great Gatsby’s book review.
Introduction – What is The Great Gatsby?
The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is set in the Roaring Twenties and follows a series of characters living in the fictional town of West Egg. Long Island. The novel tells the story of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire living in a mansion, and his tumultuous relationship with Daisy Buchanan, a married woman from a wealthy family. Through the character of Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald explores themes of idealism, obsession, and the American Dream, among others. One topic that I am interested in and will include in this review is ecocriticism. I know it sounds random, but I am just curious.
The Great Gatsby Summary
The Great Gatsby’s story is narrated by a young man named Nick Carraway, who comes from the Midwest to New York City for professional reasons. But, unwillingly, he is drawn into the lives of the wealthy elite and becomes the observer of their glamorous and hedonistic lifestyle.
Nick moves to West Egg, Long Island, and starts living next door to the wealthy and mysterious Jay Gatsby. As Nick gets to know the people in his neighbor’s circle, he becomes increasingly intrigued by Gatsby’s past and connection to the beautiful and wealthy Daisy Buchanan.
“Did I tell you about the books? They’re real!”—Owl-Eyes
Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald develops Nick’s character from an innocent and idealistic young man, amazed with the life near the big city, to a more complex and disillusioned individual. Nick is initially drawn to the glamorous lifestyle of the wealthy elite, but he eventually becomes disillusioned with their empty and shallow lives.
Nick’s moral compass is tested throughout the novel as he becomes more involved in the other characters’ lives. The fact that he serves as a confidant and observer of the relationships between different characters cause him to be torn between his loyalty to Gatsby and his loyalty to Daisy. As the story progresses, Nick sees the flaws in Gatsby’s character and becomes disappointed with his grand illusions.
Nick’s development is also influenced by his interactions with other characters, including his cousin Daisy, her husband Tom, and Jordan Baker, a professional golfer with whom he becomes romantically involved. As Nick observes their relationships and their behaviors, he begins to question their values and their motivations.
Ultimately, Nick becomes a symbol of the loss of innocence and the disillusionment that characterized the era. He represents the ideals of a generation shattered by the excesses and superficiality of the wealthy elite. Through his experiences, Nick understands the hollowness of the American Dream and the actual cost of pursuing wealth and power at all costs.
Analysis of The Great Gatsby
The usual way to look at the novel is from the social class category point of view. As such, Gatsby’s pursuit of wealth and status is symbolic of the American Dream, but the existing social hierarchy and racial tensions of the time constantly thwart his efforts. However, within the dramatic aspect of the novel, it is apparent that all his simulations and lies are to win back Daisy’s love rather than to attain the status of the elite.
The novel highlights the disillusionment of the working- who cannot attain the same level of success as the wealthy elite. Thus, we could express the correlation between the characters and their dramatic function: Gatsby’s character is a symbol of the nouveau riche, who seek to establish themselves in a society that values old money and status. Daisy represents the privileged upper class, while Tom embodies the old-money aristocracy threatened by Gatsby’s rise. Myrtle’s character symbolizes the struggles of the lower class, and her affair with Tom highlights the class divide and the consequences of breaking social norms.
Themes of The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby is full of still relevant themes, such as the pursuit of the American Dream, the power of money, and the corrupting influence of materialism. These themes are explored through the character of Jay Gatsby, a self-made man who has achieved the American Dream of wealth and success. As I read through the book, I couldn’t help but be struck by how Fitzgerald portrays the American dream. It’s a seemingly unattainable ideal, always shimmering just out of reach, much like Daisy’s home green light across the bay.
In the book’s world, the characters are consumed by their desires for wealth, status, and the illusion of happiness that comes with them. Take, for instance, Jordan Baker’s willingness to marry a rich guy. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the dream is ultimately hollow, built on lies and illusions. I am not sure if Fitzgerald tries to warn us that the pursuit of material success leads to a downfall, but Nick’s character development indeed implies so.
The novel also explores the theme of obsession, as Gatsby is so obsessed with Daisy that he is willing to risk everything to win her back. However, this obsession is ultimately his downfall, as it leads him to make decisions that eventually lead to his… well, read the book and see the consequences of his choices. Another central theme in The Great Gatsby is the idea of the past and its impact on the present. Throughout the novel, characters struggle to reconcile their current lives with their memories and experiences from the past. Gatsby, in particular, is obsessed with recreating his past relationship with Daisy. His primary motivation throughout the novel is to be physically close to Daisy, impress her, and eventually be with her. Unfortunately, his desire to relive the past ultimately leads to his downfall. The past as a theme is significant in the novel, as this dialogue between Nick and Gatsby shows:
“I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.”
“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why, of course you can!”
One last theme that I was curious about was environmentalism. Even though the American Dream, past, and obsession are the most commonly talked about themes, there are also some environmentalist ideas in the book. For example, the Valley of Ashes is used to show how unchecked capitalism destroys the environment and makes it worse. The Valley of Ashes is a barren, dirty wasteland halfway between West Egg and New York City. Fitzgerald uses this image to criticize the rich characters in the book, who don’t care about how their actions affect the environment or the people who live there. Also, the book’s criticism of the wealthy elite’s shallowness and materialism can be seen as a call for a more sustainable and socially responsible way of life.
Characters in The Great Gatsby
- Jay Gatsby, the novel’s main character, is a mysterious millionaire obsessed with Daisy Buchanan. He is a self-made man who has achieved the American Dream of wealth and success, but he also keeps many secrets that make for an exciting plot. The mystery of the character is built up in the novel’s first part as Gatsby doesn’t appear. Still, other characters reference information about him, such as his big parties, killing a man, being an Oxford man, etc. However, the first mention of Gatsby appears on page 9, his mansion is mentioned on page 12, and it’s not until page 26 that Nick sees Gatsby, but from afar, through the garden.
- Daisy Buchanan is a wealthy socialite who is married to Tom Buchanan. She is Gatsby’s obsession and is a symbol of the upper-class lifestyle. She is portrayed as a beautiful woman who is caught between her love for Gatsby and her marriage to Tom. Daisy represents women’s struggle in the 1920s, as she is expected to conform to societal expectations while desiring freedom and independence.
- Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan, is also an upper-class member. He symbolizes the old-money lifestyle and is a foil to Gatsby’s nouveau riche lifestyle. He is portrayed as a racist, sexist, and violent man who uses his wealth and power to control those around him. Tom’s character highlights the American Dream’s flaws and society’s moral decay during the period.
- Nick Carraway is the novel’s narrator and a cousin of Daisy. He is an observer of the novel’s events and a moral compass for the other characters. Nick also provides a window into the world of the wealthy elite during the Jazz Age. Nick’s character is one of moral integrity, and he serves as a foil to the other characters in the novel, highlighting their flaws and corruption. His perspective critically examines the American Dream and the society of the time.
- Myrtle Wilson and her husband, George, play essential roles in the novel. Myrtle is Tom Buchanan’s mistress, and the fact that they are together shows how immoral and corrupt the rich are. She symbolizes how people from the working class want to be rich and famous, but her quest for these things leads to her tragic end. George, her husband, is a mechanic. He symbolizes how the American Dream doesn’t work for everyone, no matter how hard you work, and how desperate those left behind feel. Myrtle and George Wilson show the difference between the rich and the poor at the time and criticize the values of the Jazz Age.
- Jordan Baker is a friend of Daisy’s and a professional golfer. Her function in the novel is to represent the new woman of the 1920s, as she is portrayed as independent and self-reliant. Jordan’s character serves as a foil to Daisy and represents the changing societal values of the time. She is also a love interest for Nick, who thinks she is dishonest and rejects her at the novel’s end.
The Great Gatsby on Screen: A Look at Movie Adaptations
As I said at the beginning, the idea for this post came to me I bumped into a review of the 2013 movie based on the book. I havent ’seen the 1974 adaptation of the novel, just the one with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby.
Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the 2013 version is beatiful visually. The film’s use of modern music was a bold choice, but one that I thought worked well in capturing the energy and excitement of the time period. The acting was also superb, with DiCaprio bringing just the right amount of charm and tragedy to the role of Gatsby.
Here is a side by side comparison video of the movies:
My overall opinion of The Great Gatsby
As I mentioned, I believe The Great Gatsby is a great novel. All the characters are complex, with well-established motivations guiding their behaviors throughout the story. I particularly enjoyed the construction of Gatsby, which Fitzgerald achieved through the use of ellipses and circumlocution. Jordan Baker’s character also caught my attention, mainly because of her different facets.
Without giving away any spoilers, I highly recommend the last quarter of the novel. In this part, all the plot threads are resolved, the characters’ destinies are established, and an exciting contradiction is generated with Gatsby’s fate, which also shows the moral scope of Nick– I won’t tell you what it is, so read the book!
Finally, I read the book while listening to the Spotify version produced by Scott Sherratt and narrated by Scott Shepherd. Shepherd’s work is awe-inspiring because he reads and interprets the text brilliantly. Even the less essential dialogues have an exceptional intonation. Highly recommendable, indeed.