It’s been several years since I first read this book. The first time was in my senior high school English class, which was basically an American literature class. I hated it at the time; partly because it was assigned, and partly because I didn’t understand it. I’m sure we talked about it in class, but I don’t remember any of that. My best friend, who is now and English teacher, loves it and never understood why I didn’t love it. When the movie came out, I thought it was time I picked it back up. I devoured it and loved it.
When Nick Carraway takes a job in New York and moves into a small cottage nestled among the mansions of West Egg on Long Island, he finds himself thrust into the dazzling, decadent world of Jay Gatsby. Gatsby, his neighbor, has legendary parties and is never short on booze. Everyone seems to know him, but no one knows anything about him. It isn’t until Gatsby asks a favor of Nick that he begins to learn more.
One of the reasons The Great Gatsby became an American classic is because it’s an honest representation of life during the Jazz Age. I wasn’t around then, so I can’t really say whether or not that’s true, but pretty much everyone ever agrees, so I guess I’ll buy it. That’s not what I loved about it, though. I loved two things: Gatsby and the prose.
Jay Gatsby is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read about. I have a tendency to love desperately passionate characters, and Gatsby is one of them. He’s obsessed with Daisy and he builds his whole life around the idea of being with her. I like that. I wouldn’t want someone to be that way about me because that’s a lot of pressure, but I like reading about it. Gatsby’s problem is that it’s never enough. He spends five years thinking about what it will be like when they’re together. Then, when they are, it’s not what he expected. I never hated Gatsby for that, even if he made bad choices and obsessed over Daisy. I never even disliked him, and I appreciated that Nick saw him at his best and understood him.
Daisy, on the other hand, I loathed. I understand that Gatsby asked too much of her, but she was so selfish and fake. Also, the way she talked grated on my nerves. She would say so much and never say a thing. Still, there were moments when they were together that made me smile.
I know there’s supposed to be this whole symbolism thing where Gatsby represents humans, in general, and the green light represents the American dream, but I don’t read like that. Also, I’m a firm believer in books belonging to their readers. We all interpret things differently. I’m not really worried about picking up on symbols the author intended. I’ll read it the way I read it. Gatsby was just Gatsby. He was just an ambitious guy. I’ll admit that the green light does have some significance to me. It’s that feeling of wanting more. I think that’s something that we all experience our whole lives. Even if we get everything we want, there will always be some inherent need for more. Gatsby certainly doesn’t get everything he wants, but even if he had, I don’t think it would have been enough.
I loved Fitzgerald’s writing so much. It’s beautiful and intellectual. There were much simpler ways of saying some things, but the book wouldn’t be half as good if he had written it that way. The writing was the second element that kept me interested in reading. The second read won me over, and this is now a favorite.