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The Book Club

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

1. The voyeuristic adventure. For me, the primary reason for the appeal and enduring popularity of “The Great Gatsby” can be attributed to the reader’s interests to peek into the lives of others as a voyeur; especially if the lifestyles are comparatively dysfunctional, excessively-extravagant or seemingly abnormal. Beyond the eccentric nature of Jay Gatsby and how he stoically attempts to reunite with Daisy Buchanan, Nick Carraway’s family and friends display traits that may be difficult to relate to. The reader is driven forward without knowing what to expect from the plot and characters; however, the complicated relationships and complex desires constantly foreshadows destruction and tragedy in the end. The succession of manslaughter, murder and suicide is not entirely unforeseen with the progression of events, but is horrific nonetheless.

2. Nick Carraway, the narrative voice and moral judgements. With the story of Jay Gatsby narrated through the eyes of Nick, the background and characteristics of Nick is of utmost importance; clearly, his status as an “average Joe” contrasts greatly with the other characters featured, who usually have class status or wealth. The difference makes the moral and ethical points more evident; and his military background endears him to Jay, who both initially struggled to fit into the new cosmopolitan landscape of their country and communities. While Nick does not interject to independently provide perspectives to praise or criticise his acquaintances, Fitzgerald’s novel is packed with subtle moral judgements for the reader to reflect upon; nevertheless, when Nick does judge individuals – especially Tom and Daisy – he is particularly honest and scathing. The reader is left to contemplate the validity of the decadence that Tom and Daisy Buchanan constantly indulge in; and whether they concur with Fitzgerald’s brand of cynicism.

3. The narrator’s formative upbringing. “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth”.

4. Nick Carraway’s characteristics. In addition to the aforementioned, Nick does establish in beginning overtly that he is slow to judge, and that he is open to listening to secrets – also because they are comfortable with sharing – from others. Furthermore, he can be said to be cautious and sceptical, as seen from his personal interactions with Jordan Baker. His network of relationships conveniently puts him in the centre of the conflicts, because he is privy to the emotions and thoughts of the other characters. His dialogues with Tom, Daisy and Jay then reveal the latter’s actions and dilemmas.

5. Nick on Tom and Daisy, towards the end of the novel. “I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made”.

6. Understanding the American Dream and weaknesses of the upper class. After World War One, in which America emerged economically stronger and established itself as the sole superpower in the world, this hegemonic dominance might have influenced subcultures within its own societies. The traditional American Dream, from my perspective, was on in which individuals made a living through honest means, and strived sufficiently to make live comfortable for their families. However, with rapid industrialisation and corresponding materialism, households became more pragmatic; and the pursuit of happiness and emotional satisfaction gave way to hedonistic pleasures, in the physical form of fortune, booze and social status. Besides the prohibition of alcohol and bootlegging, the upper class’ continued obsession with material pleasures is apparent; as epitomised by Tom and Daisy towards the end.

7. The ‘Great’ Gatsby. The irony of the title is that Gatsby is not Jay’s real name; though it is worth contending whether Jay is genuinely ‘great’ as an individual. There are several qualities that Jay possesses that deserve admiration (including from Nick): he is determined and organised in his plans (as evidenced from his diary entry, and his patient plan to win back Daisy), he is constantly, positively, hoping for an idealistic conclusion with Daisy, and this same hope empowered him to dream big, and to slowly establish himself as a respectable figure (albeit through illegal means). His unwavering obsession with Daisy proves to be his eventual undoing, as his romantic idealisation of Daisy proves false; and his love remains unrequited.

8. On the love affairs. “Suddenly I wasn’t thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more, but of this clean, hard, limited person, who dealt in universal scepticism, and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired”.

9. Love and woman: Daisy, Jordan and Myrtle Wilson. Contrasted against the idealistic passion that Jay maintains for Daisy, the other romantic passions expounded in the novel are seemingly superficial. Daisy’s refusal to continue waiting for Jay might mark her recognition on the pragmatic importance of marriage, since Tom came from a solid aristocratic background that would support an extravagant and wealthy lifestyle. Despite her physical attractiveness – her grace, charm and sophistication which Jay is clearly enraptured with – her is careless and fickle, as shown in her laissez-faire attitude towards her daughter, her refusal to take responsibility for Myrtle’s death, the choice of Tom over Gatsby, as well as her sudden disappearance before Jay’s funeral. Jordan, as Nick asserts, presents herself to be self-centred and overly goal driven; and her act of dishonesty in her first golfing tournament shows her to lack integrity and honesty.

10. The conclusion: the green light, Jay’s hopes and dreams for the future. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic 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”.

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About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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