Published by Scribner on 2004 (first in 1925)
Genres: Adult fiction, Classics
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The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.
The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.
Here is an essay I wrote for an English class in college. It basically explains how I saw Gatsby and Daisy and why their relationship would not have worked. The assignment limited me to chapter 3, but obviously I had to use more than just that. (I did get points taken off for it, but I wouldn’t have done it any differently. I couldn’t just leave out important facts, just because they weren’t in chapter 3. It isn’t even the best chapter for close reading anyway, right? One of the later chapters would have been better.)
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the character of Jay Gatsby is more of an idea than a man. He is a larger-than-life character, surrounded by an air of mystery and grandeur, and seems to live in a different world from the rest of the characters. Chapter Three reveals many examples of this and provides some insight on why his story plays out the way it does. Gatsby’s downfall, stemming from his failure with Daisy and ending in his death, is ultimately because he and Daisy are living in two different worlds. She lives in the present—reality—while he lives in the past.
Because of Gatsby’s obsession with the past, he feels the need to have complete control in his life in order to repeat the past as best he can. He builds up a sort of fake life, all for her. At first he amasses wealth and easily adapts to the rich lifestyle because that’s what he has always dreamed of, but when he meets Daisy, she becomes his new dream, and he builds his life around the possibility of her. Everything matters less to him, and he cares only what she might think of it. This is obvious in the fact that he has such extravagant parties only in the hope that she might show up one day, and also because Nick later notes that when she first sees his house, he seems to reevaluate everything based on how she feels about it. It is also noted that his room is the least extravagant in the house, despite it being such a personal room to him. The rest is all for show. He also cannot be fully present, even at his own parties. In this chapter, Nick notices that he doesn’t drink, and this helps “set him off from his guests” (50). He doesn’t care to introduce himself to them, and as a result, rumours fly around like crazy. No one is certain who he is or what he does. Nick also notes that he doesn’t have a girl swooning onto his shoulder. (Not that he would take anyone but Daisy.) In fact, it seems that he doesn’t form friendships or attachments to people outside of business at all. This is with the exception of Nick and Jordan, whom he only gets to know because they are his connections to Daisy. He is always sort of distant, only focused on his goal of attracting Daisy’s attention, and this contributes to his faint, almost innocent condescension toward others. This is further supported by his catchphrase, “old sport,” which Tom later calls him out on. Of course Tom notices; he is often described as having “paternal contempt” (7) himself. In fact, this they have in common, along with a larger issue: They both feel like they need to have control, especially of Daisy.
Gatsby’s reputation and wealth allow him this control over a lot of aspects of his life. But Daisy falls outside his control because she lives in a different world entirely. Essentially, she sees him like the guests of his parties do (even though she has never one of them)—not as an equal, but as a mystery. Just as Owl Eyes is amazed that the books in the library are real (45), when Daisy reunites with Gatsby, she has a hard time equating this larger-than-life figure with the very real man she once knew. She is in awe of his house, but doesn’t seem to immediately fall in love with it. In fact it makes her sad, but not out of envy—perhaps she is overwhelmed by the idea of Gatsby, who is such a grand figure (as well as a ghost of the past) to take in all at once. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t have his level of ambition or appreciation for grandeur; for example, her house is not nearly as excessive although it is quite beautiful. But the main problem is that Gatsby is a dream to her, just as she was a dream to him, but she lives in reality. She isn’t going to just leave her marriage and child on a whim. He can only live in the past. He assumes she’ll just drop everything and everything will be as if he had never left. His only goal is to repeat the past, as he says to Nick the night that Tom and Daisy attend one of his parties. Ultimately, he pushes her too far and too fast. He doesn’t really think of her situation and how she might feel—only that he is making his dream come true after all these years. She must feel the same. It must work out exactly how he has always imagined it and he simply can’t comprehend it when it doesn’t. (This also shows his persistent need for control.) He puts words in her mouth and doesn’t let her speak for herself at the final confrontation. So it turns into an argument between Tom and Gatsby, and Tom is able to successfully turn her away from Gatsby. Everything comes crashing down around him.
Another major theme in this book that is revealed in Chapter Three is honesty. Nick considers himself to be honest, referring to it as his “cardinal virtue” (59). However, he accepts dishonesty in others as a matter of course. He especially accepts it in women, because women’s dishonesty is “a thing you never blame deeply” (58). This is why he can have so much affection for Jordan, whom he calls “incurably dishonest” (58). Other examples of dishonesty are the affairs. Tom isn’t honest with Daisy about his affair with Myrtle, even though it’s really obvious and he doesn’t try very hard to hide it. Daisy and Gatsby don’t tell Tom about their affair until Tom figures it out. The rumours surrounding Gatsby hint at some dishonesty, but Nick makes a particular point to say that he sees “nothing sinister about him” (50). This could of course just be Nick’s bias; he seems infatuated with Gatsby throughout much of the book. The way he describes Gatsby’s smiles—especially in this chapter—is almost romantic. But while Gatsby may be honest about most things, the problems arise when he asks Daisy to be dishonest. He asks her to say that she never loved Tom, and can’t accept the fact that it might not be true. This is one of the deciding factors in their separation. Gatsby wants too much.
There were many things that resulted in Gatsby’s untimely demise and failure to recreate the past. Some of it was unfortunate circumstance. Some of it was directly Gatsby’s fault. But the characters of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan were simply too different to have a happy ending together, like Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. They lived in different worlds, and Gatsby’s inability to believe that Daisy wasn’t made just for him and her refusal to drop everything and be his once more resulted in the tragedy we know today as The Great Gatsby.
See an older (and worse) essay on this book here.
See the review here.