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.
This is an old essay I wrote in high school, the first time I read Gatsby (when I hated it, remember?). I wrote this in February, 2014. Just over three years ago. It’s interesting to compare my essay skills and style across several years. This particular essay, I think, is mostly plot summary and stating the obvious. Since then, I’ve become quite taken with the idea of speculation, which I then use any evidence I can find (even if it’s a stretch) to back up. In any case, I think my better understanding of the book (caused both by the movie and the class I took in college) allowed me to dig a little deeper when writing the most recent essay. But here is the old one, for comparison purposes. It might even clear some things up about the book, if there was an area you were particularly confused about.
Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is centered around Jay Gatsby, who becomes obsessed with winning the heart of Daisy many years after he first loses her. His obsession takes over his life and affects those of many around him. The consequences of Jay Gatsby’s choices demonstrate the detrimental effects of obsessing over past events.
Gatsby’s fruitless obsession with reclaiming Daisy and repeating the past causes both of them vast internal conflict. Daisy’s conflict mostly appears around the time of the altercation near the end, where Gatsby tries to bring the issue into the open. He wants Daisy to admit she prefers Gatsby to Tom; however, she says that she never loved Tom “with perceptible reluctance” (Fitzgerald 132). Clearly she is torn between the two, and was living a perfectly happy life with Tom before Gatsby turned up and caused her to question her choices. Gatsby may be obsessed with repeating the past, but Daisy clearly has no such thoughts, owing mostly to him leading her to believe he is dead. That is why she is so reluctant to say she never loved Tom; that would mean giving up the content life she built after Gatsby, even if he believes it is only a façade. He causes her to question whether or not it is a façade; and while she is happy with it, she wonders if it could possibly be better with Gatsby. She cannot answer these questions, causing her to have much inner turmoil. She is fragile.
Gatsby’s inner conflict is present throughout the book, because as Gatsby’s close friend, Nick reveals through his narration much of Gatsby’s thoughts and doubts. For instance, early on in the book, Gatsby arranges a surprise meeting with Daisy and appears extremely nervous before she arrives and even throughout the whole experience. Before she arrives, Nick says that Gatsby sits “down miserably, as if [Nick has] pushed him” (85). His misery implies that he is not so sure of his decision to meet her after all; it could most certainly be because of his high expectations, or because of his nerves, or a combination of both. He worries and wonders if things will resume between them the way they were all those years ago, if it is possible to return to that point at all, or if life has changed them both so much that things will never be the same. A number of things could be going through his mind. But it is not just that one occasion; that may be the occasion that heightens his inner turmoil, but his doubts and fears appear long before that, beginning with his creation of a plan- a plan that became an obsession- to reclaim Daisy.
Gatsby’s obsession with reinventing his life causes him to become dishonest. He does not just acquire all his wealth out of nowhere—he must have some means, and his secrecy causes the people to speculate and circulate rumors. Furthermore, he does not do anything to dispel them or tell the truth, so most of the people believe false things. Towards the beginning, when Nick asks him what his business is, he replies, “‘That’s my affair’” (90). He will not even be honest to Nick, even as he reveals that the rumors that he went to Oxford are true. Later, he does ask if Nick wants to become part of his mysterious business, but Nick is able to tell it is not the honest sort of business and refuses. But he keeps it a secret from the public. No one knows the truth about what he actually does, helping enhance the mystery that shrouds Gatsby. He needs the mystery, so no one finds out he is not the most reputable person.
However, some people catch on—some people that Gatsby would rather not have found out. Later, at the altercation in the end, Tom reveals that he “picked him for a bootlegger the first time [he] saw him” (133). So Tom knew, although was probably guessing or looking for some way to insult Gatsby. He needs an excuse to hate Gatsby, and the truth gives him an adequate one, as if the fact that Gatsby is trying to steal his wife from him is not enough.
Gatsby’s obsession with building a new persona prevents him from having many true friends. He keeps his mysterious past a secret, and very few people actually know the truth. Nick may be one of the few people in Gatsby’s life to ever know the entire truth, and that makes him his closest friend, and perhaps only true friend. In the end, it is Nick who organizes the funeral. He mentions that people to ask to come to the funeral were “hard to find” (169). Owl Eyes is there; Owl Eyes, who frequents Gatsby’s parties and comments on his library. He is just another partygoer. Not someone Gatsby knew well, and perhaps not even someone Gatsby ever met. Most of the people at his parties are not explicitly invited; they just come. The more strangers, the more speculation, and the more mystery as to who Gatsby actually is.
The strangers certainly do not know Gatsby—they have not met him, and they probably just come because of the things they hear about the parties. They only see his persona. The partygoers only know the fake Gatsby, and he never reveals the real one. They are not true friends of Gatsby, and it is a mystery why Owl Eyes shows up at all. Because they are not true friends, none of them show up at the funeral. At the funeral, Nick waits for others to arrive, but he remarks, “it wasn’t any use. Nobody came” (174). Gatsby’s business associates do not show up. They are not friends. In fact, Gatsby has no real friends except Nick. His secrecy—and obsession with his one goal, Daisy—push others away and prevent him from having true friends.
While Gatsby may be wealthy and appear to be the picture of happiness, his persona hides the inner conflict that stems from his desire to reclaim Daisy. He devotes his whole life to repeating the past. He no longer values people’s feelings, honesty, or friendship. His obsession negatively affects the lives of his friends and admirers, but ultimately it destroys Gatsby himself.
See the newer (and better) essay here.
See the review here.