Gatsby is a fable about betrayal – of others, and of our own ideals. The concept that a New World in America is even possible, that it won’t simply reproduce the follies and vices of the Old World, is already an illusion, a paradise lost before it has even been conceived. By the time Gatsby tries to force that world to fulfil its promise, the dream is long gone. But that doesn’t stop him from chasing “the green light” of wealth and status, the dangled promise of power that can only create a corrupt plutocracy shored up by vast social inequality.
Similar to Mrs Dalloway, The Great Gatsby is a novel that is prone to rereading:
To an impressive degree, however, the renewed attention brought by the change in law shows not just how relevant and seductive the text of Fitzgerald’s novel remains, but how very alive it’s always been. Pick it up at 27, and you’ll find a different novel to the one you read as a teenager. Revisit it again at 45, and it’ll feel like another book altogether. Copyright has never had any bearing on the impact of the words it governs.
I feel that it provides enough space to be other worldly, while at the same time being strangely familiar. This is something Wesley Morris captures in a new introduction for the book:
In one day, you can sit with the brutal awfulness of nearly every person in this book—booooo, Jordan; just boo. And Mr. Wolfsheim, shame on you, sir; Gatsby was your friend. In a day, you no longer have to wonder whether Daisy loved Gatsby back or whether “love” aptly describes what Gatsby felt in the first place. After all, The Great Gatsby is a classic of illusions and delusions. In a day, you reach those closing words about the boats, the current, and the past, and rather than allow them to haunt, you simply return to the first page and start all over again.
For example, the way in which Fitzgerald captures character:
Her husband [Tom Buchanan], among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven—a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savours of anticlimax.
Or the hollow nature of extravagance.
Attempting to pass himself off as a patrician, Gatsby tries too hard, his every gesture and word a dead giveaway to the people around him. Tom Buchanan doesn’t believe that Gatsby went to Oxford because he wears a lurid pink suit. The marginal character Owl-Eyes, who has been drunk for a week, can see clearly that Gatsby is putting on a show. Gatsby is not merely a fake, he is an obvious fake.
One of the things I took from my recent reading, especially after rereading Mrs Dalloway recently, was considering that both Gatsby and Carraway had served in World War I and the subsequent impact of shellshock.
On a side note, not sure if it is because of my current circumstance, but who looked after the children in these middle-class environments? They seem to do whatever they like with any reference to the children at all.
“You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well, I met another bad driver, didn’t I? I mean it was careless of me to make such a wrong guess. I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride.”
“I’m thirty,” I said. “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honour.”
She didn’t answer. Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic 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 further… And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.