Decadence, lust and decay in 1920s New York.
Considered ‘The Great American Novel’, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald transports you to a world where the people are wealthy, the parties are extravagant and the night is always young. Written in 1925 and set in the glorious Jazz age, this novel holds a weighty place in literature and is widely considered one of the best works of American fiction.
The novel consists of a series of events, narrated by the character Nick Carraway, a new arrival to West Egg, New York – home to millionaires and aristocrats. Originating from the sleepy Midwest, and hoping to make his fortune in the big city, Nick is an instantly likeable and optimistic character. He moves in next door to the sprawling mansion of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who nightly throws infamous and lavish parties. Across the bay, in the more fashionable East Egg, live Nick’s vacuous and beautiful cousin Daisy Buchanan, and her husband Tom – a man whose wealth and arrogance define him.
Nick is introduced to the world of upper-class New Yorkers at a dinner with Tom, Daisy, and their outspoken friend, Jordan Baker. In this first main scene, Nick unsuccessfully probes for more information about his elusive neighbour, and begins to doubt the apparent perfection of his cousin’s elite lifestyle. During the dinner it becomes clear that Tom is having an affair, and that Daisy is deeply unhappy. Cynical and despondent, she proclaims that she hopes her daughter grows up to be a fool, because “that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” As the night draws to a close, Nick looks out across the bay and observes an enigmatic figure contemplating the stars and stretching his arms out longingly at the Buchanan mansion. It is the eponymous Gatsby.
One of the delights in reading The Great Gatsby is the sense of opulence created by the descriptions of Gatsby’s extravagant parties. Excessiveness and luxury ooze from the pages, and will leave you craving champagne and Tiffany diamonds. However, this is quickly tempered by Nick’s observations that the guests’ revelry is hollow, and that the laughter that fills the room is in fact vacuous. We think that the parties perfectly symbolise the 1920s society that Fitzgerald was examining. A society grossly consumed by wealth and standing, defined by decadence, and blinded by prosperity.
One thing that could be said of the novel is that it lacks a definable plot, and this is why our review does not include a substantial discussion of the storyline. The Great Gatsby essentially consists of a series of consequential events which all ultimately conspire to create the story’s dramatic conclusion. We also feel that the expectation surrounding the novel may leave a lot of readers slightly underwhelmed. There is no doubt that The Great Gatsby is a wonderful work of literature, but the grand accolade of it being the ‘Great American novel’ sometimes prevented us from appreciating the novel in and of itself.
The driving force throughout The Great Gatsby is Gatsby’s dream to rekindle his past relationship with Daisy, and this is symbolic of the naivety and impossibility of the American Dream – a dream which permeated the era. This is a book full of symbolism, and one which will be forever considered a modern classic. Despite mixed reviews, it is still read and studied by generation after generation, signifying both its importance and beauty. But regardless of its prestigious reputation, The Great Gatsby is a pleasurable and enriching read, and one that everyone should experience.