2 may 2010

Gatsby, love, success and disillusion

The Great Gatsby is a novel by the American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. It could be said that this is a story about love, success and the pursuit of happiness, but I would also suggest that it is a novel about disillusion. Set in the “Roaring Twenties”, the novel portrays a time in which American society enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity which lead to the biggest economic crises the world ever witnessed, the Crash of 1929. Therefore, after a first reading of the novel, it is quite likely that the reader would certainly notice the obvious, yet scary, similarities with the current situation of today’s economy. Our great-grandfathers were also a generation of consumers, sucking more resources than the ones that they created. Why does it seem as though we have not learnt from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece? The aim of this review is to tackle such questions focusing on my impressions during my reading of the novel and the evolution of the main character: Jay Gatsby.

Jay Gatsby is a mysterious millionaire with suspicious business and an obsessive love for Daisy Buchanan, whom he met when he was a poor young officer in World War I. Therefore, it seems as if he fought really hard to achieve his aspirations; and his aspirations are in fact what The American Dream is all about: the mansion, the power, the influence, and especially, the girl. In other words this is a story about love and money. There is a point in the story in which Gatsby seems to have actually accomplished the American Dream, but all of the sudden he loses absolutely everything, including his own life. What did it happen?

Gatsby’s desires faded away, and at the end we discover that story is about disillusion as it was mentioned before. This might be difficult to figure out before a whole reading of the novel, for it has a fragmented and complex structure. The reader has to collect Gatsby’s background piece by piece and only at the end of the novel it is unveiled who Jay Gatsby really is. Nevertheless, it is quite likely that almost from the beginning of the story, the reader would feel that there is something suspicious about this Gatsby: for instance, the awkward meetings with Meyer Wolfsheim and all the rumors and secrecy that surround him. Nevertheless, the part that would certainly struck the reader the most is when Jordan Baker reveals to Nick Caraway that Gatsby had fallen in love with Daisy in 1917 while he was near Daisy's hometown. The facts are these: Gatsby fell in love with Daisy in 1917, at that time, he was just a poor soldier who couldn’t even dream to get Daisy; however, by 1922, he lives in a mansion in West Egg, throws incredible parties hosting hundreds of people while he is about to regain Daisy’s love. Therefore, it is indeed hard to believe that in only five years, Jay Gatsby managed to achieve all he had ever dreamed. At this point this I realized the message that author was trying to put across: immediate success is just an phony and futile illusion: there was something wrong about the way in which Gatsby managed to be a new rich in such a short time - this is what the reader is likely to think half way through the novel. Perhaps, we might think, he got lucky and he ventured some risky business and gained a quick profit, but there was still something dishonest in the way he got all his wealth so quickly. Eventually, Gatsby is revealed to be a bootlegger which corroborates the previous assumptions.

This is why I would highly recommend a reading of The Great Gatsby. This story surely will shake the readers’ core beliefs. It is also quite likely that the contemporary reader would relate with the characters of the story; most of us also lived that kind of dream in a way or another; a dream about money, fame and love, instant success with a minimum amount of effort. There are big lessons in Gatsby which might be difficult to grasp; yet as it can be seen in the novel, we should never forget that the path of instant and immediate contentment often leads to destruction, decadence, disappointment and unhappiness.

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© Pablo Camus
Maira Gall