20 July 2007

Book Review: The Great Gatsby

*Spoilers Ahead*
I recently read F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby and the phrase, of numerous glorious phrases, which lingered upon my mind after first reading it is this:

"So we drove on towards death through the cooling twilight."

It is interesting that, before having finished Fitzgerald's most famous novel, I had plucked this single, morbid sentence as the one (and only, I later noted), which deserved to be jotted into my journal for future reference. Some may say this is solely a comment on me, though I prefer to think, and honestly believe, it has more to do with the novel's pervading sentiment of mortality.

Notably, it is only after I finished "Gatsby" that I realised the profundity of this sentence to which I refer. It is only after we experience the consecutive deaths of the "great" Jay Gatsby and the "vital" Myrtle Wilson toward the end of the book that this hitherto romantic and sensually-appealing novel takes a decidedly severe, serious turn and the full meaning of the sentence becomes clear.

"The Great Gatsby" is a book about mortality, the inevitability of death, and the stagnant nature of the human condition. This is why "Gatsby" is as much a good read today as it was when first published in 1925. Despite the obvious contextual changes, this book stands the test of time because of this unifying central theme.

Another theme apparent in this novel, upon reflection, is that absurd human trait (or flaw, more like) called complacency. It is something that exists in all of us to varying degrees and something which Fitzgerald analyses subtly, allowing us to come to our own conclusions. The notion that humans instinctively take the safe, easy route rather than break the mould, so to speak, is exemplified in the character Daisy Buchanan. She is possibly one of the most enchanting characters I have ever come across - her "low, thrilling voice" is a constant joy to hear described by our persona, Nick Carraway. Yet Daisy disappoints an idealistic reader like myself and fatally, she disappoints the equally enchanting (though more fantastically eccentric and theatrical) Gatsby by her decision to abandon his love for the security of her husband, Tom.

Thus, Daisy becomes a metaphor of this human trait/flaw: she has happiness within her grasp but throws it away for the man-made curses that are money, social-status and external respectability. (Curses, of course, as surely happiness is a higher aim than these things?) I am consequently caused to question what is this security? This stability? Surely it is a refelction on the pathetic state of modern society that one is more secure, has greater stability, with a wife-beating husband than a man whom you love and who loves you in return?

Perhaps I am being fatally "unrealistic", romantic, and idealistic ... Of course, that is exactly what this book reveals to us: the base human desire for more than a society of complacency plagued by mortality, the human desire for romance, love and, ultimately, happiness; and the simple fact that we often get painfully close to acquiring these things. Yet, cruelly, this book also reveals to us that we will never attain these desires as long as we are complacent, as long as life is about getting from A to Z (birth to death?) in the safest, easiest, securest, and unfortunately, most materially satisfactory manner.

This is all revealed brilliantly in Fitzgerald's harrowing ending which brings us joltingly back down to Earth after a novel filled with dreams, fantasty, romance and theatre. Therefore, the aforementioned sentence is blatantly apt. We are, indeed, "driving towards" death with no way of stopping ourselves, with no escape from this self-destructive society, this "cooling twilight" which is the demise of dreams and fantasty. This notion is utterly embodied in the tragic demise of Gatsby and the revelation of the superficial nature of a society which, at first, seemed so enchanting and exciting.

With this in mind, it almost makes sense why characters like Jay and Myrtle must perish prematurely. Such people, those who genuinely want fantasy and romanticism, rarely survive in a society where money, rank and respectability reign (as well as our constant concern about what others think of us). Thus: reality beats dreams, money beats love.

I will end with the novel's final, echoing sentiment:

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Read this book.

(Image courtesy of Amazon.com)


Blogger Nisa Risa Perisacooper said...

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18 August, 2007 09:25  

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