The Great Gatsby - Why?

I’ve been reading through a few of the ‘recommend me a book’ threads looking for something good to read, and it seems that many many folks on this board think that The Great Gatsby is a great book. WTF? I have to assume that it’s one of those things that people say they like in order to make themselves sound smarter and more cultured, kind of like the opera, or Usenet. I’d like to be able to tell why I hate it in a way befitting my vocabulary, but all that comes to mind is “it sucks”. It just plain sucks. If this is not the case, please Gatsby-lovers, explain it to me. What is the appeal of these rich cry-babies?

“People on this board” aren’t the only ones who think it’s a pretty good book:

I know it’s difficult to fathom, but, just maybe, could it be you who isn’t getting it, not everyone else who is an idiot?

I agree…I never liked it much. In fact the only book on that top 5 that I liked, was A Brave New World.

Surely there’s some defense of the work other than the appeal to authority? Can’t somebody mention what they feel makes it great, such as characterization, or plot, or the way Fitzgerald turns a phrase, or whatever?

For what it’s worth, I never read it so I have no opinion.

I’ll tell you why I loved it.

First of all, the characters are incredible, very realistic. I love how at the beginning, Fitzgerald establishes that Nick never really judges anyone, so for the duration of the book, he never does. Hiw views are totally unbiased, even in relation to Daisy. When Daisy’s hubby (sorry, haven’t read in a year and forgot some characters’ names) has an affair, Nick just goes along. So the reader is allowed to make her own deductions about the characters, and in turn they are more real, more identifiable. It’s like Guido leading Dante into Hell - he just lets Dante make his own observations and conclusions. F.S.F. never presumes to tell us what to think.

There is also some great symbolism and imagery. The green eyes on the billboard overlooking Daisy’s husband’s mistress’s house. The light at the end of the pier. The pearls Daisy’s husband gives her vs. the love letter from Gatsby. The best scene, IMHO, is the one in which Daisy recalls her wedding day, clutching the love letter from Gatsby and the pearls from her husband in either hand, soaking in a bathtub. The desolation is so complete in that scene I could taste it. (I wish I had read it more recently, because I know there are some more awesome images, but I just finished reading 48 sonnets and The Taming of the Shrew, so I’m blanking a little.)

The time capsule view of society is breathtaking as well. After finishing it the first time, I knew what it was to be rich and beautiful and young in the 1920’s. Authors try their whole writing careers to make the reader feel as if she is in in the book, in the scene, a part of it. Fitzgerald does that flawlessly. From a simple historical viewpoint, F.S.F. did live in that world, but still, to capture a time period and lifestyle so vividly is a gift. The party scene are so detailed, so real, that the reader is there, watching from the side. That’s true of the whole novel, really, but I think it’s most evident during the parties. It’s also important to notice how the detail never preempts the lyrical quality of his writing, of the words he chooses.

There’s also the whole rags-to-riches theme. Gatsby loves Daisy so completely that he pulls himself from the bottom up to win her. It’s a standard archetype for a reason - I think many of us can relate to it. He goes to all lengths to win her love - throws lavish parties that he doesn’t enjoy just in the hope that she’ll attend. He remodels his life, his past, his manner, and his character for one person, but he can never have her, and this is his downfall. As perfect as he appears to be, he will never win Daisy. His love for her cannot span the distance created by her society, her name and her wealth, but he tries nonetheless. It’s a heartbreaking, and ultimately a suicidal, goal.

Most importantly, though, it’s the realism in the novel. Sure, there are lavish parties and tremendous wealth and beautiful people, but in the end, it’s the story of a man who loves a woman he cannot have. It’s the story of “Romeo and Juliet,” (“My only love sprung from my only hate!” 2:1), of “Great Expectations,” of “Memoirs of a Geisha” and of “Rime Sparse” by Petrarch. it’s a plot as old as the written word, because there are few people who are exempt from it.

I hope that gives you an idea of why some people like it. Please forgive the clumbsiness of that essay; I do my English major shame, but I’m typing in a rush.

BTW, “Tender is the Night” is even better. Give that one a whirl. And the only book on the Top 5 I didn’t love was #1, because I’ve never read it.

Yeah, just put me down for one of everything Nacho4Sara said…

I’m attatched to Gatsby for purely emotional reasons as well. Like many people, I first read it as a school assignment. I was reading along, enjoying it but not really blown away by it. I took note of the fact that Nick saw Gatsby standing on his dock staring at the green light across the water. Reading, reading, reading, lalalalala…

And then, during the sequence when Gatsby and Daisy are talking again for the first time in years (I think this is when it happens. I haven’t read it for a year or so, though I probably should just to scour the A&E movie out of my brain…), Gatsby offhandedly says (I paraphrase) “You keep a green light at the end of your dock, don’t you?”

And for some reason, that just shot through every one of my defenses. The weight of all the love and longing and hopelessness that had shaped Gatsby’s life hit me right in the chest like a medicine ball. It’s the point where I realized that every bit of his life was being lived just for her. It’s an innocent phrase that probably wasn’t supposed to carry that much emotional weight, but it brought the whole book home for me.

Now, it’s one of my favorite books. Every time I read it, I find more and more beautiful things in it. Fitzgerald was one of the greats, and I heartily recommend his work as pleasure reading. Some of the short stories, especially, are tiny gems. Gatsby, though, is the literary equivilant of the Hope Diamond.

I love that part! So heartbreaking. It’s sad to think I would be so awed to be loved that much, but for Daisy it’s commonplace. Well, maybe. That goes into the whole “product-of-her-environment” vs. selfish-bitch debate. I wanted to hate her, but the scene with the bathtub - I knew her heartbreak. She had to marry Tom (TOM? Is that his name?) because of the ties of her society, but I think she always loved Gatsby.

Incidentally, that’s the same thing that happened to me with Dickens and Tolstoy. I was toiling through A Tale of Two Cities when I realized how in love with Lucy Sidney was, and how pathetic it was that he would just stand in her yard, drunk, wanting to be the man she needed. From that point on, I knew books were where it’s at. Then I read Anna Karenina/ - the part where Anna tells the guy she’s having the affair with (starts with an S… help me here) that she will leave her life behind for him, and he says she will be shamed, and she chokes up and tell him that she is not ashamed of her love for him, that there is nothing shameful in it, because she does love him, not knowin that he is just using her. The moment I read that was the moment I decided to be an English major.

This is kinda strange that I’m reading this book for school, and then there’s a thread on it.

I think “Gatsby”'s strength’s lie in how Fitzgerald gave each reader the ability to draw his or her story from the book. That’s what makes it great instead of just pretty good.

For instance, for me I like the book because it is pretty much the opposite of what the previous posters have put forth. I mean, I like it because it is the ultimate non-love story. Daisy does not love anyone. She’s what the people of the '20s called a vampire. She’s a user, as is her husband in a little less subtle fashion. For Fitzgerald they are manifestations of the era - a time of excess where everyone was a consumer, even of the people. Gatsby, on the other hand, was Bunyon’s “Everyman.” He was one of O’Hara’s “Duke’s Children” with a touch of the American Dream thrown in for good measure.

Here is a man who made it by hook or crook (a poser, if you will, something of a con man too, like each of us is or would like to be), from the American Midwest who has a dream of a someone and a something. Neither of which really exists. He achieves his dream in a superficial sort of way, but in the end it destroy’s him. He is chewed up and spit up by everything and everyone he wanted. And the party goes on.

I have two favorite scenes from the book. When Nick finds the man going through the library finding that not a single book in the entire library had ever been read. They were all for show. I think that said so much about Gatsby the person. The other was where Nick has the man who fixed the 1919 World Series pointed out to him and he realizes that bad events can have individuals who cause them and the events need not be a natural disaster. Selfishness can destroy otherwise “innocent” pasttimes. (a bit of subtle foreshadowing.)

And this part: “All right…I’m glad it’s a girl. And I
hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” We see that Daisy, while she pretends to be flighty and dumb, isn’t. She cares, and feels, and has to pretend not to, because that is what is expected of her. Oy.

oooh, how about this one? “There is no confusion like the confusion of the simple mind,” I have a quote in my quote book about them driving back to New York, it’s beautiful.

Or “So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.”

And “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

One of my favorite books of all time. I’m with Necros.

Yes, absolutely, I admit that possiblity. In fact it’s very probable. Hence, I posted a thread, asking others to explain the appeal. Thanks all for your replies, especially Nacho. Maybe I’ll give it another try.

I’m with ya muppetsoup. I read this book twice in High School and I did a research paper on Fitzgerald.

For me, my dislike stems from the fact that I found none of the characters particularly heroic or admirable. This is something I need in a good book. Also, of all the eras in history I would like to have lived in, the ‘flapper’ era would be at the bottom of my list.

I’ve never understood why people thought it was such a great novel. I guess I have some insight from some of the other replies but it was a struggle for me to get through this book. Of course most people would find faults and criticisms with the things I enjoy reading. I guess I’m just not in tune with the literary elite of the world.

It’s called “individual taste.” And thank goodness for that.

Not everyone likes the same books, music, food, art. Just witness the Jumbo-sized hissy-fit Ukulele Ike is pitching over in the Pit because not everyone will bow to Bob Dylan as Musical King of the Universe.

Jesus, read the OPmore carefully, Evie. I’m ranting against know-nothings who make boneheaded comments about the way the man SINGS. I’m not making any claims about him being the Musical King of the Universe.

We all know that that was Cliff Edwards.

Thanks to Nacho, TV, Juniper, and Swiddles…I like GATSBY a lot too, and you made it possible for me to just nod and agree instead of having to come up with my own literary exegesis.

It is individual taste, Eve. And if there’s one thing that can’t be judged objectively, it’s art.

But there are some standards, and some things which can be objectively ruled as better than others at what they attempt to do. I mean, I wouldn’t attempt to classify The Great Gatsby as better or worse than “Starry Night”, but I can say that it’s better than The Bridges of Madison County. And while is’s prefectly acceptable to say that much interpretation of art is left up to the viewer, or reader, it’s ingenuous to say that all opinions about art hold equal weight and merit.

I cringe every time I read in one of those “Books I Hate” threads about people who despise Faulkner, and who think Joyce couldn’t write, etc. And common to many of these complaints is “I read this when I was in high school, and it was horrible!” (see Fredge) C’mon, people. While you might think you’re at the height of perceptive and analytical powers when you’re seventeen, you ain’t. You simply don’t have to life experience to informatively evaluate some of these books, and you may never have it. So go ahead and say you didn’t like it, but, if you don’t understand it, don’t say it’s bad.

hypergirl, you are too young to be reading Ulysses, and probably to understand the rest of those top five. Put them out of your mind for a while, and come back in ten years. I guarantee that, while you may not like them, you’ll see them differently than you do now. That goes for everyone out there who was forced to read a book in high school and didn’t like it, and wonders why lots of people seem to feel it was “important.” Try 'em again. You might find you like them.

Ack! There was a thread a while back about which authors should not be taught in high school…Faulkner, Dickens, Joyce all came up. I dove into unconciousness and my head clocked the monitor as part of my fight-or-flight reaction.

All the authors I adore are considered classics, and for a reason. Tolstoy, Flaubert, Dickens, Twain, Shakespeare - these writers wrote for a reason. They were brave enough and talented enough to put to words - to exquisite words, without doubt - the truths of their lives, while most of us sit back and thumb through the TV Guide. They wrote to teach us, decades later, what they learned, so thay we could be spared their pain.

I live a thousand new lives every time I read David Copperfield or Huckleberry Finn. Every time I read Sonnet 130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral be far more red than her lips red. If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.”) or Elizabeth Barrett Browning (“I love thee with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life, and if God should choose, I shall but love thee better after death.”), I weep for it’s beauty, for it’s complicated truths. No Sci Fi writer can ever compete with that, IMHO.

I feel better now.

Just for the record, I didn’t say this book was bad. I said I didn’t like it and I gave reasons why (characters and setting not to my personal taste). It has nothing to do with how old I was at the time. I could read the book today, 12 years since I last read it, and I still wouldn’t find it entertaining.

I understood “The Great Gatsby” fine. Now Shakespeare, that’s another matter entirely. :slight_smile:

Hey now. Let’s not ruin the whole party with sweeping generalizations.

Note the IMHO. It kind of puts a new spin on the sentence, huh?

I’m of the position that Sci Fi mostly sucks. Well, not Harry Potter, if you call that Sci Fi. I’ve repeatedly tried to get into it, but I’d rather a book be complicated because of its characters and plot and literary techniques than because I have to learn all the names of the cities on the 14th planet from the sun.

Notable exceptions, of course, include the Chronicles of Narnia, all of Tolkien’s works, and “A Wrinkle in Time.” Children’s sci fi will always hold a special place in my heart, because it helped develop my imagination.

But please, give me Dickens any day. I like realism.

Oh, of course, I don’t have the right to a respected opinion of literature because I’m not even 18 yet. :rolleyes:
For the record, I read Gatsby and Ulysses last year and loved them. Maybe in 20 years, I’ll read them again and think, “Wow, these weren’t worth the hype. Why do people think them important?” Would my opinion be respected then? Probably not.
I’ve also read Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities. The latter I enjoyed more because I’ve studied the French Revolution and find it to be intensely interesting. Although Dickens is hard to read, he’s not a bad writer. He’s not one of my absolute favorites, though.