Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Scribners   Reissue 2013
192 pages      Fiction
Audio read by Jake Gyllenhaal

The Great Gatsby again for the first time--this time as an audio book. It was a remarkable experience with a distance of about 50 years between first reading and second reading. A whole lifetime of experience.

I read somewhere that educators like to have students read The Great Gatsby in the 11th grade (which is probably when I read it the first time). I spent much of my listening to it this time trying to understand how young unformed minds would understand the book. Perhaps it is because Nick Carraway is such a good observer, or that Gatsby yearns so for Daisy that he bases his whole life on winning her back. Perhaps it is that students will recognize the stereotypes of Daisy and Jordan, and Tom. More likely it is the idea of the wild parties every weekend that appeals to students. 

Here are some things that I noticed this time around. I particularly liked Nick this time around. He is such an observer, but he is no pushover. He has a hugely skeptical nature, and seems not to be swayed by the money, the power, nor the panache of the people in his company. He says of himself, "Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known." And truly he is honest...particularly with himself. He is fascinated by the people around him, but he is so clear-eyed and wise.

I was also struck by the audacity of Gatsby's dreams. He seemed willing to do or be anything in order to find his goal--to make enough money in order to win back the love of Daisy. Nothing else seems to matter to  him. R. Clifton Spargo, writing in the Huffington Post, says:  "There may be something pathetic in Gatsby's class striving, but there's something innocent about it, too. He's a stranger in the world he inhabits, floating through his own parties without enjoying them, bestowing his largess on mostly uninvited guests who are really just users." When Nick calls to him, "They're a rotten crowd....You're worth the whole damn bunch put together," I was confused at first. Conventional wisdom would have him be a "rotten" person as well, because of the way he made his money. Now I realize that there is a purity in his motivation that supersedes all pretension. When Daisy says of him, "Oh, you want too much!" we can truly empathize with her despair. Such devotion is debilitating--to both him and her. 

The awesomely tragic nature of Gatsby's death came forcefully to me when Nick tries, unsuccessfully, to find someone--anyone--to come to his funeral. It was absolutely heartbreaking. In the book I just finished, Domestic Affairs, the governor running for President declines to attend the funeral of a friend and campaign assistant because he is "too busy." For Tom, Daisy, and Jordan to not attend Gatsby's funeral is just as disgusting. Nick says that they are "careless people," and with this reading, I truly understood what that meant. I also truly understood why Nick remains the only honest person he knows. Everyone else survives on their own delusions.

And so, I would recommend to all my readers that they either read or listen to The Great Gatsby before you watch the newest movie version. It is truly an overwhelming experience. My husband kept saying, "Listen to those words. I can't believe how well Fitzgerald writes."

Be sure, also to read Spargo's recommendation about people reading the book again in maturity. It truly is reading it again--for the first time.

No comments: