Thursday, April 17, 2014

[Reading the Classics] The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publication Year: 1925
Pages: 177

Violence | Sexual ContentProfanity
My thoughts

The first (and second) time I read The Great Gatsby was for grade 11 English class (2009). It was one of the only books required for class that I actually read ahead of the deadline, and it was also one of the only ones that truly grabbed me and convinced me to love it. It was all so profound and felt somehow relevant to our times and just who I was as a person. I couldn't get enough of the story, the characters, the setting, the themes and ideas portrayed and explored by Fitzgerald, an author I've been itching to read more of since.

But in 2013, I dared to revisit this highly-revered modern classic: partly so that I'd be refreshed and ready to view the upcoming film adaptation (which I still have not watched!), but also because I was curious. Curious to see how I would react after a relatively significant amount of time had passed since my first reading it. It was like going to a reunion, a warm one, where everyone is the same as they were the last time you saw them, save for a few details here and there (that you may or may not notice).

Bottom line: I fell in love all over again.

The writing style, as with many classics, may require a bit of time for the reader to get adjusted. Fitzgerald's/Nick Carraway's descriptions are at times too abundant, but it is very in character and suits the storytelling well. The 1920s is encapsulated in the most amazing way--not quite as razzle-dazzle as the movie (or so I can gather from the trailer)--but Fitzgerald set the scene extremely well. After all, this book is what prompted my interest in the Roaring 20s and seek out other books and stories set in this time period.

The characters. They're all thoroughly unlikeable, but that's kind of the point. This book isn't meant to paint a perfect picture of the 20s and the social scene and the behaviours of the characters in this novel reflect that. Despite their flaws, somehow I was able to understand them and love them in some weird way. 

Fitzgerald uses symbols and imagery that strengthen the messages he wished to be portrayed. The billboard eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, the green light at the end of the dock, the valley of ashes, the differences between the two "eggs"...

The ending is kind of amazing. The disillusionment that the narrator, Nick Carraway, faces is so terribly memorable and I doubt I will ever forget those last lines in the book. The ending is extremely depressing... and that's kind of why I like it. That's kind of why I love this book as a whole, because there is no sugar-coating, no sweeping under the rug the terrible injustices that occur to some of the characters. It is a raw, bleak and realistic account of the disillusionment that Fitzgerald himself witnessed back in 1920s New York.

About the author

F. Scott Fitzgerald (24 September 1896 – 21 December 1940) was an American writer, most famously known for his depictions of the Jazz Age -- a term which he coined himself -- in his writing. Born in Minnesota and raised in an upper-middle class family, his parents of Irish/English descent. He spent most of his childhood in New York, moving with his family back to Minnesota in 1908 after his dad was fired. From an early age he showed great interest in literature and wrote a detective story at the age of 13, that was published in his school newspaper.

In 1911 he was sent to a Catholic prep school in New Jersey. Following graduation, 1913, he attended Princeton University, was placed on academic probation and in 1917 he dropped out to join the army. 

He met Zelda Sayre, the "golden girl", at a country club and they fell in love. After the war ended in 1918 he asked her to marry him. She agreed, but broke off the engagement after he failed to convince her that he could support her financially. He went back home to his family and revised a novel that he had written while at the war, which would become known as This Side of Paradise. The book was a huge success, and they later got married. They had a daughter, Frances Scott "Scottie" Fitzgerald, born 26 October, 1921.

During the "Jazz Age", Fitzgerald formed a friendship with Ernest Hemingway, who disliked his wife and how he sold his stories off for good money. 

[To be continued in the next Fitzgerald "Reading the Classics"... whenever that is.]

Major Works by F. Scott Fitzgerald
(in order of publication)
  • This Side of Paradise (1920)
  • The Beautiful and the Damned (1922)
  • The Great Gatsby (1925)
  • Tender is the Night (1934)
  • The Last Tycoon (1941; published posthumously)
  • and several short stories

About reading the classics

I have been reading more classics lately, and rather than just reading them, I've decided to share some of my thoughts with you. Reading the classics also motivates me to research a little bit into each of these famous authors, motivates me to understand the context and think my thoughts more complexly.

I will never write an essay--that's not the point of this, but if it gets even one person even thinking about reading this book then I'll be happy. Discussion is encouraged. If you have read this book or anything by this author, please leave a comment. =)

#1: Of Mice and Men // John Steinbeck
#2: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn // Betty Smith
#3: Mrs Dalloway // Virginia Woolf
#4: Animal Farm // George Orwell
#5: The Great Gatsby // F. Scott Fitzgerald
#6: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz // L. Frank Baum
#7: Breakfast at Tiffany's // Truman Capote

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