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A seemingly easy read, The Great Gatsby has won over critics around the world, and rightfully so, has become one of today's greatest classics due to its complex literary content. The narrator of the novel, Nick Carraway, grew up in the Midwestern United States and went to school at Yale University. Returning home after traveling a great deal, he is discontent and decides to move to the East in 1922, renting a house in Long Island's West Egg section. Jay Gatsby is a wealthy neighbor living next door in a lavish mansion where he holds many extravagant weekend parties. His name is mentioned while Nick is visiting a relative, Daisy. As it turns out, Jay Gatsby had met Daisy five years before while in the military. Meanwhile Gatsby spent all of his effort after the war to buy his mansion through shady business dealings in order to be nearer to Daisy in the hope that she would leave her rich husband, Tom, for him. Daisy is impressed by Gatsby's wealth and the two begin spending much time together, raising the suspicions of Tom who had also has his own affair with a gas station owner's wife, Myrtle Wilson.
While in a New York City hotel room one evening late in the summer with Nick, Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby, there is a massive confrontation during which Tom exposes Gatsby's corrupt business dealings. Jay and Daisy leave to drive back to Long Island together with her driving Gatsby's car "to calm her down" when she accidentally hits and kills Tom's mistress. The car doesn't stop after the accident and speeds on towards Long Island. Gatsby's charm has faded with his exposed corruption. While Nick goes off to work in New York City the next day, the dead woman's vengeful husband, told that it had been Gatsby's car that killed his wife by a vengeful Tom Buchanan, shoots Gatsby to death in his own swimming pool and then kills himself.
Gatsby's funeral has few in attendance aside from Carraway and Gatsby's father. Finally, tired of this gross scene of wealth and pettiness, Nick moves back home to the Midwest. His fond memories of the East remain only of Gatsby, and it is for him that this story is told.
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Maybe it's something to do with the reputation of the book, but I thought the novel would be much thicker than it is. However, the novel loses nothing by this; it's concise and written with such mastery that the reader misses nothing. At first the novel feels light and easy, but as I read on I feel into it and became increasingly interested in the lives of the characters. Fitzgerald draws the reader into the book, and it soon becomes clear that its light description of the life of the rich in the Twenties is merely a cover for a deeper examination of the pettiness of human psyche. Fitzgerald expresses his bias against the extravagance of the rich through Nick's denouncement of his friends' and neighbors' way of life. Interestingly, however, is the fact that Fitzgerald was not like Nick in real life, but lived lavishly like the Buchanans.
The major theme portrayed by Fitzgerald throughout the novel is the decay of the American dream. Although the entire plot takes place in only a matter of weeks, the novel effectively captures the spirit of the 1920's era. Originally, as told to the reader in Chapter IX, the American dream was about discovery. The 1920's have destroyed such the dream as it is now about hedonism and selfishness.
Fitzgerald masterfully describes the Twenties; I felt the atmosphere of Gatsby's parties so clearly. Though the book was so representative of the era it was written in, it is very relevant even today. Many of today's rich and famous could seamlessly fit into Gatsby's world. Fitzgerald's portrait of a materialistic, hedonistic and overall immature society that is unwilling to shoulder any responsibility still has parallels with today's society.
As the book continues, its organization begins to reflect its content. The beginning of the book seems thin and light, much like Gatsby's parties, yet there are undercurrents, Fitzgerald's themes of the shallowness of hedonism, depicted by Tom and Daisy, and the loftiness of dreams and aspirations, much like Gatsby's dream of capturing Daisy's heart.
Fitzgerald does not allow his reader to simply read the novel, the audience is forced to generate opinions of the characters. While Tom and Daisy are clearly shallow individuals, Fitzgerald leaves the reader to determine the respectability of Nick and Gatsby. Whatever opinion the reader formulates about the characters, the skill with which Fitzgerald writes causes his audience to talk about them as if they are actual people. Fitzgerald displays his wonderful writing skills through the entirety of the novel. The conclusion to the novel feels contrived, but I found I could forgive this set of seemingly too convenient coincidences because the writing is so good that it carries you along.
I was not won over by the book the first time I read it a handful of years ago, but I enjoyed it much more on my second reading. The complexity of the novel lends itself well to such repeated readings and is a sure sign of a good book. If you want to read a heavyweight book in terms of literary merit, but can't face the toil that seems to come with many worthy books, The Great Gatsby is the book for you.