International Writers Magazine:A
Tender is the Night
is one of my favorite books because when I read it the second time I understood
the themes, the play on human psychology, and the depth of emotion. Yet,
even though I valued Fitzgeralds writing I did not read The Great
Gatsby after college. For awhile in my twenties I had the misguided
belief if a book is taught in high school it is not meant for adults.
Reading authors like Henry Miller, Hebert Selby Jr., and Gunter Grass
fueled this pretentious and ridiculous perception.
Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (24 Feb 2000)
recent rereading of The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald I felt
that I truly grasped and appreciated the importance of this classic.
Since a class I took in undergrad concentrating on Fitzgeralds
works I have been a fan. The short stories and his five novels I
read and mostly enjoyed for the language and writing style.
past summer I had a change of heart, when I thought a lot of the
books taught in high school are part of the canon, our culture,
and the literature educated people should be aware of. So I read
The Great Gatsby at age seventeen and twenty-two, and again
this summer at age thirty. This rereading brought up a lot of questions
or thought about the impact of books at different stages of ones
life. After a lot of pondering, I concluded reading this novel at
age thirty the reader can relate to the major themes more than as
During my high school reading that I dont remember that well, I
concentrated on the extravagance and wealth, not being able to relate
to it at all. The characters seemed as fantastical as science fiction
heroes. During my college reading I was aware of a green light and probably
wrote a paper at the last minute. Analyzing why this current reading was
more beneficial for me is in the characters themselves. They go through
dilemmas that are inherent to people on their own; networking, making
a reputation or fitting into society, ethics, dealing with love, emotions,
and loss. In most cases high school students have felt some of those universal
traits, but not compared to adults who have more years of life experience.
Lets start with the dynamics of the relationship between the narrator,
Nick Carraway, and Jay Gatsby. Carraway is the outsider looking in and
trying to figure out who Gatsby is. When he finally meets him, he is in
awe of his power, of his young age, and the mystery behind him. Being
in awe with someone in adulthood is different from that same feeling as
a teenager. In high school one sees a peer star athlete, a gifted musician,
writer, or whatever talent and thinks that that person will be something
someday. In high school all assumptions are about the future. Thats
different from adulthood when you notice someone impressive and you think
he or she made it. Granted most of these impressions are wrong and superficial.
Criteria based on the car they drove, the house they own, or career track.
That was Carraways first thought of Gatsby, but as the story unfolds
they become allies and collaborate in their set social scene.
The novel ends with
Gatsbys fall and failure which makes an impact on the narrators
life giving him a hatred for the elite rigidity of people like the Buchanans
who carried on as if nothing happened. Barring tragedy, young people have
not dealt with these emotions. To a lesser degree than the story line
of this novel plenty people have felt this in adult hood. An example is
seeing your former peer star high school athlete that you thought would
go pro punching a cash register at the local grocery store twelve years
later. If as a reader youve experienced or seen failure The Great
Gatsby is more powerful.
deal with the Buchanan couple and other characters that come from
old money. Carraway and Gatsby relate to one another because of
their Midwestern as opposed to Eastern roots. As a child in America
you grow up with other children in your low, middle or upper class
school. While in adult hood you meet people from all economic backgrounds
through careers and hobbies which Fitzgerald shows by highlighting
rich versus poor.
Gatsbys parties and they social situations in this novel also got
me thinking about then and now. High school parties do have beer and drugs,
but most are testing the waters and getting new experiences in a closed
small social network of other students. When I read Gatsby for the first
time I was probably in awe of the decadence and intrigued by it, but with
no comprehension of what Fitzgeralds intention was. Now, even without
wealth drinking as an adult in adult scenarios does give a reader some
understanding of Gatsbys parties. Jay Gatsby did not drink himself,
but by offering others that outlet gave him a sure way to notoriety, especially
during prohibition. These parties gave him a name which he dearly wanted
to attract Daisy. The partiers ruined the lawn, crashed their cars, and
passed out business cards. There is a scene where the narrator walks into
Gatsbys library and one older man babbled about the books on the
shelf being real, that they had pages, and that one could read them. This
man was drunk and later in the novel Caraway sees him again and notices
he had no recollection of that night. One has to spend some time in bars
to meet alcoholics aged fifty or over that are out of their minds. I hope
high school kids cant relate to that. Fitzgeralds earlier
book The Beautiful and Dammed also covers the issue of alcoholism
very well. At the end The Great Gatsby the narrator feels that
no one cared about Gatsby or even remembered his parties. This shows how
situational, artificial, and impersonal partying can be.
Daisy Buchanan was the reason that Gatsby got rich, and made a reputation,
which is a complexity not easily grasped at a young age. In the middle
of the novel it becomes known that Gatsby in the military was stationed
down south and had a romance with Daisy. Daisy married Buchanan based
on established wealth. So Gatsby over the proceeding years made insurmountable
wealth in illegal activities. He risked all for money, the requirement
for a girl like Daisy. He moved across the river to a mansion where at
night he would see the green light of the Buchanan property. A light he
could see and contemplate but not grasp and control.
Reading this in high school, I might of thought of him as a loser, that
with his wealth he should have multiple girlfriends instead of yearning
for Daisy while only having one frumpy mistress. But reading it now I
have felt harsh rejection myself, and know that feeling. You can adore
someone, change your ways and status, but it was already over. Getting
dumped in high school can be rough, but it doesnt match obsessing
about a null relationship over a number of years. This is probably a very
common emotion that Fitzgerald touched upon, when you get older, the past
becomes more important.
Reading The Great Gatsby at exactly age thirty I got an additional
thrill. During the intense hotel scene where Buchanan triumphs over Gatsby
for Daisys hand, Nick Caraway realizes something. At this point
he became vital in these characters problems, and it absorbed all
of his life. After the situation resolved itself, Carraway remembers that
that day was his thirtieth birthday, and Fitzgerald wrote a perfect paragraph
on the feeling of turning thirty. Fitzgerald was not yet thirty when he
wrote that paragraph, but anyone who is thirty might well be moved when
they get to that paragraph near the end of the novel. Students in high
school would probably read over that paragraph quickly if they got to
Reflecting on this rereading I thought of failure, rejection, aging and
many other occurrences adults face though life which makes me recommend
that people give it another chance.
© matt allison Octob er 2007
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.