Hello everyone and welcome to September’s #bookofthemonth discussion.
If you’ve been following the blog and my Instagram (@katelovesliterature), then you’ll already know that today I am discussing F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Let’s dive into September’s Book Of The Month.
The Great Gatsby has often been referred to as the Great American Novel. Our narrator Nick Carraway tells his tale, recounting the events of the summer he spent in West Egg Long Island. While Nick is our narrator, I think it is fair to say that this book is about the millionaire Jay Gatsby, as Nick is telling us about his interactions with the mysterious man.
This novel is set in the Jazz Age, so it is understandably filled with money, glitz, and glamour, but I think that ultimately, this book tells a poignant tale and at the end of the day, the moral of this story is that the Great American Dream is unattainable. I also think that while this statement is extremely simplistic, and doesn’t do justice to Fitzgerald’s nuanced tale, simply put, this story is an example of how money cannot buy happiness because while Jay Gatsby is a very wealthy man who has attained great wealth and status, his dream is to be with his one true love.
Before I talk about Fitzgerald’s writing style, I am going to touch on how symbolic I feel that this novel has become as I feel the name Gatsby has become ingrained in pop culture. I think that when one thinks of The Great Gatsby, they automatically associate the novel with glitz, glamour, flapper dresses, and decedent parties filled with champagne. How many Gatsby themed parties have you heard of? I have heard of many, even if people have never read the book, they have an image of what The Great Gatsby is, and I think this is one of reasons why this novel has become a canonical classic.
I think it is interesting to note that the name Gatsby has become associated with opulence, because I think that this novel is one that is often misunderstood. While Gatsby is wealthy and he is an opulent showman, this is not all he is, this is simply a part of his very complex persona. Fitzgerald often commented that people who reviewed the book hadn’t the slightest clue what it is about. Many people first experience this text when they are in secondary school (high school), and I personally think that this is a text that needs to be read in college, because there is not enough time on the secondary school curriculum to allow students to really engage with this text and understand it. It is not something you can read quickly at fifteen or sixteen and appreciate, it will fly over your head. You need to sit down and enjoy this book, it needs to be taken in. I’ve read this book many times now and it is only now that I am in my twenties that I feel I am really appreciating it for the classic that it is.
A key aspect to this novel is Fitzgerald’s choice to write it in the first-person. This story is narrated by Nick, which means we are experiencing all events through Nick’s point of view. Now last Thursday I started to break down the different types of narrative. I started with the third-person and this Theory Thursday I am going to be talking about the first-person narrative and why it is important. While I personally prefer stories that are told in the third-person, I would say that it is crucial that The Great Gatsby is told from Nick’s perspective. Nick is the meeting point between Gatsby and the readers, we are seeing Gatsby through Nick’s eyes. Nick had mixed feelings about Gatsby, he admires Gatsby, he praises Gatsby, and at times he despises Gatsby. A major theme in this novel is the idea of the unattainable Great American Dream. In my opinion, there is an inescapable feeling of melancholy throughout this novel, because this novel showcases how so many people hope for that dream, they work towards it, they reach for it, they make sacrifices for it, but that dream remains unreachable and unattainable for most and this harsh fact leaves people feeling aimless and disappointed.
Fitzgerald uses a lot of motifs in this novel. What is a motif? A motif is a recurring idea in a work that lends itself to the overall theme of the work. I would argue that the novel’s key theme is the idea that great dreams are in fact unattainable and this fact leads Nick Carraway to end up very angry and very disillusioned. The motifs that can be recognised in this novel are those of judgement, extreme wealth, infidelity, and facades.
We make all of our decisions about what we think of Jay Gatsby based on what Nick thinks of him, because we are seeing him through Nick’s eyes. Gatsby does many things that one might consider immoral however Nick could also be called an unreliable narrator because at times he is biased and hypocritical, for example he judges other characters and their immoral actions differently to how he judges Gatsby and his actions because while at times he does criticise Gatsby, he also does sympathise with him and so in turn, readers sympathise with him too. This point is something I will elaborate further on in this week’s Theory Thursday because the idea of the unreliable narrator is one that is unavoidable when you’re dealing with a first-person narrative, because when someone is telling us how they saw something, that view will always be biased in some way because it is impossible to be impartial when you’re directly involved.
I would say that Fitzgerald is quite a vivid writer and he has captured the Jazz Age in a very stark, tangible way. I think my above point about how much the name Gatsby has become associated with opulence proves this because Fitzgerald did paint a very clear picture of extreme wealth. Fitzgerald doesn’t only describe extravagant wealth, he also paints a bleak picture of the realities that the average person must deal with. I think a perfect example of this is the valley of ashes. The place is dusty, smog filled, and dim. The dull, ashy place is described as “crumbling”, the “powdery air” makes the place feel truly depressing. This “grotesque garden…where ashes take forms of houses.”, is a stark contrast from Gatsby’s warm, exciting house, and readers can easily see the class divide that existed, and still exists today in America.
In my opinion it is Fitzgerald’s writing style, specifically his use of vivid imagery that has made The Great Gatsby so memorable. Fitzgerald created a vivid world that invited readers in. We become enthralled by the decadence of Gatsby’s wealth but appalled by the conditions that other people have to live in. Gatsby is a complex man. He has created an intricate facade. Behind his wealth, he has cheated, and lied, and bootlegged his way to the life he has now, but despite all his wealth, and status, there are lines he cannot cross, battles he cannot win, and his doomed romantic plight is what makes The Great Gatsby a tragic romantic tale all about the loss of dreams, a novel that leaves us feeling melancholy and yearning for something, even if we don’t know what.
There are some uncomfortable aspects to this novel, particularly some of the beliefs held by the character Tom Buchanan. He has beliefs and uses language that many readers will find offensive today – that is the point. We are not supposed to like Tom. He is the least sympathetic character in the book. He is aggressive, and he is unkind, and he is a very intimidating, hulking figure. His wife Daisy, whom Jay loves, is beautiful, and elegant. She is a true golden girl however many would call her a very manipulative and selfish character. I don’t think that anyone is particularly likeable in this novel. Nick Carraway states that Tom, Daisy, and Jay are “careless people” who “toss others aside”. This is true however Nick isn’t perfect either. Ultimately I would say that this is a novel about flawed people and their hopes and dreams. They have achieved great riches but there is still something missing, something unattainable, and it is a novel that sticks with you. It is a novel that I know I will read again, and again because each time I will find a new aspect to focus on, a new idea to discuss, and something new will resonate with me in a way it didn’t before.
There is a reason why this novel is considered The Great American novel, and I think it is a novel that everyone should read at least once – and then again, and again, so that eventually it is a novel that we understand.
It is a great coincidence that this Book Of The Month discussion occurred during #bannedbooksweek. It didn’t occur to me when I was selecting September’s #bookofthemonth.
I simply wanted to read a classic novel in September as it is the month where everyone heads back to school and off to college, however I am glad that I just happened to choose this novel, and that this month’s Book Of The Month discussion arrived during #bannedbooksweek. I don’t believe that this novel was ever outrightly banned, but attempts were made to censor the book due to some of the language, profanity, etc.
Every year during Banned Books Week, we celebrate our right to read. I touched on this over on my Instagram. I have a degree in English Literature, and I cannot tell you how many books I studied that were banned at one point in time. Books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Ulysses, The Call of the Wild, Lady Chatterley’s Lover – to name only a few. These are beautiful, layered, complex, nuanced, and educational texts. They are important. Do they cover uncomfortable topics? Do they make us uncomfortable? Yes. That is the point. Literature reflects our society, all of society. The good, the bad, and the things we’d rather pretend never happened. We cannot rewrite history, we cannot ignore history, we must listen, we must learn, and we must read. So here’s to our right to reading. It is so important.
This has been my discussion of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. This has been September’s Book Of The Month. I hope you enjoyed it. Have you read The Great Gatsby? Let me know what you think of the novel because I love hearing your thoughts.
Make sure to keep an eye on my Instagram (@katelovesliterature), because I will be announcing October’s #bookofthemonth very soon.