Book Review: The Great Gatsby



My niece assured me I could read all of The Great Gatsby on my flight from Philadelphia to Columbia, SC. The plane pulled up to the terminal with four pages left to read.


Scene from the 2013 remake

I had seen the 1974 movie starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, but as is often the case, I found the book so much deeper and more profound. First, the lifestyle of the uber-wealthy in the Twenties was set in the first forty-seven pages before we even confronted the mysterious character of Jay Gatsby.
It was clear that despite the massive, beautiful homes, servants, and leisure time, the lives of the rich on Long Island were vacuous and, to me, boring. That explains the draw of neighbor, Gatsby’s, spectacular parties. We learn later through the narrator, Nick Carraway, that the galas were merely a way for Jay Gatsby to find his way back into the life of his first love, Daisy Buchanan (Nick’s cousin).
I won’t give away the story, but suffice it to say, the simple devotion of Jay Gatsby slams into a world where the lifestyle and prestige that money brings has a powerful grip of its own.
One of my fascinations with the book comes from the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this novel in 1925, in the midst of the “Roaring Twenties.” To me, the lives of the characters exuded emptiness, and it is amazing that Fitzgerald exposed this before the Crash of 1929, while he, his wife, and the rest of America were enmeshed in this lifestyle.
 
On a side note, I was struck by the racism of the day and how we can see remnants of it even now. Tom Buchanan, the husband of Gatsby’s beloved Daisy, says in conversation, “The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.” He adds, “It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”
There are disparaging remarks about Jews as well, which are striking when you think the Holocaust is years in the future. It reminded me that eugenics (the “science” that expounds the superiority of some races over others) was embraced during this time, and was not really discredited until after Hitler’s atrocities.
 
All in all, I found the book thought-provoking, with much to say to us now in our materialistic culture.

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