Originally, I had planned on rereading the novel before seeing the movie, but when that didn’t happen (I was in the midst of a stack of books) I picked it up a few days after. It only took me forty-eight hours to get through it, and I suspect that it would have taken half the time had I started it over the weekend, where I could have read uninterrupted. That being said, the novel is quite short – under two hundred pages – and I think that everyone should pick it up whether they have never read it before or to reread it and be re-introduced into Fitzgerald’s world that is Gatsby. Something to keep in mind, because The Great Gatsby is so short, much of the story happens just under the surface – it’s there, you just have to pluck it out. After all, it takes place (and was written) in the 1920s, where there were speakeasies due to Prohibition, burlesque dancers, women who cut their hair shorter and dressed in sequins. It was a loud time, but also a time where things were not talked about. Most of Gatsby is told through the narrative voice of Nick with not a ton of dialogue, and most of the dialogue is between Nick and Gatsby. Daisy and Gatsby barely speak to each other, yet they’re supposed to be in love. They do, however, meet off the pages as we find out when Nick inquires with Gatsby about why his parties had suddenly stopped. Hence, to read Gatsby, you need to read between the lines.
As I was rereading, I found myself pulling out quotes. This is a normal occurrence of mine because I love quotes so much (I have a dictionary of quotations). Interestingly, the quotes ended up all being from the same general area towards the end of the novel. I particularly like this one:
“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.”
I really feel like this quote encompasses everything that is Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship, or lack thereof. From the moment that he met her, through the five years when they had had no contact, the Daisy in Gatsby’s mind grew to the point where, had she chosen to leave Tom and be with him, she never would have satisfied “the colossal vitality of his illusion,” and therefore Gatsby would never have been happy. It really had gone “beyond everything.” As much as Gatsby wanted Daisy, as much as he invented this life for her, it was much more than that. He didn’t know who he was, and his crisis of identity started long before he met Daisy, even long before he stopped being James Gatz and became Jay Gatsby. And I think this is the real key to understanding Gatsby. All his life, he wanted to be someone that he wasn’t, have the life that he didn’t have, be surrounded by high society – people that he had no business hanging around. He didn’t want to be the poor boy from the Midwest that no one knew; he wanted to be someone that everyone knew. In a way he achieved this, but it would never be enough, just as Daisy would never be enough for him either. She was what made him keep going, but it was the dream of her, not the Daisy in reality. Nothing is ever quite the same as it appears in a dream, or as your mind turns it into, and Gatsby was learning that.
“With every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave that up, and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost voice across the room.”
The afternoon that they had spent in the city with Tom, Nick and Jordan, when Gatsby was trying to get Daisy to say that she never loved Tom, that was really the beginning of the end for Gatsby, where “the dead dream fought on.” He became desperate to put the pieces of his dream back together, but it was too late; his dream was shattered. And that really is the beauty of Fitzgerald’s work – the tragedy that is Jay Gatsby. The prose lingers in your thoughts as you realize the magnitude of power that this little story possesses, and it stays with you for a while. I had forgotten how powerful his writing was until last week. And that’s why I think that everyone should read (reread) this, because it’s worth it.
“As I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”