Book #07. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzerald

I had belonged to a social club for little more than two years. It’s been a persistent challenge for me to overcome my natural asociability, so it was a relief to find a well-meaning group of people I could easily be affiliated with. Although I am now no longer part of that circle, I have had solid tastes of the pretentiousness and superficiality among young adults trying to make themselves known to the world. It was exhausting sometimes, but also the experience formed a sound base of my understanding of The Great Gatsby, the book I carelessly pulled out of my mother’s bookshelf. I didn’t have a faintest idea of what I was reading up until the scene where Gatsby shouts “She loves me!”, the epiphany that immediately awoke my concealed passion for romance.

My prior knowledge about the novel was that it featured a guy named Gatsby, a girl named Daisy, and they are mixed together in a strangely complicated way. I didn’t want to find out because I intuitively knew that they didn’t work out together in the end. I was still in the fairytale fantasies of marriage and love, so it was easy to be repulsed by those ideas of heartbreaking and betrayal. I was not particularly inspired to read it until something happened in my life that renewed some of the old acquaintances and, finally, led me into a flattering fancy that someone has fallen in love with me. Of course, the fantasy was to be broken soon, perhaps as thoroughly and harshly as Gatsby’s, but it did introduce some ambiguous sense of ‘erotic love’ into my mind growing into an early phase of adulthood. It was so easy to apply my then feelings from that silly little affair into Gatsby’s fruitless obsession of Daisy, and the impact was just so striking that I couldn’t get out of the novel for weeks. After all, I was thankful for the immature experience for instilling me the deepest and honest sympathy with the characters in the greatest American novel in the 20th century.

During a recent re-read, I was more attentive on Nick Carraway as a remarkable character and also an unusual third-person narrator whose actions do slightly more than what a minor character normally does. In some ways, he is also a hidden protagonist in this novel because he constantly confronts the thematic conflict between hypocrisy and honesty throughout the story. In a flash in his encounter with other characters, Nick pierces through their hidden motives that belonged to a completely different world from the surface.

The instant her voice broke off ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said…I waited, and sure enough, in a moment she looked at me which an absolute smirk on her lovely face, as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged. (p.17)

In the end, he is left confused, puzzled, and sometimes, enraged, especially in the final chapter when everything turns upside down after Gatsby’s unforeseen death. His incredible responsiveness to other character’s interiority is pertinent in shaping the conversations, actions and events in the story, most importantly the rekindling relationship between Gatsby and Daisy. As such, the entirety of the Great Gatsby is, after all, an  account of Nick’s personal exploration of unfulfilled expectations and depreciated sincerity he encountered in his little circle of people that included his mysterious neighbour, Jay Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby may leave the reader as much depressed as any other tragedy, but Nick’s reflective narration sucessfully contains the bottomless disappointment and frustration of a broken dream.

…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 fail to grasp it…Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… and one fine morning–(p.180)

Gatsby’s failure is painfully complete in every conceivable way: life, love, law, family, and friends.  However, Gatsby’s life was not entirely wasted in the end after all by having allowed someone to discover his most positive qualities. One thing that was hopeful from his life was the remarkable depth of understanding and confidence that blossomed with Nick; It’s hard to say friendship really, but someone like Nick doesn’t happen so often in real life that someone living next door turns out to be the only person who understands me.

In every way The Great Gatsby provides me with the penestrating insights on how to get ‘related’ to other people.  It’s an incredibly accurate depiction of ‘social relationship’ that always has its limits. Almost every relationship in the novel begins and ends in its own way: Tom and Myrtle, Nick and Tom, Nick and Daisy, Gatsby and Daisy, Nick and Jordan, and so forth. Most of them were erotic, something I was beginning to understand to be misleading sometimes, and others purely cordial, something that only sustained until a small gesture or a word reveals a hidden, selfish motive, like Tom selling Gatsby to the revengeful Wilson to take the blame.

Maybe the “uneasy” and “tricked” feelings Nick felt in the end of the evening when he meets Daisy and Tom was the cause of my usual awkwardness among other people, but I definitely derived some sense of hope from the confidence between Nick and Gatsby, the only relationship that succeeded til the end of the novel, as it inspired me to open myself more to others so they can see the better part of myself. My life should involve more people now, because I have only spent it merely as a means to improve my understanding of books. Truthfully I don’t know which way is the right… 😦

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