30th August 2018

Response 6 – novel

The Great Gatsby, by author F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a 1925 fictional novel, that has been called “the greatest novel of the 20th century”. The book follows a young WW1 veteran named Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, who has recently moved to New York, more specifically the fictional village of West Egg, to “learn the bond business”. Here he meets his next door neighbor, the elusive multi-millionaire Jay Gatsby, known throughout New York for his extravagant parties, although he never appears at them. It is at one of these parties that Nick first meets the elusive Mr Gatsby, they bond after realising that they both fought in the same division during the war. On the other side of the bay, is the also fictional village of East Egg, where Nick meets up with his cousin Daisy Buchanan, as well as her brash, tycoon husband Tom. While there, he is also introduced to pro golfer and future love interest Jordan Baker. She reveals that Tom has a mistress named, Myrtle Wilson, who lives with her husband George, at a petrol station, in an industrial waste dump called the “Valley of Ashes”. As Nick and Gatsby begin to hang out, they develop a friendship with one another, unfortunately for all involved, it is revealed, that before Daisy had married Tom, her and Gatsby, had met before in 1917, just before he had headed to Europe. This brief encounter lead Gatsby to fall madly in love with Daisy, feelings he still carried with him after the war. In fact the only reason that he even through his extravagant parties in the first place was to try and get her attention, although he never did. Upon Gatsby’s request, Nick sets up a meeting between the two, which although initially awkward, brings back the past feelings and the two past lovers quickly begin having an affair over the summer. One day, while having lunch at the Buchanan’s Tom, being suspicious of his wife’s infidelity for some time, confronts the pair after catching a loving glance between the two. Although an adulterer himself, Tom furious at Daisy for loving Gatsby. He forces them to drive out into New York City, with Gatsby and Daisy driving Tom’s vehicle and Tom, Nick and Jordan driving Gatsby’s unmistakable, bright, “cream colored” car. While driving towards his destination, The Plaza Hotel, Tom stops for gas at the Wilson’s petrol station. Here he finds George visibly upset, before announcing that he and Myrtle will leave New York due to her infidelity, although luckily for Tom, he is yet to find out who her secret lover actually is. Once the whole group make it to the hotel, Tom enraged by losing both his wife and mistress, goes off on Gatsby, claiming that he and Daisy have history the Gatsby could never understand. Not one to be intimidated so easily, Gatsby fires back at Tom with “Your wife doesn’t love you . . . She’s never loved you. She loves me.” unfortunately for Gatsby, Daisy can’t bring herself to admit that she has never loved her husband, and decides to stay with him. Tom, victorious, reveals to the group that Gatsby made his fortune illegally, mainly from bootlegging alcohol (which was illegal in the 20’s), he then sends Gatsby and Daisy back to the house in Gatsby’s car. On the way back, the car hits and kills Myrtle who had ran out into the middle of the road. Although it is later revealed that Daisy, not Gatsby drove the car that night, George falsely concludes that Jay Gatsby not only killed his wife, but was also her secret lover. He then travels to West Egg, finding Gatsby floating on an air mattress in his pool. George fatally shoots Gatsby, before killing himself. Nick puts on a small funeral for Gatsby, however none of Gatsby’s associates, and only one party-goer, attend. The Novel ends with Nick, coldly pushing Jordan away, before finding out from Tom himself, that Tom had a role in Gatsby’s murder, telling George who owned the car. Disillusioned with the New York lifestyle, Nick returns to Gatsby’s now empty mansion. Staring out at Daisy’s dock across the bay, he ends the novel with the quote: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

The main theme of this novel, I believe, is the cautionary tale of one’s desire to “catch” the American Dream. One example of why I believe this to be true, is the symbolism of the separation between East and West Egg. West Egg is populated by those of new money, who gained their fortunes, or are in the process of gaining their fortunes after the great war, through entrepreneurial or criminal means; this includes both Nick and Jay Gatsby. On the other side of the lake however sits East Egg, populated by those with “old money”, riches passed down through the family (father to son). This includes Tom Buchanan and through marriage into the family, Daisy as well. Those in West Egg seem to be more flashy with their money, as shown by Gatsby’s luminous white and pink suits, as well as his colorful “cream colored” vehicle, described by Tom at one point in the novel, as looking like a clown car. This quote from Tom perfectly shows the difference between the two sides of the bay, those with new money seem to be much more extravagant and flashy with their riches, than those born into money, almost as though they have no idea what to do with their cash. This I believe symbolises the divide between new and old money, and how in the end the American Dream is a hoax, with only those being born into money truly being rich/elite. In the novel the divide between the old and new is also literal, with their being a bay between West and East Egg, separating the two. The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock could also be related to this symbolism, as it represents the unattainable dream that Gatsby wishes to live in, one where he has the perfect life with Daisy, close enough to seem like he could almost reach out touch it, however still so far away on the opposite end of the bay. In the end Gatsby can never have what Tom has, because he will always be poor at heart, even though he has put so much effort and time into becoming rich. This classism can also be seen with those living on “the other side of the tracks” in the “Valley of Ashes” they, much like Gatsby, are seen as lesser than those born into money, again they are seen as poor at heart. These people represent those that have to be pushed down in order for the American Dream to exist, having been tossed aside, left to live in the waste caused by the industrial machine. Much like the area they live in, both George and Myrtle are used by those with money, manipulated and tricked by Tom, there downfall is seen as his doing, what’s more he receives no repercussions for doing so, staying largely the same by the book’s end. As Nick says in the novel: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

In conclusion I believe The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald represents the unattainable American Dream, more specifically that unless you were born into money, you will always be seen as poor at heart, and be looked down upon. This book is a timeless classic, and should be read by those of all ages, with extremely deep themes laid throughout the book. A true american classic, it’s sad the Fitzgerald never lived to see how big his magnum opus has become.

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  1. Hi Ben, I see that you have chosen to complete a final response on “The Great Gatsby”, however was this text read this year? It is important that you have personally read and written about texts within the year that the assignment is set. Please see me about this – your assignment is due tomorrow afternoon.

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