This classic novel has had yet another film adaptation made of it last year, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. However, book fans might be worried that the text’s original vibe is lost on modern viewers. With scenes featuring songs by artists such as Jay-Z, though it does give it a ‘modern’ twist, it loses the original 1920’s atmosphere. The story is a real period piece, testament to the flamboyant decade it was written in, so let’s have a look at the inspiration for this very successful film.
The story is told from the perspective of one of Gatsby’s friends, a man named Nick Carraway. Nick clearly admires Gatsby very much, but the relationship is almost one-sided, as Gatsby is desperately in love with a woman called Daisy, Nick’s cousin. Here’s where the love triangle gets complicated – Daisy and Gatsby were in love before the novel is set, but she thought she’d lost him in the war, so she married wealthy bachelor Tom. Here we have the setup for a very dramatic tale. Gatsby moved to the New York suburbs to be close to her, and in order to attract her attention, he hosts wild parties, which are described brilliantly and in great detail by the author. Daisy and Gatsby rekindle their relationship, and it’s all going well for a while, until Daisy is forced to make a choice. What Daisy chooses will change everyone’s life forever, but the past cannot be forgotten until she does.
Our main characters all live by the stretch of water called the Long Island Sound, near New York City. It’s beautiful whichever side of the water you live on, but there is some class snobbery between aristocratic “East Egg” and nouveau riche, almost tacky “West Egg”, across the water. Gatsby’s beautiful yet ostentatious mansion is depicted lovingly by Nick, as is Daisy’s tasteful house. Contrasting with all this is the horrible “Valley of Ashes”, a place between the suburbs and the city that’s utterly desolated, save for a few shops. Despite this, there’s a better sense of neighbourliness there, and when something terrible happens the neighbours band together to support the victim. Compare this with snooty East Egg – which is the nicer community now?
Our heroes are all massively different, with hugely varying personalities. Gatsby is devoted and loyal, but delusional. Daisy is free-spirited and fun, but immature. Tom is strong and brutish, and Nick is kind but wimpy. What brings them together is their wealth, society, and a large dose of coincidence.
The story covers many themes, one of which is materialism. It is quite the criticism of contemporary (1920s) American society, especially as people are drinking and acting irresponsibly during the Prohibition era, which is exactly what it sought to prevent. Daisy does not realise how her spontaneous personality affects others – and this is shown perfectly in one instance, where she buys a puppy for ten dollars, is interested in it for a short period of time, but soon leaves it in the care of the servants. This is how she treats her daughter, too, and it shows how critical the author was about the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Though it’s likely you’ll be made to read it at school, don’t look at it through the same bored lens. Look a little deeper, and you’ll find a true masterpiece.
Image from: http://ewordnews.com/literary-news/2013/4/18/the-great-gatsby-by-f-scott-fitzgerald