The Great (And Baffling) Gatsby

by kangcuzzi

Apologies for my lateness in jumping on the bandwagon, but I’ve just finished experiencing F Scott Fitzgerald’s widely celebrated world of The Great Gatsby. After a pen pal of mine sent me the copy of a book as a Christmas gift, I finally got around to reading it – then, inevitably, watching Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version of it, too. And what can I say? I have a plethora of thoughts and questions oozing in my mind, peppered with the inevitable awe garnered from the spectacular panning shots and costume/set design Luhrmann so fabulously orchestrated in the recent movie. So before I commence my own contemplative session reminiscent to the brooding nature of Gatsby, hats off to Luhrmann for creating what I thought was an incredibly original and refreshing adaptation. Bravo!

Now onto the bit that makes me more like a West Egg stockbroker who finds himself contemplating the events of the past (hint, hint). In all honesty, while I was reading the Great Gatsby I wasn’t really able to grasp Gatsby’s character. Sometimes he was elusive, almost like a shadow; other times he was incredibly brash and bordering on irritating (especially the way he kept looming over Daisy); but of course, he was also portrayed as a genuinely nice guy with no bad intentions, too. While I was reading the book I didn’t realise that he engaged in a corrupt business to earn his fortune, nor did I fully verify with myself that he actually did go to Oxford, did work with jewels etc. I wasn’t able to grasp much of the Dan Cody story, either, nor how he transformed himself from James Gatz into Jay Gatsby. So I think while I was reading the book, I wasn’t able to relate to Gatsby at all; all I saw of him was a mysterious persona who was also strangely amorphous, which meant I wasn’t able to grasp his real, unadulterated ambition and the drive that spurred him on. I think I was only able to understand that as I watched the movie… although the book is the authentic version, in the movie I was finally able to see Gatsby as a man who literally lived on a tightrope, and whose entire life was given up to maintaing that balancing act. Even if something unexpected was thrown his way – Daisy, for instance – he somehow tried to maintain the balance even with the new load, although, eventually, he lost his balance and fell down, down, down. I thought it was very admirable how he was so adamant on living this linear, jet-streamed life that aimed to only go higher, and higher, and higher while he was caught up with something that wasn’t turning out right. No wonder Nick had such admiration for him.

But for me, I think the story was less about the drive of ambition accentuated by the flamboyant days of the 1920s, but more about how money cannot buy one happiness. It’s an old, clichéd saying, yes, but the Great Gatsby really puts those few words into perspective. Even though Gatsby threw all of these elegant, lavish parties, I think his money detached him from others in the sense that he tried to lure others with the cold, hard cash; things pertaining to richness, such as a visit to his house or a ride on his new hydroplane, he was easily able to toss around, but when it came to tea invitations he was absolutely dumbstruck as to what to say. The fact that he got so caught up in the material world, while still trying to reach through the glass ceiling to the more humane world – a world both Eggs lacked significantly – meant that despite all his ambition the book ends with him with minimal fulfilment. After all had been spent, no one but Nick and his own father show up to his funeral. An extremely depressing scene both in the book and the movie, because the startling contrast between the house filled with dancers clad in promiscuous feathered outfits and a house empty but for Gatsby’s casket is really shocking for the reader and the watcher. I think that was what touched me most in the entire book; how many of us try so hard to attain something, but often lose focus, disguising ourselves in other things to try to validate our efforts, and consequently failing.

This kind of story is sad, I know. But despite the sadness that is contained within Fitzgerald’s work, I think Fitzgerald presents it brilliantly and in a way that will leave you with nothing but a sigh and a little flickering in the heart after you’ve read the book. I mean, not only is Fitzgerald an awesome writer – the way he describes the simplest of things paints a Picasso in your head – but he is also the man of subtleties, so that once you are able to fit the pieces together it’s up to you to trace your fingers along the cracks and say, wow, now wasn’t that a good story.

There may have been some spoilers in this post, so I apologize in advance if someone hasn’t read the book/watched the movie yet and has stumbled across this. But, you know, I hope it has also incentivized someone to pick up one of Fitzgerald’s greatest works and subsequently enter a world of bravado, and magic, and ambition… because we all need a little bit of those in our lives, right?

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