Books and Movies Reviews

Great Gatsby 15 Short Essays Essay

this book was based on the career of the legendary Hollywood producer Irving

Thalberg, whom Fitzgerald greatly admired. But Fitzgerald’s years of dissipation

caught up with him, and he died of a heart attack on December 21, 1940. Even

unfinished, The Last Tycoon is a fine novel, almost as good as Gatsby. But for a

long time the world didn’t know that. At the time of his death all of

Fitzgerald’s books were out of print. Scott who? Oh, that guy that used to write

about the ’20s. Well, he was much more than that, and during the 1950s and 1960s

people started reading Scott Fitzgerald again. Today he is considered one of

America’s great novelists. The Great Gatsby, along with The Scarlet Letter and

Huckleberry Finn, has become a book we can’t do without if we want to understand

ourselves. Fitzgerald asks us to read this book with that same double vision

with which he wrote it. He asks us to participate emotionally in the lives of

its characters, especially Gatsby. And he asks us to stand back from them as

Nick does and see what is wrong with them. He asks us to love and to evaluate at

the same time, perhaps in the say way that Nick both loves and criticizes

Gatsby.

Nick Carraway, the narrator, is a young Midwesterner who, having graduated

from Yale in 1915 and fought in World War I (“The Great War”), has

returned home to begin a career. Like others in his generation, he is restless

and has decided to move East to New York and learn the bond business. The novel

opens early in the summer of 1922 in West Egg, Long Island, where Nick has

rented a house. Next to his place is a huge mansion complete with Gothic tower

and marble swimming pool, which belongs to a Mr. Gatsby, whom Nick has not met.

Directly across the bay from West Egg is the more fashionable community of East

Egg, where Tom and Daisy Buchanan live. Daisy is Nick’s cousin and Tom, a

well-known football player at Yale, had been in the same senior society as Nick

in New Haven. Like Nick, they are Midwesterners who have come East to be a part

of the glamour and mystery of the New York City area. They invite Nick to dinner

at their mansion, and here he meets a young woman golfer named Jordan Baker, a

friend of Daisy’s from Louisville, whom Daisy wants Nick to become interested

in. During dinner the phone rings, and when Tom and Daisy leave the room, Jordan

informs Nick that the caller is a “woman of Tom’s from New York.” The

woman’s name is Myrtle Wilson, and she lives in a strange, fantastic place half

way between West Egg and New York City that Fitzgerald calls the “valley of

ashes.” The valley of ashes consists of huge ash heaps and a faded yellow

brick building containing an all-night restaurant and George Wilson’s garage.

Painted on a large billboard nearby is a fading advertisement for an optician:

the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, gazing out over this wasteland through a pair

of enormous yellow spectacles. One day Tom takes Nick to meet the Wilsons.

Myrtle joins them on the next train to Manhattan, and the threesome ends up,

along with a dog Myrtle buys at Pennsylvania Station, at the apartment Tom has

rented for his meetings with Myrtle. Myrtle’s sister Catherine and an

unattractive couple from downstairs named McKee join them, and the six proceed

to get quite drunk. The party breaks up violently when Myrtle starts using

Daisy’s name in a familiar fashion and Tom, in response, breaks her nose with a

blow of his open hand. Some weeks later Nick finally gets the opportunity to

meet his mysterious neighbor Mr. Gatsby. Gatsby gives huge parties, complete

with catered food, open bars, and orchestras. People come from everywhere to

attend these parties, but no one seems to know much about the host. Legends

about Jay Gatsby abound. Some say he was a German spy during the war, others,

that he once killed a man. Nick becomes fascinated by Gatsby. He begins watching

his host and notices that Gatsby does not drink or join in the revelry of his

own parties. One day Gatsby and Nick drive to New York together. Gatsby tells

Nick that he’s from a wealthy family in the Midwest, that he was educated at

Oxford, and that he won war medals from many European countries. Nick isn’t sure

what to believe. At lunch Gatsby introduces Nick to his business associate,

Meyer Wolfsheim, “the man who fixed the World Series in 1919.” At tea

that afternoon Nick finds out from Jordan Baker why Gatsby has taken such an

interest in him: Gatsby is in love with Daisy Buchanan and wants Nick to arrange

a meeting between them. It seems that Gatsby, as a young officer at Camp Taylor

in 1917, had fallen in love with Daisy, then Daisy Fay. He had been sent

overseas, and she had eventually given him up, married Tom Buchanan, and had a

daughter. When Gatsby finally returned from Europe he decided to win Daisy back.

His first step was to buy a house in West Egg. From here he could look across

the bay to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He expected her to turn

up at one of his parties, and when she didn’t, he asked Jordan to ask Nick to

ask Daisy. And so Nick does. A few days later, in the rain, Gatsby and Daisy

meet for the first time in five years. Gatsby is at first terrified, then

tremendously excited. He takes Nick and Daisy on a tour of his house and grounds

and shows them all his possessions, even his beautiful shirts from England. He

shows Daisy the green light that he has been watching, and he insists that

Klipspringer, “the boarder,” play the piano for them. Klipspringer

plays “Ain’t We Got Fun,” and Nick leaves. Now, halfway through the

book, Nick gives us some information about who Gatsby really is. He was

originally James Gatz, the son of farm people from North Dakota. He had gone to

St. Olaf College in Minnesota, dropped out because the college failed to promote

his romantic dreams about himself, and ended up on the south shore of Lake

Superior earning room and board by digging clams and fishing for salmon. One day

he saw the beautiful yacht of the millionaire Dan Cody and borrowed a rowboat to

warn Cody of an impending storm. Cody took the seventeen-year-old boy on as

steward, mate, and secretary. When Cody died, he left the boy, now Jay Gatsby, a

legacy of $25,000, which the boy never got because of the jealousy of Cody’s

mistress. The story of Gatsby’s past breaks off, and Nick resumes his narration

of Gatsby’s renewed courtship of Daisy during the summer of 1929. Daisy and Tom

come to one of Gatsby’s parties, but Tom is put off by the vulgarity of Gatsby’s

world, and Daisy does not have a good time. Though Gatsby has been seeing Daisy,

he’s increasingly frustrated by his inability to recreate the magic of their

time together in Louisville five years before. The affair between Daisy and

Gatsby now comes out into the open. Tom, Daisy, Gatsby, Nick, and Jordan–the

five major characters–all meet for lunch at the Buchanans and then decide to

drive to New York. Daisy and Gatsby end up going together in the Buchanans’ blue

coupe, Tom, Nick, and Jordan drive in Gatsby’s yellow Rolls Royce. The couple

stop for gas at Wilson’s garage, and Myrtle Wilson, watching from her window

over the garage, thinks the car belongs to Tom. The five arrive in the city and

engage the parlor of a suite at the Plaza Hotel. Tom, drunk and agitated by now,

starts ragging Gatsby about his past and attacking him for his phony English

habit of calling people “old sport.” Gatsby retaliates by telling Tom

that Daisy is going to leave him. Tom calls Gatsby a cheap bootlegger. Like

cowboys in the Old West, they duel back and forth for Daisy until Tom wins.

Daisy will not go away with Gatsby, and the five-year dream is over. Tom sends

Daisy and Gatsby home together in the yellow Rolls Royce, knowing that he has

nothing more to fear. A couple of hours later Tom follows with Nick and Jordan.

When they reach the valley of ashes, they see crowds of people in police cars.

Someone was struck by a car coming from New York. That someone, they discover,

was Myrtle Wilson, and the car had to be Gatsby’s yellow Rolls Royce. When Nick

gets back to East Egg, he finds Gatsby hiding in the shrubbery outside the

Buchanans’ house, unwilling to leave for fear that Tom might hurt Daisy. Gatsby

tells Nick that Daisy was driving, but that–of course–he will take the blame.

Nick leaves Gatsby “watching over nothing.” Nick goes to work the next

morning, but is too worried about Gatsby to stay in New York. He takes an early

train back to West Egg but arrives at Gatsby’s too late. His friend’s body is

floating on an inflated mattress in the swimming pool, and George Wilson’s dead

body, revolver in hand, lies nearby on the grass. The crazed husband had spent

the entire morning tracking down the driver of the yellow Rolls Royce. He found

Gatsby before Nick did. Nick tries to phone Daisy and Tom, but is told they’ve

left town with no forwarding address. Calls to Meyer Wolfsheim produce similar

results. Nick, it seems, is Gatsby’s only friend. News of Gatsby’s murder is

printed in a Chicago newspaper, where it is read by his father, Mr. Henry C.

Gatz, now of Minnesota. Mr. Gatz arrives for the funeral, which is attended only

by Nick, Owl Eyes (who loved Gatsby’s books), and a smattering of servants.

Meyer Wolfsheim, of course, has refused to get involved. Even Mr. Klipspringer,

“the boarder,” has sent his excuses. Mr. Gatz, who loves his son very

much, shows Nick a book which Jimmy owned as a boy. In the flyleaf Gatsby had

written a schedule for self improvement: exercise, study, sport, and work. How

far Gatsby had come from that dream, to this meaningless death! Disgusted and

disillusioned by what he has experienced, Nick decides to leave New York and

return to the Midwest. He ends his relationship with Jordan Baker and learns

from Tom Buchanan that it was he, Tom, who told Wilson where Gatsby lived.

Before Nick leaves the East, he stands one more time on the beach near Gatsby’s

house looking out at the green light that his friend had worshipped. Here he

pays his final tribute to Gatsby and to the dream for which he lived–and

died.

Nick Carraway is the narrator of The Great Gatsby; he is also a character in

the novel. When you think about him, you have to think about what Fitzgerald is

using him for. You also have to look at him as a person. Nick, is first of all,

Fitzgerald’s means of making his story more realistic. Because Nick is

experiencing events and telling us about them in his own words, we’re more

likely to believe the story. After a while we almost begin to experience the

events as Nick does; the I of each of us as readers replaces the I of Nick. (For

more details, see “Point of View.”) Nick is a narrator whose values

you should have no trouble identifying or at least sympathizing with. He’s not

mad or blind to what’s going on around him. He’s a pretty solid young man who

has graduated from Yale University, served his country in the First World War,

and decided to go into the bond business. He comes from a solid Midwestern

family, from whom he has learned some pretty basic values. He is honest, but not

Puritanical or narrow minded. He is tolerant, understanding, and not hasty to

judge people. He is the sort of person you might talk to if you wanted a

sympathetic ear. But his toleration has limits. He doesn’t approve of

everything. These are some of the qualities that make Nick a reliable narrator,

someone whose story we are likely to believe. It seems often that his values are

pretty close to those of the author. Nick is in a perfect position to tell the

story. He is a cousin of Daisy Buchanan’s, he was in the same senior society as

Tom Buchanan at Yale, and he has rented, during the summer of 1922, a house

right next to Jay Gatsby. He knows all the characters well enough to be present

at the crucial scenes in the novel. The information he doesn’t have but needs in

order to tell his story, he gets from other characters like Jordan Baker, the

Greek restaurant owner Michaelis, and Gatsby himself. Nick knows things because

people confess to him, and people confess to him because he is tolerant,

understanding, and sympathetic. Nick has that capacity, which Fitzgerald felt

was so terribly important (see The Author and His Times), of holding two

contradictory opinions at the same time. He both admires Gatsby and disapproves

of him. He admires Gatsby both because of his dream and because of his basic

innocence; and he disapproves of Gatsby for his vulgar materialism and his

corrupt business practices. (Nick does not want to become involved with Meyer

Wolfsheim, Gatsby’s underworld “connection.”) One of the things that

makes Nick special is that he understands Gatsby. Nobody else in the novel-not

even Daisy-really understands him. Nick is, at the novel’s end, Gatsby’s only

friend, even though he disapproves of many things which Gatsby stands for.

Almost nobody comes to Gatsby’s funeral, and if it weren’t for Nick, there would

probably not even have been a funeral. Would you have gone? Some readers think

Nick is too sympathetic to Gatsby. They think that Nick ought to be mature

enough to see what is wrong with Gatsby’s dream. They feel that Nick should be

more critical of Gatsby, and force us as readers to be more critical, too. They

believe that Nick in the closing pages, is too sentimental and that his judgment

is not as reliable as we might think. There’s no critical agreement on this

issue, so you’ll have to make up your own minds as you read the book. As you’re

deciding about Nick’s powers of judgment–particularly in the opening and

closing pages where he talks about himself–keep in mind that Nick is a

Midwesterner and his values are colored by the values of the world in which he

grew up. Many readers have remarked that the novel is based on a contrast

between the solid, traditional, conservative Midwest and the glamorous,

glittering, fast-paced world of the East. Nick (like Scott Fitzgerald, his

creator) is from Minnesota. He comes East to experience the new and exciting

world of New York that is very different from Minneapolis-St. Paul. At the end,

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