“Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust flated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
As you would know, I recently watched Baz Luhrmann’s film portrayal of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. And while the film had its own merits and strengths, I thought I’d share my views on the book itself.
In summary, The Great Gatsby is set in 1920s New York City, where Wall Street was blooming and wealth chasers came to New York looking for the American Dream – wealth. The novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway, was one of them. In a rented house on West Egg, he meets the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, who throws these lavish parties where almost the entire city is invited.
The story later unfurls into a glimpse of everything that is wrong with the American Dream – the festering greed, the superficial wealth, and the unforgiving lust – personified in East Egg couple Tom and Daisy Buchanan. At the same time, they are juxtaposed by the constant hope Gatsby carried in his heart, shown through the green light he keeps his focus on as he gazes at Daisy’s house across the river, looking to rekindle his love affair with Daisy as he once had five years ago.
However, due to space constraints, I’m going to look at the two main things which struck me about The Great Gatsby – colour symbolism and carelessness.
“…a single green light, minute and faraway, that might have been the end of a dock.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Green somehow seems to be the colour of hope and destination in quite a bit of literature – The Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, the term in search for greener pastures. Gatsby is no exception. The green light, a constant blink at the far of the dock in front of Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s house, represents not only Gatsby’s dream (of Daisy), but the constant hope Gatsby harboured and Nick saw.
Gold and yellow play a great part in the novel as well, representing the Golden Age of New York and all the disgusting, yellow malady going on behind the scenes. Most notably, Gatsby’s yellow car, which Fitzgerald later reveals to be the result of Gatsby’s ill-attained wealth. Fitzgerald also looks at the extremes of the colour spectrum – the richness and wealth of the gold can end up producing a yellowing sickness, as experienced by Nick as he leaves New York City.
Not to mention, Fitzgerald wanted to rename The Great Gatsby to The Red, the White, and the Blue but had to stick to Gatsby because his publisher had already passed the first print run for press. The red, the white, and the blue – the American novel.
“I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
When Daisy Buchanan said that, she probably was not being such a fool after all. Tom, her husband, was not only an asshat (pardon my language), but also a philanderer. Knowing too much would probably destroy the innocence she probably hoped her daughter to have. And as you continue through the story, caring for others ends up becoming a liability. Daisy gives in to her confusion, staying in her comfort zone despite knowing it’s probably not something she wants.
Gatsby, on the other hand, cares so much he ends up ruined taking the rap for something Daisy did. On top of his demise, his reputation is brought low, crushed by the fact that despite all the parties and generosity he has shown, Gatsby walked through life and into death, almost alone. After all, seeming like he mattered and mattering were two very different things.
Ironically, the only person left caring was Nick Carraway (say his last name out and slowly), a person who was never directly in the picture until he came to West Egg.
At the end of it, he probably was suggesting that the American Dream was not purely self-made wealth, but possibly just living a carefree life. Wealth just seemed to make that easier.
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Therefore, what makes this novel so applicable to society today would probably be the fact that society in itself, contains an unspoken aristocracy governed by wealth. And as long as the wealth is there, it ends up becoming a “Get Out of Jail Free” card half the time. Despite all that, it ponders the question – What is this material wealth but the constant surrounding reminder of the emptiness you have in your soul?