“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I call this one a book reaction, not a review, because I don’t think one can really review a classic like The Great Gatsby. I mean, it’s a classic for a reason and I’m not one to go against generally accepted ideas of literary cannon.
I managed to get all the way through high school and college without being required to read The Great Gatsby. When I offer this factoid in conversation, most of my friends are shocked and appalled. So on their recommendation, and the fact that a new movie is coming out (some day), I decided it was time to see what I was missing. There are certain books you just have to read in order to call yourself a book person, and this is one of them.
I don’t think I need to tell anyone the plot, but just in case there are more people like me out there, here’s the gist: Gatsby and Daisy fall in love, but he goes to fight in WWI. In the meanwhile, Daisy marries Tom Buchanan, a rather rich asshole. Gatsby returns from war and starts trying to reinvent himself as a man worthy of winning Daisy back. This whole story is told from the point of view of Nick Caraway, Daisy’s cousin who just moved to the small town in Long Island where they all live. The book beautifully describes the glamorous life of the wealthy during the Roaring Twenties, lots of parties and driving around with nothing in particular to do, but underscores the shallowness of it all. The people in this world all seem to be having the time of their lives, but really they’re all very self-centered and bored. It’s a book as much about the decade as it is the Gatsby/Daisy love story, which is why it’s still taught in schools across the country.
It’s hard for me to say exactly how the book made me feel. I felt sorry for Gatsby, that’s for sure. He worked so hard toward his goal of winning Daisy, and he came very close to achieving it. But honestly, I don’t think Daisy deserved him. She was the embodiment of all the decadence, selfishness, and boredom of the period. I’s convinced if Gatsby hadn’t returned to her fabulously wealthy and popular, he never would have regained her attention.
I think Gatsby is a cautionary tale about the dangers of single-mindedness and holding onto the past. He had nothing to show for his life outside of his wealth, the source of which was very shady, and his obsession with Daisy. He had no friends, and no achievements despite his intelligence and success during the war.
Structurally, I loved the idea of a novel where the person who’s telling you the story isn’t truly the main character. Nick Caraway is the perfect narrator/observer and therefore the most qualified to provide insights into the lives of those he is interacting with and the time in which he lives. I may not have read many classics, but I feel like this doesn’t happen very much in literature–at least, not well.
I’m still trying to process this story and why it is considered a classic. There are obviously many lessons that can be taken from it, which I think is why it’s still on the curriculum in most high schools. I would love to discuss it more with anyone who’s interested.
Leave me a comment: Did you like The Great Gatsby, why or why not? Are there insights I missed/parts I should read more closely?
Also, for any teachers out there looking for some cool resources for teaching this American classic, I offer the following:
Teaching The Great Gatsby from The New York Times’s The Learning Network blog. This is a collection of lesson plans for teaching TGG to high schoolers, some of them involve using the NYT as well. Pretty interesting stuff!
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