Reading The Great Gatsby at 26
My friend Anna and I made an agreement: we would read all of the challenging, disliked, or highly regarded yet non-romance books in the next five months…TOGETHER. One of the first books on our list was ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
‘The Great Gatsby’ is one of the most highly regarded American Novels of our time…and I hated every moment of reading it in high school. My guess is because I didn’t understand it, the teacher wasn’t that great, or it was too mature for me. After hearing so much praise for it AGAIN almost 10 years later at my MFA program, I figured I’d give it another shot. If people are reading it in their 20s and loving it, maybe there was something to the story that i missed the first time around.
One of the writer things I kept in mind when starting the book was that Nick, the narrator, was incredibly unreliable. An MFA professor at Wilkes, Kaylie Jones, says that an unreliable narrator is believable only if he tells the truth all the time except about ONE thing. My goal was to figure out what that ONE THING was Nick lied to himself about, and lied to everyone else about.
I felt as if his lie became apparent halfway through the book. I may be wrong according to critics and scholars, but I think Nick lied about his affection for Gatsby. He was a jealous guy who didn’t get Gatsby’s facade. And there was a facade.
Let’s talk about that for a second, shall we? Gatsby lived on one of the two eggs out on Long Island. Across the Long Island Sound was the other egg inhabited by old money peeps. Folks still refer to it as ‘the gold coast’. Where Gatsby lived was all nuveau riche (new money). He had an inheritance which he flaunts as an attempt to get into the ‘old money’ crowd, but he lost it all and made it back again in 3 years which means he relies on moola he MADE not INHERITED. Gatsby also had this obsession with Daisy (the ho) because she had this sort of representation of old money he wanted to possess.
I’m going to continue with the symbolism discussion and talk about when Nick talks about Gatsby’s library. Gatsby had been in Oxford for a very short time after the war, but he wasn’t a learned man. His library, however impressive, was another type of facade that he used to put off the appearance that he was incredibly educated. He never read the books, but just used them for show.
This brings me to the use of colors. Green, blue, gold/yellow, and white. Big motifs in the story all around. I remember having a discussion about colors in the story when I was in a college class, but I didn’t associate the discussion with the book until now. This interpretation I have comes mostly from that college class discussion and the application of the discussion to my most recent reading of the book. Here we go: Green, the color of the allusive money, or the light at the end of Daisy’s dock that Gatsby sees from his home. It’s the one thing Gatsby is trying to obtain. Money, money, money. The blue may be, and this is not a firm interpretation or anything, the dreams or the visions of Gatsby’s future that he can’t grasp. Not money per se, but the type of respect and notoriety that he’s determined to obtain. Then there is the yellow/gold which could mean old money, like gold money, not the new green stuff. This color is used to describe the classical music playing at his party. Maybe because classical music is kind of a go-to for swanky cocktail parties that rich people have? I don’t know but it’s something to think about. Finally, let’s talk about the color white. Daisy, of course, is described in her youth as always wearing white. her skin is white, her car is white, and she was a pure as white snow.
The character arcs are brilliantly executed (something that I didn’t really appreciate at 16 at all) and the themes, symbolism, repetition, and dialog really paint a vivid picture without inundating the reader with useless verbiage (something else I didn’t appreciate at 16). However, I have to admit, things didn’t really start picking up until 60 pages through the book (which is a little over a third in my copy). Maybe it’s because of my preconceived notions that I still carry with me from high school, but I’m glad I could shed those notions and really, truly appreciate the book for the first time.
So in the end, I’m happy I decided to read this one over again. I just wont admit it to my high school English teacher. 🙂