Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Great Gatsby

Classics Bookclub

I'm enjoying having to the opportunity to re-read some of the classics through the Classics Bookclub. This month, we were challenged to read The Great Gatsby. It was the first book that I read in entirety on my Kindle 2! For my thoughts on the Kindle 2, read my full review over at 5 Minutes for Books.

When I read The Red Leather Diary (linked to my review), it got me primed to read this book, since both of them focused on the life of leisure, of the thought life and of excesses.

I always find it difficult to collect my thoughts, so I will take the easy way out and answer Dawn's questions. Although I don't usually have spoilers in my book reviews, the nature of a bookclub demands it -- so you've been warned.

  1. What do you think the main characters each represented? Did they seem real to you? Did some seem more real than others?

  2. Tom and Gatsby and Nick seemed the most real to me. Perhaps because they are men, and F. Scott Fitzgerald was a man. Perhaps because they were darker -- more skeptical and less idealistic. Perhaps because they were more fully fleshed out.

  3. Talk about ways that Fitzgerald incorporated symbolism in the novel. What symbols carried the greatest weight for you?

  4. With a limited attention span at this point of the day (dishwasher humming, dryer buzzing, Wall-E on in the background), this question might be too literary for me at the moment, but I'll take a stab at it. I think that the car symbolized a lot -- it represented Gatsby's success, and pride in things, and yet in the end, it was a symbol of his demise.

    I also liked the use of the green light as a symbol of hope, or the future, or unattainable dreams. The quote at the end of the novel sums it up:

    Gatsby believed in the green light. The orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . And one fine morning --

    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

  5. Ah… the American Dream. What do those words mean to you? Do you think Gatsby represented this concept, and how? What makes The Great Gatsby a classic novel? Why has it maintained its place in American literature?

  6. I put these two questions together. I think that the iconic theme of the American dream is what makes this novel a classic. The American Dream is sadly a fruitless pursuit. I've read that no matter how much money someone has -- from just above the poverty level, to wealthy by any standard -- when asked how much would be enough, the answer is universally the same. They all think that with just slightly more, they'd be happy (the number was somewhere between 10% and 20%, but I don't remember exactly).

    I think that it's maintained its place because the writing is beautiful, and the theme is universal. Change a few details, and this could have happened in this decade. Money does not buy happiness. True love is elusive and fragile. Most people are lonely and unsure of themselves. Most people lead self-centered lives.

  7. Were there specific quotes or passages that you felt were outstanding? What parts brought out your highlighters or sticky notes, and why?

  8. There were. As I said, I thought that this was beautifully written. In addition to the passage I quoted above, I marked several because of their social and cultural relevance all these years later. Here's a sample:

    Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that( . . . ) a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.

    This quote clarifies what I loved so much about Nick. I love the fact that the story was written with the wisdom he gained years later, but even as a young man, he was blissfully self-aware:

    "I love to see you at my table, Nick. You remind me of a rose, an absolute rose."

    This was untrue. I am not even faintly like a rose.

    Perhaps this one told why I didn't particularly care for Daisy (or relate to her, at least), and why that whole lifestyle made me sad:

    For Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm of the year, summing up the sadness and suggestiveness of life in new tunes.

Mr. Linky is uncooperative today (UGH!), but you can check out what others thought of The Great Gatsby in the Classics Bookclub post.


Bluestocking said...

Hi Jen,

I agree. The men did seem the most real. Daisy was a little bit ridiculous to me. I didn't like her reaction to the fact that she had a daughter.

Kipi said...

To me the allegory was too thick for any of the characters to seem real, but I loved the language!

Nise' said...

A news blurb got my attention on the radio this morning it said, "40% of Americans believe they have achieved the American Dream and 35% said they are almost there! If I had not just read this book, it would have gone right over my head.

morninglight mama said...

Great picks for quotes-- so hard to choose just a few! And yes, that American Dream concept sure is self-defeating in such a large way.

I agree about the timeless factor here--- many themes, while they fit so well with what was happening at the time in the US, are so relevant almost a century later.