I do not exactly recall why I picked this book. Perhaps I was looking for another great read. After finishing Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, I just felt that I had to read another novel that only spans around 200 pages, yet with a whack in the head like a literary brick. My edition is a mass market paperback, and I felt that I need to know what makes Gatsby so great.
Gatsby’s name is invasive. If you are not aware, it’s also the name of a popular line of hairstyling products. Hair gel, wax, and even deodorants, are manufactured by Gatsby. The CEO should be filthy rich, what with the nonstop increase of the products’ demand thanks to the parallel increase of people’s vanity.
Just like the company, Gatsby, the main character in the novel, is just as rich. How he did it, we don’t really know, but he is that rich that he bought a mansion where posh parties are held just to be near the person that he loves. Well, is it worth it?
I always think of the ironic title Fitzgerald came up with this novel. I sometimes think that there should be quotation marks for the word great, just for emphasis. The “Great” Gatsby, but that would be a giveaway. These marks could even be transferred to the last word, The Great “Gatsby”, because really, who is this Gatsby? Will the reader be able to understand him after finishing the novel? Did Nick do a good job in telling us the man’s life?
Who is Nick? He is the narrator, so everything that we know about Gatsby came from him. How reliable he is as a narrator, we can’t say. There are times when he flinches, and there are hints that his account is not as precise as we would like it to be. Take a look at this:
Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something-an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever.
What if the things that we need to know about Gatsby escaped Nick, making them uncommunicable forever? But since Nick is an educated man with a burden of his own, we believe him. It’s not that he is unreliable, but you know how things go when you are reading about a person narrated by another person.
And Nick also talks about other people, the upper class people. Daisy, the love of Gatsby’s life, is one of them. And also Tom, Daisy’s husband. And Jordan, Daisy’s friend, with whom Nick had something going on with. We see these people move in their lavish homes. It should be thrilling, living an easy life, but we feel a sense of hollowness in their lives. These people look weightless, drifting from one party to another and trying to find some meaning in what they do.
A decadent life. Could we blame the excess of material things that surround the characters? Could this excess make one lose a sense of responsibility? And Gatsby, who made his way to the upper class through underhand means, did he really belong and received a warm welcome, or did he just merely make a full step toward his downfall?
Before I read this, I knew that this had something to do with the American dream. Just what exactly is the American dream? How different is it from say, the Filipino dream? I surmise that the American dream is the nonstop pursuit of pleasure. I gather that only from the novel. The Filipino dream, I think, is the imitation of the American dream, but with family ties. I don’t know if being bound to one’s family is a good thing. Like stay together until the end. But what happens to your sense of individuality?
My life decisions are hugely influenced by such factors. Not that there is maternal meddling, but I really can’t help it. It runs through my veins. It is conditioned by culture. It has been decided way before my parents were born. It’s something that cannot be easily escaped.
And Gatsby here was all about getting what he wants: the woman. He makes himself super rich so that he could build himself this mansion he doesn’t need just to be near the woman. No family ties. His father only surfaced on the last few pages, who gave me the impression that he doesn’t really know who his son is. Like he’s just a mere sperm donor.
But did Gatsby make a mark in anyone’s life? Definitely not in the random people who attended his grand parties, but maybe in Nick’s fleeting moments of nostalgia. Maybe in some recesses of Daisy’s mind. So maybe what Gatsby did was worth it after all.