If your looking for a happy story, skip it. The story stinks. Who wants to hear about the morally degraded tragic love between a ruined man and a stupid woman? Who wants to hear about a man who gives up everything of value for a woman who is rich, ditsy, and completely undeserving? Who wants hear the gross immorality apparently prevalent in post-WWI New York? Not I. But before we dismiss this book of all value, let us look at what else it offers: F. Scott Fitzgerald was certainly not trying to create some captivating story. His characters are rude, snotty, and extremely despicable. What was he trying to do? I think he may have been working at a slightly more intellectual level. He may have been trying to capture the spirit of a generation, hold it down and imprison it between the covers of a book, so that future generations could cautiously reopen it and discover the wildness of a decade. If that was his aim, he met great success. There is nothing more “twenties” then The Great Gatsby. In fact I highly doubt any time period has ever been epitomized, summarized, and preserved with such precision. But The Great Gatsby is more then just a relic for a time capsule, a spirit in a bottle for future historians to discover.
The Great Gatsby exposes something rather deeply rooted within us. When I finished this book I was tempted to blow it up. In fact I did – using an app on my older brother’s ipad, I blew up the book with a bomb and much fire. It was rather therapeutic. Still, after thinking about it a little longer I realized I had missed a bit of worth. America is the land of dreams. America is the land of opportunities. This book captures something that I think I can approve of – the American dream grown rotten.
Gatsby is a man of a low rank, but that doesn’t matter in America. He has a dream and he gives his everything to achieve it. He doesn’t have to be born an aristocrat. This is the American dream correct? This is strength and dignity and success? Now let’s look closer. His dream is a ditsy woman. His dream is not worth his efforts. The means to achieve this dream? Hard work in questionable professions. Bootlegging and worse – sure he works hard, but in the wrong areas. He becomes rich. He buys a house and hosts parties for all the other self-made Americans viciously groping for money and wealth.
Money and wealth: that is the American dream. What is Fitzgerald trying to tell us? I believe it is a exposing and thought-provoking tale. The American dream is part of our culture, but we must be wary of it. Like anything, it can decay, it can grow putrid. What are you striving for? What means do you employ to achieve your dream? Maybe in the end the means and the effort are too high a price to pay for a dream that is worthless.
If your looking for moral nourishment – skip it. If your looking for a good story – skip it. If you don’t like to be annoyed – skip it. If you a historian studying the twenties, or an intellectual debating the consequences of our culture – proceed with caution.