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Despite how much I love writing literary critiques and analyses, this one is by far the most difficult for me to write. The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels of all time, and its originality and its energy, reminiscent of my favorite time period in American history, makes me somewhat more biased than I usually try to be when reviewing novels.
The Great Gatsby, written in 1925, is a true American novel, taking place in New York, primarily in Long Island in one of the most unique and memorable decades of U.S. history. The 1920s were a time of prosperity and excessiveness in every aspect of life. The desire for social upheaval and the responses to great change resulted in near cultural hysteria and chaos. Music and drinking and lavish style dominated the cultural landscape, particularly for the wealthier classes. In Fitzgerald's novel, Jay Gatsby was the center of it all.
I don't want to go into too much detail in the summary of this book, so I will keep it short. I also think that as important as the plot is, I think the highlight of this book is Fitzgerald's characters, and I think the most impressive aspect is how well and how deep he delves into his characters. The reader gets such an intense and personal look into the minds of Gatsby, of Carraway and of Daisy, and they are truly unique characters.
In short, The Great Gatsby is a story of a man named Jay Gatsby, told to the reader by a man named Nick Carraway who moves to Long Island, New York, and becomes neighbors to Gatsby, a mysterious and extraordinarily wealthy figure whom people know little to nothing about. Gatsby lives in a mansion next door to Nick and throws the most extravagant parties Nick, or anyone for that matter, has ever seen. Nick is cousins with Daisy Buchanan, married to the wealthy Tom Buchanan, who live across the bay from Gatsby. Nick discovers that Daisy and Gatsby had a previous relationship, and it is later discovered that Gatsby's parties, his mansion, his money, is all for Daisy in hopes that she will return to him, after they were separated by war and by societal status differences. Nick finds himself to be the facilitator of Gatsby and Daisy's rekindling love affair. As much as this novel is a love story though, it is a story of personal aspiration and desire for self betterment. Gatsby started with nothing and worked his way up (with methods unclear), and though it may be largely for Daisy, it also appears to be for something bigger; an immensely powerful ambition to be something more and to exceed all limits. There is so much more to this story than I can divulge here, nor do I want to for those who have not read this American classic.
"Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life."
Characters in The Great Gatsby
There are more than three important characters in this story, but the main three that I want to focus on are Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.
Nick moves to Long Island from Minnesota in hopes of getting into the bond business in New York. A smart, yet very simple, non-judgmental, easy-to-like character for the reader and the other characters in the novel. Nick serves as a confidant for nearly every character in the novel because of his honest and trustworthy nature. The reader is consistently riding along side the curious mind of Nick Carraway. He is our eyes and ears into the seemingly mystical world Jay Gatsby. As Nick gains deeper insight into the true person of Gatsby, the reader gains a deeper connection with the character of Gatsby. This is why Nick Carraway's character is so important. The way he speaks to the reader is so open and personal, that it is easy for the reader to connect to the story and its characters the same way he does. It is a technique that many authors have used, but few have perfected the way that Fitzgerald did in this novel.
"I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction- Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heighted sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away."
"It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart."
The mysterious protagonist and title character, Jay Gatsby, is a young man who recently and in questionable ways, acquired a mass of wealth and invested in a grandiose Gothic mansion, in which he throws massive, lavish and exotic parties that are vastly known about. His means and intentions for his extravagant way of life are unclear to everyone, and very few know the truth about Gatsby. To his party guests, he is the evasive man behind the curtain, and everyone has a different story for Gatsby's success. As Nick struggles to make sense of the life of Jay Gatsby, the reader too struggles to piece together the various bits of information given throughout the novel. At times, it is even frustrating trying to determine what is true about the life of Gatsby and what has simply fallen out of the drunken lips of a party guest.
As Nick uncovers more about the life of Gatsby, we learn that he started from nothing; a poor family out west whom Gatsby left, knowing he could be more. Through different circumstances, Gatsby finds himself with a seemingly limitless amount of wealth, which he uses to build a life he hopes Daisy Buchanan will want to be a part of. Daisy Buchanan is a young woman of old money and status, and the two had a short affair, but Gatsby's lack of fortune and status posed problems for the couple, and Gatsby left for the war. Upon his return, he did everything in his power to acquire the power and wealth he felt he needed to win back Daisy's love. In the years they are apart, Gatsby builds up Daisy in his mind and builds up their future. In his mind, it becomes as other-worldly as his home and the parties he throws in it. His expectations for himself, his life, and Daisy demonstrate Gatsby's tragic flaw. He is always trying to attain things that are out of reach, and this is the reason The Great Gatsby is often considered not a love story, but a tragedy.
Gatsby, though seemingly profound in so many ways, is quite empty. He is a lonely man, who fills voids with decadence and excesses of everything, including his passion for Daisy. He constantly seeks something "real" to hold on to, symbolized in the novel by the green light at the end of Daisy's dock across the bay from Gatsby's mansion. In one of the most powerful scenes in the novel, Daisy watches Gatsby from across the room where him and her husband are standing and says "You always look so cool. The man in the cool beautiful shirts". This line is so significant, because it is a flawless characterization for Gatsby. He is all appearance. He is his expensive shirts. He is the seemingly smooth, cultured, profound man, who is in reality is a deeply troubled man with an insatiable desire for an ideal he can not grasp.
"I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
Daisy is Nick's cousin who lived in Louisville prior to marrying Tom Buchanan and moving to New York. In Louisville, she was courted often, due not only to her beauty and charm but to her family's southern money. During this time, she falls in love with Jay Gatsby, and she promises to wait for him when he leaves for war. It is clear though very early in the novel that Daisy has a strong need to be loved. Though charming, lively and care-free, Daisy is an almost child-like figure, who appears more often than not, shallow in character. Her shallowness and need to be needed led her to Tom Buchanan, a very wealthy and powerful man whom she married instead of waiting for Gatsby. Daisy often comes off as very superficial playing the role of a typical wealthy socialite, but she is really attempting to mask the pain caused by her husband's frequent infidelities. She is a difficult character to form a steady opinion of, because her superficiality, her sarcasm and her frivolous nature make it difficult to determine the true depth of her character. At the same time though, she is the victim of emotional torment while married to a man she knows is unfaithful, and living with the guilt and regret of not waiting for the man she truly loved and promised herself to.
Trimalchio: An Early Version of The Great Gatsby
Before getting into the 2013 film adaptation of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, I wanted to include a small section on an earlier version of the classic novel. Trimalchio was an optional title for Fitzgerald's novel and also the title of an earlier version of the novel that depicts a darker version of the life and character of Jay Gatsby. Trimalchio was a character in a work of Roman fiction by Petronius, who is a freed man who achieves wealth and power through hard work. Trimalchio is known for having extravagant dinner parties with exotic delicacies, which he does to impress the other newly-rich in Rome. There is mention in the classic edition of Great Gatsby of Trimalchio in chapter seven; Nick says, "It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night- and as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over."
The 2013 Film Adaptation of The Great Gatsby
Film Fun Facts
1. Director Baz Luhrmann considered multiple different actresses before choosing Carey Mulligan to play Daisy Buchanan. Some of them included Natalie Portman, Amanda Seyfried, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, and Kiera Knightly.
2. The iconic 1920s costumes in the movie were from the Prada and Miu Miu fashion archives.
3. Gatsby's home in the film is thought to be inspired by an actual mansion called the Beacon Towers, located in New York during the Gilded Age (late 19th century).
4. Since the film's release, clothing and jewelry lines have been developed, inspired by the flm. Brooks Brothers of Manhattan, the oldest men's clothing line in the US, created a men's line inspired by the 1920s style, and the actual costumes from the film will be on display in select boutiques. On April 17th, Tiffany & Co released their line of Gatsby inspired jewelry.
5. There are four other Great Gatsby film adaptations. The first was a silent film produced in 1926. The second starring Alan Ladd as Gatsby and Betty Field as Daisy was produced in 1949. The third was produced in 1974 and starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, and the most recent was produced in 2000 and starred Paul Rudd as Nick Carraway, Toby Stephens as Gatsby and Mira Sorvino as Daisy.
The film adaptation of the Fitzgerald's American classic novel has received a wide array of reviews, which is understandable considering the nature and style of the film. I personally loved the film. I saw it in theaters twice, which is not something I do often. The film was certainly unique, to say the least; immensely extravagant, unbelievably fantastical, and an overwhelmingly sensual experience. The strange artistic combination of the 1920s culture and modern culture took some getting used to, particularly with the music. Jay-Z being played in a 1920s speak-easy is certainly not an easy pill to swallow, but I thought it was done artfully and creatively, not in an inauthentic or cheap way as some reviews claim.
Regardless of your views of Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor, I felt his performance was undeniably sensational. The charming, yet elusive and troubled character requirement was matched perfectly by DiCaprio, and his embodiment of Jay Gatsby as the tireless and persevering romantic was flawless.Carey Mulligan fit Daisy Buchanan's character even better. The alluring, yet somewhat child-like nature of Daisy was captured beautifully. The winning casting call though, in my opinion, went to Toby Maguire as Nick Carraway. As a more understated role, yet arguably the most important, Toby Maguire had large shoes to fill with Fitzgerald's famous story teller, and I do not think he could have performed any better.
The novel's descriptiveness provides a sense of direct presence in 1920s New York, and the movie, aside from the choice of soundtrack artists, does a fantastic job of portraying the extravagence that was so characteristic of the Roaring Twenties, and making one feel a part of that iconic lifestyle. The excesses of music, food, decoration, color, and especially alcohol all come together frequently in the film, not only in the extraordinary Gatsby mansion parties, but everywhere from the the small apartments in New York City to the cars on the Queensboro bridge. I could perhaps see why some would say that the film's cinematography was "too much", but I thought that it was truly an original and unique film, incredibly refreshing and in short; dazzling.One thing that can certainly not be argued though is the film's accuracy to the original text. The differences between the original novel and the film adaptation are hardly noticeable, if at all. The film directly quotes Fitzgerald's most inspiring, haunting and powerful lines, taking away nothing from the original text which so many film adaptations are guilty of doing. In the interview that I posted below, which I really recommend watching, director Baz Luhrman responds to criticisms of the film. He says, "There will be people I can't please, which is why I had to block out all that noise about expectation. The 'Oh, he's doing it in 3-D, oh the hip-hop, it's going to be all flash and dazzle.' The film Gatsby is flash and dazzle, but the characters, the actors...in a room for seven minutes, tearing each other's emotions apart. You couldn't be more minimal, and that's the book, and that's what I try to do is follow and the reveal the book".
Other notable cast members include Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker, and Jason Clarke as George Wilson who I also thought was very impressive.
Interviews with the cast of Gatsby
How did you feel about the 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby?
Who played their role the best in the film?
"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."