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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Novel Analysis

Updated on November 13, 2014
Leonardo DiCaprio as The Great Gatsby
Leonardo DiCaprio as The Great Gatsby | Source

The Novel

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is an American classic novel about an outrageously wealthy man named Jay Gatsby and his unrelenting love for the married socialite Daisy Buchanan. The story takes place during the roaring twenties at the height of prohibition and the pinnacle of the Jazz Age.

The omniscient narrator’s tone throughout the novel reveals that the story of Jay Gatsby is told from the perspective of Nick Carraway—cousin of Daisy. Right away, Nick reveals that he comes from money and, like his father before him, he shares a snobbish ideology, “a sense of fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth” (p. 2). This philosophy implies that there are extremes in society—those who are wealthy and those who live in poverty.

F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald | Source

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in 1925, when the “American dream” was on the horizon, as an attainable feat for anyone willing to work hard enough for the white picket fences and a place they could call home. Literally, whatever an individual could dream, he could achieve (I say he because men were predominantly the breadwinners of the household during that era). People were enamored by the postulation of the human psyche and making something of oneself, and Fitzgerald reflects this beautifully in the essence of Jay Gatsby.

Gatsby tells Nick that it took him a few years to attain the wealth and status of his estate in Long Island; although he climbed ranks as an officer in the military, he was still penniless, which we find out later in the book describes his upbringing. Gatsby came from nothing, working hard, and at times starving to fulfill his American dream. Although he's destined to become rich and do more with his life, along the way he meets Daisy and falls madly in love with her. Gatsby soon realizes he’ll have to work even harder to obtain wealth even faster in order to keep Daisy’s interest and support her beyond the comforts to which she’s accustomed. Initially, Gatsby is an officer when he meets Daisy, so it’s easy to hide the fact that he doesn’t have or come from money. Moreover, he took her under false pretenses, as Nick points out:

[Gatsby] had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same stratum as herself—that he was fully able to take care of her. As a matter of fact, he had no such facilities—he had no comfortable family standing behind him (p. 149).

Along with this notion of the American dream, Gatsby desires love and the liberty to choose with whom he will marry and start a family. Gatsby grew up dirt poor; all he had were his dreams and his imagination, and the sky was the limit. Daisy was rich and Gatsby was enamored with what he perceived as a luxurious lifestyle when he observed Daisy’s home, but he also thought Daisy was an extraordinarily nice girl. Gatsby chose Daisy because she epitomized his American dream—so much so that he chases this aspect of his dream for 5 years. As Daisy goes on with her life, Gatsby follows her every move obsessively collecting newspaper clippings about her and even visiting places he knows she’s been. He goes as far as buying a home directly across the bay from her own. Also: Gatsby divulges that he’s been watching Daisy from across the bay, “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock” (p. 92). Gatsby’s own comment sends him into a pensive mood:

The green light at the end of Daisy's dock (one depiction).
The green light at the end of Daisy's dock (one depiction). | Source

“Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever,” and Nick goes on to explain, “Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one” (p. 93). Thus, Gatsby’s American dream lost its appeal, its vitality. Here he was with the woman and the dream he’s been chasing for 5 years, and things hadn’t turned out exactly as he envisioned. Gatsby’s dream was far better than the reality of things. Gatsby is finally reunited with his beloved Daisy after making a grand entrance back into her life, becoming the epitome of fun and entertainment in Long Island all for Daisy and all for naught.

Daisy exemplifies this need for material comforts in her life. She’s raised in a lavished home, wants for nothing and evidently fears any form of hard work, as demonstrated by her mannerisms when she’s bored at Gatsby’s party or even in her own home. Immediately, we’re introduced to an egotistical side of Daisy and it becomes quite apparent that she’s a frivolous type; one minute she’s bored, the next minute she wants to travel to the city on a whim, and the next minute she’s smoking a cigarette. Daisy is never satisfied; she’s empty and lacks moral character, but more importantly, she doesn’t occupy any dreams or desires of her own, so she’s destined to be bored and unhappy for the rest of her life.

"They're a rotten bunch," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn crowd put together." Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Perhaps the moral of this story doesn’t lie in the American dream or Gatsby’s character. Maybe it lies in the narrator, Nick, and his epiphany about his own socioeconomic upbringing and wealthy people in general. By the end of the novel Nick no longer holds the same snobbish disposition of a privileged upper-class man and instead, is humbled by his friendship with a man whose upbringing was dichotomous to his own. Nick respects Gatsby more than any established gentleman he knows, almost despising himself for judging Gatsby in the beginning, “They’re a rotten crowd,” Nick tells Gatsby, referring to his cousin Daisy, her husband and others like them (p. 154).

“You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together,” Nick tells him (p. 154). Nick realizes at this moment that regardless of monetary status, it’s the caliber of the man that matters in life. Moreover, the respect is mutual because Gatsby trusted Nick with the truth, to whom he told no one else.

In the end, only Nick knows the entire truth and is sickened by his cousin Daisy's lack of responsibility and careless disregard for others when he learns she murders Myrtle Wilson in a hit and run, leaving Gatsby to take the blame:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made (p. 179).

Ironically, Nick is awakened to the fact that the wealthy held the darkest secrets of all, wanting no associations with them or any obligation to keep their secrets for them. It was reassuring to know all of these things are portrayed well in the film.

The Film

Nothing could be further from the truth to say The Great Gatsby motion picture, directed by Baz Luhrmann, was uneventful. The movie is a true depiction of the book and most of the lines are spoken, verbatim, as they are written in the novel.

Refreshing is the word that comes to mind when describing The Great Gatsby film. Director Baz Luhrmann does a wonderful job bringing to life the botany, architecture and art deco described in the book, which adds to the movie’s authentic feel of the 1920s. My only gripe about the film with respect to the genuineness of the 1920s Jazz Age is that of the music featured in the film. I heard a jazz rendition of Beyonce’s Crazy in Love made possible by The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, but not many, if any, musical pieces indicative of jazz at its pinnacle during the roaring twenties. However, Love is the Drug by Bryan Ferry & The Bryan Ferry Orchestra comes close and Fergie’s vocals in A Little Party Never Hurt Nobody (All We Got) would’ve been a perfect marriage for the former. Will.i.am’s Bang Bang, contains background music samplers of The Charleston in its original form, but with synthesized sound effects. As far as the music was concerned, I would’ve liked to hear Fergie pair-up with The Bryan Ferry Orchestra to do an edgier, fast-paced version of Ain’t we got Fun (as mentioned in the novel) or even When the Saints Go Marching In.

Luhrmann evokes a vicarious visual intoxification in the viewer with his slow motion panning of angles, capturing photographic scenes of drunken debauchery represented in the scene where Nick and Tom go to the apartment in New York with Myrtle Wilson and start drinking whiskey with friends until their blitzed. The movie gives the impression of taking place predominantly in a studio; it had similar characteristics of a Broadway play without the musical numbers—none of it appeared to actually take place outdoors although it looked authentic.

Most of the final chapter of the novel is left out of the movie, which I think would’ve added depth to Gatsby’s character. After Gatsby’s father shows up for the funeral, he shows Nick a book Gatsby had written in when he was younger and apparently before he left home. On the back flyleaf of the book Gatsby wrote his strict daily schedule and general resolves, which is paradigmatic of the determination someone has in achieving the American dream and further elaborates on the greatness of Jay Gatsby.

Gatsby's Schedule and General Resolves as printed in the novel:

[SCHEDULE September 12, 1906]

Rise from bed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.00 A.M.

Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling . . . . . . . . . 6.15-6.30 “

Study electricity, etc. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.15-8.15 “

Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.30-4.30 P.M.

Baseball and sports . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.30-5.00 “

Practice elocution, poise, and how to attain it . . 5.00-6.00 “

Study needed inventions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.00-9.00 “

GENERAL RESOLVES

No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable]

No more smokeing or chewing.

Bath every other day

Read one improving book or magazine per week

Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week

Be better to parents

(p. 173)

This rendition of the classic novel comes at a time in our current economy when the middle-class seems to be falling away with the American dream. Perhaps it will reignite the desire in all of us to keep working toward our dreams until we reach our goals. True, Gatsby is a dreamer, but he manifested his dreams and made them a reality, and all of us can identify with that aspect of his character.

Irrevocably, the lyricism in F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing trumps the movie because he's poetic about nature and human expression (facial, bodily, and behavioral). Everything has life, color, taste, and a background story with Fitzgerald's written soliloquies, which evoke imagination in the reader. However, Baz Luhrmann certainly conveys his own vision of Fitzgerald's soliloquies to the big screen with much success.

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Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York, NY: Scribner, 2004.

© 2013 Kimberly Liby

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