Tag Archives: Canon

Review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”

My decision to re-read books of my past, and review them, continues with “The Great Gatsby”. “The Great Gatbsy” is one of those books that seems to be an assigned reading multiple times throughout one’s “formal” education. The first time I recall being assigned to read this was in 11th grade. And the second time was at a community college.

Perhaps my teachers were onto something, and it was a good thing that these books were assigned throughout multiple years, because I never read the book completely either time. I have only decided to go back and read this book, as well as other books from my past (and more future books) as a means to become a better writer myself.

The narrator of the book is a man named Nick Carraway. A man from the Midwest who fought in the First World War, whose experience in the war left him bored with the Midwest. He moved to New York from the Midwest at the prospect of an exciting “American Dream”.

His neighbor was a man named Gatsby. Gatsby owned a nice mansion. Gatsby threw a lot of parties at his house. A lot of rich people came to Gatsby’s house to drink, and party. Exciting stuff. Get used to it, because it happens a lot throughout the whole fucking book.

Across the bay where Gatsby and Nick lived, lived Nick’s “second cousin once removed”, Daisy, and her husband, Tom Buchanan, whom Nick had known in college. Tom is basically a quiet brute with a sensitive ego: particularly when it comes to Daisy. Yes, this is largely a love story, my friends. Exciting stuff.

Gatsby’s name gets thrown around a lot because of all of the parties he throws for big-wigs. Lots of rumors get spread: many of them about all of the exciting things the great man has done. (Hence “The Great Gatsby”. Clever, huh?) To make a long story short, Gatsby loves Daisy and wants her to leave Tom for him. And she doesn’t do it. Spoiler alert. Sorry.

So what else happens? Why should you read this book? Well, Tom is cheating on Daisy with a woman named Myrtle Wilson, who is married to George Wilson, a mechanic. The Wilsons aren’t rich like Tom Buchanan and Gatsby are. Fascinating. At one point, Tom, Nick, Daisy, Gatsby, and some female tennis player named Jordan (whom is introduced as a possible interest for Nick, but nothing materializes from it) go to town, in two cars. Gatsby and Daisy take one car, with Gatsby driving, and Tom, Nick, and Jordan take another car, with Tom driving. Tom is trying to keep up with Gatsby and Daisy because he is jealous of Gatsby. He knows Gatsby loves Daisy, and Tom is very possessive. Daisy is just some dimwitted rich girl who happens to be related to Nick and who is married to Tom and who Gatsby loves. To be such a pivotal character to the story, I found her ditsyness insufferable.

Myrtle runs out in front of Tom’s car. Tom and Myrtle had been having an affair. Tom ignores her and runs over her in pursuit of Gatsby. Gatsby’s popularity gets the best of him, as rumor spreads that he was the one who ran over Myrtle. George shoots Gatsby in his pool. Fascinating stuff.

That’s pretty much the story. So why is this story so significant? Well, I’ll give you the standard analysis of this book, then I’ll provide you with my own analysis of this book.

What, supposedly, makes this book worth a read is the fact that it takes place during the “roaring ’20s”. During the “Jazz Age”. I think there’s something much more significant to this book. But that, basically, is where the analysis of this book begins and ends. “Roaring ’20s”, “Jazz Age”, “American Dream”, etc. But when I read this book in community college (well, I should qualify, half read), and when I read this book again just recently, I came away with something different.

Yes, there is no doubt about the time period in which this book took place. But to say that this book is “about” the “roaring ’20s”, I believe, is disingenuous. I don’t think this book is “about” the “roaring ’20s”, but is, rather, a critique of the “roaring ’20s”. The analysis that my community college teacher gave of this book, and the direction that the conversation of this book took place, if memory serves me correctly, was just about “the Jazz Age”, as if the book served as some kind of praise of the exciting “American Dream” at the turn of the 20th century, or maybe even, almost, as just documentation of the historical time period itself. (I’ll get to Gatsby and Daisy in a second). But I did not see that at all in Fitzgerald’s work. Sure, that’s when the book takes place. And there’s a lot of history about how the “roaring ’20s” were. But I think people are taking history and trying to analyze Fitzgerald’s work, instead of analyzing the work itself.

To begin with, let’s look at the characters. I noticed something, the time that I read what little bit of this book I did in community college, and when I read the book again recently. Most of the characters weren’t very happy. When Nick goes to Gatsby’s parties, there’s a lot of drunken merriment, but there’s also relationship fights that go on. When Nick goes to these parties himself, he can see this conflict. Otherwise, when you observe the parties from the outside, they’re “a hoot”. Just a bunch of rich people drinking and partying. My, what a ball! I bet they’re having a blast! No, I think the main theme of this book is that the grass always appears to be greener on the other side, but that it almost never is. I’ll provide some more evidence towards this later.

These rich people, drinking, “living it up”, but who actually aren’t happy at all. Putting on airs. Envious of this “Gatsby” fellow, whom they’ve heard a lot about, but have never met. Nick feels this way about Gatsby until he meets him, and gets to know him better.

George Wilson: a mechanic in the “Valley of Ashes” (basically in poverty). Tom was either going to buy or sell a car to George (it doesn’t really matter to me either one, honestly), and George was really excited about it and needed it because he’s poor, but to Tom, it wasn’t that big of a deal, because he was rich. This again, to me, screams out “the grass always appears to be greener on the other side”. George, a poor man, would love to have Tom’s wealth, and the lifestyle that he assumes comes along with it. But Tom never seems to be happy in the book at all. He’s quiet, reserved, easily embarrassed and intimidated by Gatsby, who cheats on Daisy and then kills his mistress. Sometimes, that grass is brown and dead on the other side. Poverty isn’t the only big problem in the world. That was the sense that I got from this book. But that’s not what I got from the book when it was discussed in the classroom. The discussion was about the “roaring ’20s”, and maybe even some class warfare, or something. Something that I don’t think makes sense at all. I’ll provide more “the grass always appears to be greener on the other side, but frequently isn’t” evidence soon.

Gatsby is mysterious and always busy, and Nick tries to read him. Sometimes, Gatsby seems confident: other times, miserable. Yes, Gatsby loves Daisy. He was trying to win her over with his luxurious lifestyle. There’s no doubt about that. But when I read this book in community college, something else stuck out to me. And that was the color green.

The green light that Gatsby looked out at. Where Daisy lived. Sure, he was looking out at Daisy. But the color green rang a bell to me. The color green is associated with envy. And when I looked at all of these miserable characters: rich people who seemed to have it all, but were still in unhappy relationships, the contrast between the rich and the “Valley of Ashes”, and George Wilson’s situation compared to Tom Buchanan’s (but knowing that Tom Buchanan had his own problems as well), the infidelity of both rich and poor, the rumors about Gatsby: all I could think about is that, for instance, it is easy for non-wealthy people to look at wealth and see that it will solve all of their problems. This book definitely states the contrary. Likewise, just envy in general, whether of the demeanor of someone else, the perceived lifestyle that they have (like the exciting one that Gatsby appeared to lead), or envy of a romantic interest who loves another doesn’t always provide that greener light on the other side. I think the last passage provides evidence of my analysis as well:

“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 – to-morrow 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.”

So does the green light represent Daisy? Sure. But it’s much more than that. Because Fitzgerald says “the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.” Us. Clearly, he doesn’t want this light to just mean Daisy. There’s more significance to this “green light”. Why green? Well, I read “envy” into it, personally. Maybe the green represents money? Maybe the green light is Daisy because Gatsby looked out at them both, and thought that he could win Daisy’s heart with his money? That certainly makes sense to me. I still lean towards envy, simply because of the unhappiness that pervades seemingly every character in this book, and how this unhappiness that blankets them all exists within this contrast between rich and poor.

Could Fitzgerald have been talking about the “American Dream”? Of course. Was it about, say, a recession? Was Fitzgerald pessimistic about the future of economic progress in America? “…the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us”? Considering as how there was a depression in 1920, I think this certainly could be the case. I think his message is multi-layered. I think the “layers” between the American Dream and Gatsby’s love for Daisy are obvious. But the fact that almost everyone in this story are miserable (even when appearing to try to have a good time) is significant, too. The grass ain’t always greener on the other side. There’s worse fates than poverty. And money can’t solve everything.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” We strive to better ourselves, even as life makes it harder to do so. I think one can definitely draw connections between that line and the “American Dream”. Between that line, and the contrast between the rich in the poor in this story, which may cause some to ask “Is the ‘American Dream’ really just a dream?” I’m not going to analyze that question here, but here’s some things that may be of interest to you if you are interested in that question.

The first time I read this, I was thinking so much about this “envy” message that I was getting that I misread Dr. T. J. Eckleberg’s eyes as being green. I’m saddened to reread that they are actually blue. So, sure. The eyes represent “God watching all”, knowing about all of our secrets and infidelities, judging us. Also, more contrast between the rich and the poor, with a giant advertising billboard. I personally find this shit boring. I like my analysis of this story better.

So what did I think of the book? Well, it takes a long time to get into it. I like the way Fitzgerald writes more than the way that Stephen King writes. I wish I could think of this story without thinking of my past experience in community college with it. The book isn’t that bad. As I’ve just said, I like the way Fitzgerald writes. He was good at giving Gatsby this air of mystique (that’s one thing I liked about the book when I first started to read it). He has interesting ways of describing things. The tale itself was quite bland to me. The most exciting thing about the story was a woman getting ran over and her breast basically getting ripped off of her body. I’m sorry, but a tale has got to do more than that for me. I guess there’s a lot of mystery to this story, but I’m not a fan of mysteries. There’s also romance, but I’m not a fan of romances. So the tale didn’t do much for me, honestly. I think it’s overrated. And I don’t think Fitzgerald was trying to “capture” the “Jazz Age” as much as he was trying to critique it. The copyright of this book is 1925: right in the middle of the “roaring ’20s”. Based on how aloof the rich characters are in this book, I can’t agree that Fitzgerald was trying to “capture” the “Jazz Age” with admiration. I think “criticism” is a more appropriate word than “admiration”. Perhaps he was a grumpy old introvert who was agitated by the extroversion of his age. Hmm…why does that message ring a bell with me?

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On Writing with Nothing to Say

Why do I desire to write when I have nothing to say? Or, rather, why do I have something to say when I don’t desire to write? I constantly find myself in one of these two camps as a writer. Sometimes, such as right now, I desire to write. I open up my works of fiction in progress, then quickly close them. “Oh yeah. I don’t know how to write. The fiction that I’ve written up to this point isn’t very good, and I still haven’t even fixed those. Why would I start something new?” So I make a note, to remember to do the new idea eventually, open up the current works in progress that need to be fixed, and then think “Oh yeah; this sucks”, and then close it out.

Then I try to find other things to occupy my time. Music, video games. Anything but writing. Or, at least, if I do write, it needs to be something simple, and easy. Like a status update on Facebook or Twitter. Then, when I desire to write things that have more meaning, I think of all of the writers of history, and all of the writers of today. “Oh yeah. There’s a lot of people that have had things to say. And I haven’t read them. Surely those writers are much better than I. So why don’t I spend time reading them instead of writing myself?” And so, I read a little. I read what I’m interested in. Read about economics. But it starts to become repetitive. “Oh yeah. I already believe this. I already know this. So why am I rereading it?” Then, I think “You know, I’m not sure if some of this stuff written by others is ever going to be read by others. Who is ever going to read Rothbard?” I rarely think of all of the people that have read Rothbard. Just all of the ones that have no idea who he is, or those who levy character assassinations against him, purposefully (or unintentionally) misconstruing his words. And I get very dejected. What’s the point of writing if that is going to happen to you, ultimately? If it happened to Rothbard, a much better writer and thinker than I, then why would I write at all? That line of thinking prevents me from writing quite often. Indeed, with regards to fiction, the likes of King and Rowling create the same line of thought within myself. “I could never write as much as Stephen King does. I’ll probably never be as good as either one of them. So why do it at all?”

My personal philosophy regarding doing what you enjoy is that you have nothing to lose by trying to make a career out of it. You have nothing to lose by trying to sell your passion. Even if you never do, you have nothing to lose by trying to do so. So that’s my attitude, with things that I love to do. Writing, acting, comedy. My belief is: why not treat it as a business? If I’m going to do it anyway, without getting paid for it, I might as well treat it as a business. I realize this is counter-intuitive to many business-oriented people. Of course, economic activity exists because trade takes place. If not enough people are willing to trade for your services, you’ll have to adopt your services to something more lucrative if you decide it is worthwhile to do so. And many people do. Everyone does, to a certain extent. We all have to live. Shall we grow our own food? Or join retail (or any other line of work that isn’t directly “growing our own food”) to buy the products of those that do grow food in exchange for other goods and services? But I love to write. I do it for free. So I might as well dream of attaining “professional status” someday, regardless of how realistic or unrealistic that dream is.

I often get dejected as a writer. I write something that I think to be good, and it goes undiscovered. Of course, considering all of the writing that exists in the world, this is no surprise. It’s part of the fun of being a writer. Or of doing anything, really, that you wish to become a “professional” at. I think of all of the famous writers that I’ve read very little or none of. All of the “classic” authors in the world. The best writers the world has ever known. I’m entering into this field. I am a writer. They are writers. I am competing for attention. For readers. They’ll always win. And that’s fine. But I still write. I still want to get involved. I still want readers. “Professional” status. Regardless of how much better the writers are than I, I still want in. I’m a child that wants to play with “the big boys”. And I enjoy it and love it.

I get pretty exhausted with reading. I prefer to write than read. Despite the fact that I’m sure my words are not going to be as good as others, I still desire to write more often than read. I guess I’m just relegated to writing shitty words. I guess, as long as I love them, that’s what should really matter to me.

So if I desire to write, and love to write, what should I do when I know my writing sucks? When I’m not willing to partake in the “literary world”? What should I write when I have nothing to say? I don’t know. I write things like this. My writing will, more than likely, never be widely read, and, when actually read, will probably be criticized instead of enjoyed. I’m not saying that’s unethical, of course. I’m just merely stating the fact, and that dejects me. Does my writing deserve to be enjoyed? Of course not. I wouldn’t suggest that anyone enjoy shitty writing. But it’s my desire to not be shitty that motivates me. It’s not necessarily the reason why I write, but why wouldn’t that be an end goal that I wish to achieve through writing?

Of course, all writing is thoughts. So if there is a good book, there was a good mind behind it. Clearly, my mind pales in comparison to many of the great minds of history, and of the present. So if I want to write, it has to come from within my own mind. What is in my mind? Well, the only way I can convey that is through words, and that’s what I struggle with the most. I struggle with explaining what is in my mind. And, of course, that is necessary for writers to do. Writers must explain what is in their minds.

One problem currently, that I’m slowly attempting to remedy, is that I’m not educated enough. I don’t know enough. What do I want to write? And how do I want to write it? I’m slowly developing these things, but the main thing that I know is that I just love to do it. I love to write. It matters little what it is, as long as I’m writing. But, clearly, every piece of writing has to be about something, so I have to figure out what I’m going to write about. It’s kind of odd to me, in a way. I love writing more than what it is I’m writing about. That feels very odd. Of course, there are times when what I want to write about is more enjoyable to me than actually writing it out itself. In fact, this is the case quite often, as I can’t figure out how to start, elaborate, make it better, etc. Or I get bogged down with what I mentioned above (how many writers there are, how much better they are than me, etc.). It’s a constant conflict. I either love the act of writing, with nothing to say, or I have things to say, but don’t feel like I have the ability to say them the way that I wish to. Deep down, I know this is in the heart of every writer, if not all of the time, at least a significant percentage of it. All creative types struggle. We have a desire to create, but often, we struggle. We struggle in our technical abilities, or through an internal conflict of visions. We always struggle. This is part of being a creative type.

The answer, for me, is going to come very slowly. Very slowly will I begin to read more often. I’ll be able to figure out my personal philosophies regarding reading. I’ll develop my thoughts into more concreteness, and then, work on developing the tools to express them as effectively as I would wish to do.

There are, of course, many obstacles. Getting better as a writer is a giant obstacle. My own personal thoughts about where I “fit in to the grand scheme of things” is a giant obstacle. Justified self-deprecation is an obstacle. My hopes and dreams are an obstacle. My personal beliefs are an obstacle. All of these are obstacles. Ultimately, I’ll have to find my way through them. Contemplation is one of the only ways to do this. It’s all up to me. All up to my own fucking little head. I have to do this all by myself. I have to figure out which books to read, what personal philosophies I wish to adopt, what I wish to write, how I wish to feel about my finances, how I fit into the “writing” market (and other markets). It’s all a process, and this is merely a step in it. Despite my lack of financial success, I’m very happy with my work up to this point. I wouldn’t trade it to be more successful, because the purpose of starting out on this journey of my work was doing what I enjoyed doing. And I have enjoyed it. I do enjoy it, immensely, even if I’m not making any money from it. I am confident this will change with time and practice, regardless of how “unrealistic” it is in the eyes of others. But the point is that even if they are right, I am also right. Of course, I’d love to make a living through writing, comedy, and acting. It is one of my goals to. But even if I don’t, I kind of don’t care. Once again, I have nothing to lose by adopting an attitude of optimism regarding financial success in my arts. But even if I don’t, I’m still going to do them. I don’t understand why more people don’t adopt this attitude. I’m sure there are many that do have that attitude, and that’s a good thing. And, of course, values differ from individual to individual, and yes, we all do have to “make a livingsomehow. But individual value scales come into play. Some are willing to work less hours to paint pictures that never sell. Some are willing to sacrifice hours of leisure for more money. It’s all up to each individual to decide what values he or she has, and creating, through writing and comedy, is certainly something that I value very, very much.

It may be asked why I don’t go to school to learn to be a better writer. My answer to that is that I enjoy being my own teacher; completely in control of my own education. Deciding who to read, and when. I want to do everything by myself. That’s also something that I value very, very much. My own independent education. I’m not saying that people who choose to go to school aren’t acting “independently”. I just prefer to do things by myself, and I don’t want to go to “school” for things that I can learn for myself through reading, practice, and self-contemplation.

It remains to be seen what will happen, as is always the case. What I read will shape me. What and when will it happen? I read a little, as I said. About economics, particularly. It’s definitely influenced me. I’ve read a little fiction. In the process of reading a “classic”. I hope that I can learn something from it. Not only do I want to be entertained by it, but I read it as a teaching tool. I read it in the hopes of absorbing what makes it “good” for myself, so I can regurgitate it in my own way. That will probably be what leads me to read more often, as I think is the case with my best friend. He’s fully entrenched in the “reading/writing” world, and I haven’t been up to this point. But I am desiring to get better as a writer, and I can hear his voice in my head as I write that. I think we both want to become better writers through reading. And I think we both recognize the seeming futility of our endeavors. I’ve heard him speak many times about the number of writers there are in the world; the number of books, written by living and deceased. And he’s always talked about how behind he is with reading. How many books there are that remain unread. How he’ll never be able to figure out how to deal with it all. There will always be books, authors, undiscovered. Where do you begin? What perspective do you develop about it all? It’s always bugged him, and now, it’s starting to bug me. The things I have written here, have been discussed by him, to me, for quite some time now. Seems as if he’s influenced me; or, rather, that we were more alike than I realized back then.

So, I suppose, that we both, and all other writers alike, are stuck in the writing struggle, where we read, write, and try to figure out our place among all of the other readers and writers in the world.

A small note: in addition to what I’ve said about historic and current authors, one thing that I also think about is the fact that “history repeats itself”. Especially in economics, my particular subject of interest in reading about. On the one hand, it all feels so futile. We’re all just going back and forth about the same arguments that have always existed. But on the other, if evil won’t rest, neither should good. It’s all just exhausting, ultimately.

Writer.

Writing.