|(The original cover image)|
Sounds cheerful, doesn't it?
So while I'm reading this, I'm also reading So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to be and Why it Endures by Maureen Corrigan, and I'm going to dip into Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell too. I had hoped to have at least one of those finished before I started this read-along, but other reading commitments got in the way, so whatever, let's just start this!
No wait, first I need to let any newcomers know how this works. I'll post about each individual chapter, about one every three days. You can read my thoughts before or after you read the chapter, it doesn't matter. I don't mark most smaller spoilers, though sometimes I'll mark major ones. Comments are a free-for-all, and spoilers don't need to be marked there. I will include discussion questions for you, and you are free to comment on them if you want to, or not. You can comment about anything I wrote about in the post, your own thoughts on the chapter, lines you loved, stuff you've learned about this book, etc. I encourage you to read and respond to each others' comments too! We get some really cool discussions going that way.
Okay, NOW I'm going to dig into the book.
I had entirely forgotten that Nick Carraway, our narrator, is also from a wealthy family. I remembered that he's a Midwesterner, though. Perhaps that's what sets him apart from the other born-to-riches characters, rather than his monetary background? Somehow, despite his time overseas during WWI and his restlessness after the war ended, he's also got this innate decency and honor and moral uprightness that most of the other characters lack. I'm really very fond of Nick. Can you tell? (Yes, I'm also a Midwesterner born and bred, though like Nick, I don't live there all the time.)
Then there's Daisy, who comes from Southern money, like Fitzgerald's wife Zelda. Daisy and Jordan spent their "white girlhood" in Louisville, KY (p. 19). She's Nick's second cousin, and they barely know each other, but Nick gets invited into her life just the same. I think because Daisy is bored, don't you? Daisy and Tom and Jordan are all bored. That's why Tom runs around on Daisy, why Jordan enters all these golfing competitions. Why Daisy later jumps at the chance to get involved with Gatsby. They're filthy rich, especially the Buchanans, and they have nothing at all they have to do, so they're bored. Nick's not bored, because he's learning about stocks and bonds. He comes from money, but not old money like Tom -- his grandfather's brother started the hardware business that Nick's father still manages today. They're rich, but because they've worked for it, not because they were born into the lap of luxury, so to speak.
People call The Great Gatsby "The Great American Novel." It's certainly great, particularly the way Fitzgerald puts sentences together. I don't know about you, but I have underlined something in almost every single paragraph. I've got notes in the margins and stars and hearts and circles. I can't read this book quickly. I have to savor the language as well as read for the plot and characters.
But it's also very American, isn't it? This book delves deeply into the whole idea of "the American dream." That someone can rise from poverty to wealth by dint of their own hard work. That one person is equal to another person. That it's each person's actions that determine their destiny. We'll see all those ideas pulled apart, twisted, examined, and ultimately either rejected or accepted by the end of these nine short chapters.
Oh my goodness, I have So Many Things To Say about this chapter, and I can't even seem to get around to saying them! Okay, I will try to get some of them down. First posts for read-alongs are always kind of long, for me.
Isn't it interesting that Gatsby only barely makes it into the first chapter? He gets mentioned at the beginning, name-checked in the middle, and then he appears wordlessly and almost unknown at the very end. I love the way Nick describes him at the beginning, though: "Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn" is also the possesser of "some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life," "an extraordinary gift for hope" (p. 2). Gatsby should come off as a poser, as a wannabe, and instead, he's the most hopeful, romantic, responsive person Nick has ever met. Such a paradox. We're fascinated by him before we even see him in the full light of day.
One of the most famous lines in this book is what Daisy says she said about her daughter when she was first born: "I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool" (p. 17). Nick lets us know that she's somehow teasing or testing him with her whole "I'm so tired of the world" schtick, and yet, I think there's a lot of truth behind this declaration of hers. I think Daisy wishes she were still "foolish," still young and innocent and trusting, with hopes and dreams that reality hadn't punctured yet. She's married to an abusive philanderer. She's got a daughter she barely sees. She's bored. How she must look back at the past, at herself in her beautiful girlhood, and wish she was still that happy and carefree and trusting. Foolish, but happy.
And at the end of the chapter, we get that indelible image of Jay Gatsby standing alone at the back of his mansion. There he is, "stretch[ing] out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way" (p. 20), reaching for that "single green light" across the water. Or is he reaching for the water itself? In So We Read On, Maureen Corrigan writes, "Almost every page of the novel references water.... Fitzgerald didn't just stick his toes in the water here; in this, his most perfect meditation on the American dream and its deadly undertow, he dives in and goes for broke" (p. 36). Be on the look-out for all the places that water is mentioned and is important! (Mild SPOILER here) Gatsby's supposed to be reaching ineffectually for that green light, but the book specifically says he's stretching his arms "toward the dark water." If you know how this book ends, this really seems like a bit of foreshadowing, doesn't it?
Instead of the warm center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe (p. 3).
I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer (p. 4).
A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as a wind does on the sea (p. 8).
It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again (p. 9).
Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square (p. 11).
Possible Discussion Questions:
Nick Carraway says, on page 2 of my edition, that "Gatsby turned out all right at the end." Why do you think he begins his story by telling us how the protagonist is going to end up?
Come to think of it, do you think Gatsby or Nick is the protagonist of this book?