Very rarely do I come across such an exquisitely written and delicately constructed story as ‘The Great Gatsby’. I finished the book feeling, for a lack of words, ‘sad’, and melancholic probably, but not mainly because of the fate of the protagonist, instead, because of the beautifully crafted language and tone that prove Fitzgerald’s mastery over tragic romantic literature.
Through the point of view of Nick, who remains mostly an observer throughout the novel, the emotions and motivations of the characters are described in such fine and concise details. The characters not only speak through words, but also through their eyes and gestures; although this is not a movie, they come to life in a depressing atmosphere of a doomed romance. The novel depicts the way each character deals with this gloomy fact, such as Daisy’s confusion and regret: “She hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and me with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing – and as though she had never, all along, intended to do anything at all. But it was done now. It was too late.”
As a reader of ‘The Great Gatsby’ commented online, the opening and beginning of this novel are probably the best pieces of English prose ever written. In a short few hundred words, Fitzgerald described with compassion and sympathy the main character and the complicated beauty of his personality. “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.” Gatsby is heroic yet foolish, corrupted yet self-sacrificing, and for this reason, remains one of the most controversial and most studied figures in literature.
Fitzgerald constructed quite a masterpiece. The parallelism of characters, who share so much in common, yet are all tended to one tragic confrontation, where dream meets reality, affairs come to light and each lover faces a significant cross-road, create a mirroring effect of their personalities, as well as their different ideas of ‘love’. There is a sharp contrast between Tom’s pleasure-seeking affair with Myrtle and Gatsby’s passionate love for Daisy. They are both extravagant; both Tom and Gatsby squander money and reputation to obtain their romantic goals, both of which are pointless and fruitless, but another dimension of Fitzgerald’s hopeless romantic tale lies in the virtues and dreams that each man upholds. Tom demonstrates traits of ignorance, jealousy and denial. He doesn’t seem to be aware of the rumors about his affair, he shamelessly introduces Nick to his mistress and his affair had been going on long before Gatsby’s, yet when he faces reality, his only defense was “You must be crazy! – You’re crazy.” His inability (or maybe it was his rational ignorance) to grasp what had been happening – the emotional change that his wife goes through and her, rather greedy motivation – prevented him from realizing that his own affair could come face to face with Gatsby’s. But Gatsby’s affair is one of dedication and total devotion. He embodies a different type of lover, a ‘hopeless romantic’, a heroic, self-sacrificing and determined lover. Beneath that ‘superficial’ face of extravagance and lavish parties, Gatsby upholds a true dream – a hopeless one indeed – but nevertheless an “incorruptible” one. His love for Daisy transcends time, however, also disregards her own selfishness, confusion and shallowness. This is what makes ‘The Great Gatsby’ an upsetting read for some people: the frugality of the romantic affair and Gatsby’s foolishness, dedicating his life to someone so superficial. Tom contrasts Gatsby, Gatsby and Daisy share a common love, yet Daisy and Tom are similarly shallow. The combination of each character’s love, hopes, illusions and romantic ideals attract yet clash one another in such an odd way, leading to a complex and unique state of human relationships.
And in the background of all this drama, the novel portraits a superficial and hollow American society, where money is (almost) the only friendship. As Nick is disappointed in realizing how Gatsby’s ‘friends’ disappear after his death, the readers can also conclude the emptiness of the supposedly intrinsic society that Fitzgerald paints. Amidst that disappointing society, Gatsby stands as the sole man who isn’t afraid to dedicate his love and follow his heart, giving and living for someone else. “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.”