4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)
Nick Carraway, our “honest” narrator, is a small-town, Midwestern boy who once spent some time in New York with the greatest man he has ever known, Jay Gatsby. To Nick, Gatsby is the embodiment of the American Dream. He is rich, powerful, attractive, and elusive. Gatsby is surrounded by an aura of mystery and illusion, not unlike L. Frank Baum’s Great and Powerful Oz. And, like the wizard of Oz, Gatsby and all that he stands for turn out to be nothing more than carefully crafted, delicate constructs. Gatsby is the dream of a man who does not exist, living in a world where he does not belong. Although Nick, at first, understands that Gatsby is far from being who pretends to be, it does not take long for Nick to give in to the dream and to believe wholeheartedly (or to willingly consent to suspend disbelief) in the ideals that Gatsby represents. Ultimately, Nick falls in love with Gatsby, or at least with the fantasy world that Gatsby champions; and, a romantic at heart, Nick helps Gatsby to preserve his dream and to pursue his one primary quest: Daisy Buchanan.
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.
Nick Carraway, the narrator, is perhaps the most interesting character in the novel. He is simultaneously the one person who seems to see through Gatsby and to understand the facade, but also the person who most adores Gatsby and who cherishes the dream that this man represents. Carraway must continually lie to and deceive himself, while attempting to reassure the reader of his honest nature and unbiased intentions. Gatsby, or James Gatz, is fascinating in that he represents all aspects of the American Dream, from the tireless pursuit of it to the actual embodiment of it, and also, tragically, the loss of it (or realization that it does not really exist). The other characters, Daisy & Tom Buchanan, Mr. Gatz (Gatsby’s father) Jordan Baker, and others are all interesting and important in their relationship to Gatsby. We see Daisy as the traditional Jazz Age “flapper” – a woman interested only in beauty and riches; she returns Gatsby’s interest only because he is so materially advantaged. Tom is the representative of “Old Money” and its condescension to but vehement dislike of the nouveau-riche. He is racist, sexist and wholly unconcerned for anyone but himself. Jordan Baker, the artists, and others represent the various unspoken but ever-present notions of sexual exploration, individualism, and self-gratification that are indicative of the period.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
What typically draws readers to this book, whether or not they come away with the traditional understanding of the novel (a love story, a censure on the American Dream, etc.) is its strikingly beautiful prose. There are moments of description in this narrative which nearly take one’s breath away, particularly as they often come unexpectedly. Fitzgerald’s brilliance lies in his ability to undercut his every thought, showing both the positive and negative arguments of a situation within the very same paragraph (or sentence, even). This is perhaps best demonstrated in the final page of the novel, where the beauty of the dream that is Gatsby is contrasted with the disillusionment of those pursuing the dream. Fitzgerald explores the power of the American Dream, the heart-pounding, soul-shaking evocation of those early American immigrants who looked upon the new shores with such hope and longing, with such pride and eager determination, only to be crushed by the never-ending struggle to achieve the unattainable; to be trapped in a timeless, ageless, persistent dream that never amounts to anything but the dream. Fitzgerald’s prose and construction somehow manage to capture all of this, as the actions and events of the story itself do. It is a wondrous sight to behold and perhaps the primary reason why so many consider this to be the greatest American novel, and certainly Fitzgerald’s magnum opus.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is quite possibly the most widely-read piece of American Literature. But, while it is read by many, it is understood by few. For the majority of readers, The Great Gatsby is a love story. Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan are the 1920s American Romeo & Juliet – two star-crossed lovers whose destinies are intertwined and whose fates are tragically sealed from the beginning; however, the love story is a facade. Does Gatsby love Daisy? Sure, but only insomuch as he has built up the idea of Daisy in his mind. Does Daisy love Gatsby? Not in the least – he was a whim for her when they were young, and he is desirable to her because of his wealth when they are older. Other readers find the novel to be a depressing critique of the so-called American Dream, one which, perhaps, can never truly be reached. Similar to Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, this story predicts a bleak fate for America. No matter how hard one works or how much one achieves, the American Dreamer will always want more – satisfaction & contentment can never be achieved. This, in my opinion, is closer to the true nature and purpose of The Great Gatsby, but not quite all. This is not a love story, nor is it strictly about one man’s striving for the American Dream. Instead, it is a story about a restless nation. It is a story about wealth and the disparity between “Old Money” and “New Money.” Fitzgerald, through his narrator, Nick Carraway, has created a dreamy, illusory vision of a society of dreamers – shallow, unfilled people who are rising too fast, consuming too much. Their children are neglected, their relationships disrespected, and their spirits crushed beneath the weight of soulless riches. This is the story of The Lost Generation and the lies they must tell in order to continue living every day when they are so sad, lonely, and disillusioned.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adult
Interest: Modernism, American Mythology, Idealism, Jazz Age, American History, Prohibition, Unreliable Narrators, Anti-Semitism, Racism, Class/Wealth in America.
“What foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”
“That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.”
“He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic 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.”