In time for the 88th anniversary of the book that the Modern Library named the second best English novel of all time (second only to James Joyce's Ulysses), we bring you a review of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby", whose new movie version is coming soon to a theater near you. SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't read the book or watched an earlier adaptation to the screen, read the following review at your own risk!
Review by Martha AngeloTitle: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published in: 1925
Read in: Portuguese (translated from English by William Lagos)
We are introduced to Gatsby's story through the narrator, Nick Carraway, someone who describes himself as an observer who doesn't judge and would rather wait until he learns more about someone before forming an opinion about them―a habit that revealed several interesting human natures to him. In other words, it is through his eyes that readers enter, little by little, the fascinating and privileged world of Long Island. That's great, otherwise we could easily lose ourselves among champagne glasses, sitting by the pool, and listening to some jazz playing in loop until early in the morning, while couples are wildly dancing around us.
Gatsby is, above all, a great love story about a poor boy and a rich girl, about the romantic dream that made this fascinating character build his life until he became a magnate. Such was Gatsby's passion and idealization in regards to Daisy that, the first time she appears in the book, F. Scott Fitzgerald builds a oneiric atmosphere, almost diaphanous, as if the character were a goddess or a nymph so far away from the average human reality:
"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 wind does on the sea."
Daisy seemed to "float" next to her friend on the couch, "the only completely stationary object in the room." Both wore dresses that were "rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house."
Lights, colors, and nature are deeply symbolic in this novel, going beyond mere descriptive resources. The sun, the rain, the night, the colors of the day and places keep changing, aligned with the psychological state of the characters and the level of drama on each scene. This symbolic aesthetics of light is so strong on the text that sometimes it feels like we are inside a painting. Actually, the 1974 movie adaptation directed by Jack Clayton, with a script written by Francis Ford Coppola, reproduced this symbolism exuberantly. The magnificent photography won a BAFTA Film Award that year.
What about Gatsby? When he first appears, his silhouette comes "from the shadows." The image of a cat gives us a forewarning, an indication of dissimulation and mystery. The character's intense psychological conflict is expressed by his firm stance on the grass, contrasting with a body that shivers and arms that stretch out to where Daisy lives; she's his greatest love and the dream of winning her over shines on the single green light of the lighthouse. The rest is darkness. Despite his material possessions, the absolute symbol of the American Dream, he is not happy.
The aura of mystery that surrounds the character will accompany him throughout the novel, leaving the reader intrigued.
Gatsby had made every dream of his poor childhood come true, one by one, but he still needed love to feel complete. Love was the cherry on top of the cake. But his was no ordinary love; it was his first love, his teenage sweetheart who had replaced him with a wealthy boy. Some may say, "That's not love, that's revenge!" True, it is some sort of revenge, and that is why he repeats the same thing several times after they finally meet again: "Why didn't you wait for me?"
As I write these lines, I'm listening to “The Love Nest“, a 1920s song mentioned in the book. It plays while Gatsby gives Daisy a tour of his “humble home”°―a mansion. What a nice love nest!
And it is listening to "Love is Blindness," the theme song for the new movie adaptation, that we reach a conclusion about this story of unreciprocated love. As in a poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade:
Wilson loves Myrtle who loves
Tom who loves Daisy
who loves Gatsby
But does Daisy love Gatsby? Actually we, the readers, really wish she loved him back with the same intensity that he loves her. A love so romantic that it stood the test of time, the pain, her marriage to another man. But Daisy doesn't seem to feel the same way. By the end of the novel, we have a very different idea of how she feels.
Our illusions die a little with Gatsby, because we learn to love him. Our hopes die with the lovers in the story.
Gatsby represents the small-town boy who had a big dream and built his life step by step, from his personality to his possessions, from his elegant clothes to the bubbly champagne parties full of jazz and celebrities!
Does Myrtle love Tom? Above all, Myrtle loves his money. Myrtle was a factory worker who married Wilson because she thought he was a gentleman. Then she found herself living in the Valley of Ashes with an unsuccessful man. While Gatsby is the symbol of success, Wilson and Myrtle represent failure.
Does Tom love Myrtle? Tom is the typical rich heir. His wealth comes from past generations, privileges, leisure, apathy, arrogance. Myrtle is his little extravagance, the lover he openly keeps on the side as a symbol of his power. Gatsby and Tom represent two very different millionaires, practically opposites.
Gatsby is the archetypal millionaire, the type that we all secretly would like to be. The millionaire surrounded by parties, friends, luxury, joy. The one who lives life to the fullest without showing any concern for money; on the contrary, he enjoys himself as much as he can, in style, with freedom, nonchalantly, generous, and fun.
He represents the optimistic spirit of the 1920s: happiness, exuberance, charm, frenzy... Of course, it is like Fitzgerald himself! Scott and his beloved Zelda lived a thousand miles per hour, being happy, eccentric and subversive! It's been said that, one night, they jumped into a fountain at the Plaza Hotel and spent hours dancing there... A scene of the 1974 flick shows Gatsby's guests doing exactly the same!
Tom, on the other hand, represents the type of wealth that nobody envies: a stingy careful kind of rich guy. He is insecure and arrogant and, at the same time, feels a need to shout out his so-called superiority in racist arguments, among other terms of defiance, maybe because he is afraid of the competition from more competent people, since his money was inherited, not earned.
Historically, Tom represents the social classes that sympathized with the Nazi and Fascist governments, since he puts so much emphasis on racial superiority in sentences like, "This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It's up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things."
Does Daisy love Gatsby? Daisy is a spoiled little girl who never had to work a day in her life. She may have loved Gatsby when she was young, but as she told him herself, rich girls don't marry poor boys.
Tom and Daisy are the personification of the abundance and wealth of the East Coast, la crème de la crème of the Capitalist society of that time. Gatsby and Myrtle are strangers in that environment, intruders who will never be welcome. Nick Carraway witnessed it himself:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy―they mashed 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..."
Because of all this, in the end of both the book and the movie, we love Gatsby even more, as we grow to despise Daisy and Tom, just as Carraway did.
Like any dreamer, Gatsby wished he could turn back time; on the day of his death, he is anxious because the summer had gone by so fast and he wished that summer would never end. The feeling is universal: we want time to stand still when we're happy. Gatsby had gone a long way believing in a wonderful future, looking at the distant green light of the lighthouse. The day Gatsby died, his dream seemed so close, yet unreachable. His tragic end, however, made his dream immortal.
Gatsby is an unforgettable character. Attractive and seductive, he became a classic and remains relevant by showing his worth. This is exceptionally true when we compare him to the pathetic and colorless leading men in contemporary novels: Gatsby is gold and he shines naturally.
What about all movie adaptations? Just as Gatsby became immortal, Robert Redford's take on him is unique! Let's wait for Leonardo DiCaprio, because we're all curious about it! Still, it was Redford who was able to express the charisma, elegance, mystery, and charm of this unforgettable character in such a way that it's hard to believe that anyone could come to replace him.
MARTHA ANGELO was born in São Paulo in 1967. She graduated in Languages and Literature at the São Paulo University and works with projects that promote reading habits among children and teenagers. Her first book, O guardião da floresta [The Forest Keeper] was published by Editora Biblioteca 24 horas. She also writes short stories, chronicles, children's tales and poetry on her blog Mistura de letra [Mixed Letters] and collaborates with A suprema arte [The Supreme Art] writing chronicles and movie reviews.