Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Lev butts Reviews The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My high school English teacher told us there
was a naked woman on this cover in order to
encourage us to read it. When I found it,
I wanted to punch her.
If The Lord of the Rings taught me my first adult life lesson, The Great Gatsby taught me the first immediately applicable one.

Fitzgerald's book is a searing indictment of the roaring '20's and the decadence of the Jazz Age. It is such a successful and scathing critique, in fact, that anyone who reads the book cannot help but want to go back to the 1920's, and sneer at everyone reprovingly while guzzling bathtub gin and seducing flappers.

On top of all of this, it tells the story of a gangster who's in love with an air-headed rich girl who's married to an asshole of a rich guy who's sleeping with a poor idiot who's married to a loser who kills the gangster in a swimming pool.

Spoiler alert
What makes this story better than your average pulp fiction gangster story is that you kinda feel sorry for the gangster, Jay Gatsby, who really turns out to be a sad (and more realistic) version of a Horatio Alger hero: he's a poor kid from the midwest who impresses a rich con-man and eventually rises through the ranks of his benefactor's organization in a vain attempt to make enough money to deserve the rich girl from old money he's in love with. Sure he makes money and rises through his own efforts and hard work, but unlike Alger's boys, he will always fail to fit in because his money is not the right money. It's new. He will always be outdone by the people with old money.

In fact, Daisy (the poor little rich girl) and her jerk of a husband, Tom, both sit idly by and let Gatsby die because at the end of the day, they don't see his death as their problem (even though they are both to varying degrees responsible for the events leading to it).

Which brings us to my favorite quote form the novel, and the most important life lesson I ever learned in high school:
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed 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.
After reading that line, I knew with a certainty bordering on the religious, that I did not ever want to be that kind of careless.  I never wanted anyone to think of me the way Nick Carraway, the narrator, thinks of Tom and Daisy. I didn't want to be Nick Carraway either, the poor sod who has to clean up everybody else's mess, and I certainly didn't want to be Gatsby, who is eaten up and spit out by other people's carelessness.

Though, he does manage to look suave and debonair while he's being digested.
I just knew I didn't want to be the kind of guy who left messes for others. I wanted to be the character who isn't in The Great Gatsby: the guy who is responsible enough to clean up his own messes without letting others get hurt in the process.

Though I certainly wouldn't've said no to some swinging jazz, bathtub gin, and a flapper or two.