Now the subject of a major new film from director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo+Juliet, Moulin Rouge!), starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald's brilliant fable of the hedonistic excess and tragic reality of 1920s America. This Penguin Classics edition is edited with an introduction and notes by Tony Tanner.
Young, handsome and fabulously rich, Jay Gatsby is the bright star of the Jazz Age, but as writer Nick Carraway is drawn into the decadent orbit of his Long Island mansion, where the party never seems to end, he finds himself faced by the mystery of Gatsby's origins and desires. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life, Gatsby is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon, this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel.
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald brilliantly captures both the disillusionment of post-war America and the moral failure of a society obsessed with wealth and status. But he does more than render the essence of a particular time and place, for - in chronicling Gatsby's tragic pursuit of his dream - Fitzgerald re-creates the universal conflict between illusion and reality.
Like Jay Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) has acquired a mythical status in American literary history, and his masterwork The Great Gatsby is considered by many to be the 'great American novel'. In 1920 he married Zelda Sayre, dubbed 'the first American Flapper', and their traumatic marriage and Zelda's gradual descent into insanity became the leading influence on his writing. As well as many short stories, Fitzgerald wrote five novels This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, The Beautiful and the Damned, Tender is the Night and, incomplete at the time of his death, The Last Tycoon. After his death The New York Times said of him that 'in fact and in the literary sense he created a "generation" '.
'A classic, perhaps the supreme American novel'
John Carey, Sunday Times Books of the Century
- Paperback | 240 pages
- 128 x 196 x 14mm | 120g
- 08 Feb 2008
- Penguin Books Ltd
- PENGUIN CLASSICS
- London, United Kingdom
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “For the majority of creative people, life is a pretty mean trick. ” Jay Gatsby is, without a doubt, a creative character. His life was a, “mean trick. ” He spent his life longing for the unreachable and was killed as a result. Nick Carraway’s first-person viewpoint, allows the reader, to participate in his sense of discovery as the narrative takes on meaning at various levels of abstraction in such a way that the reader and Nick are linked in thought from the beginning of the book. On the most superficial level, Nick becomes a logical choice as narrator.
His physical proximity to the main characters and his trustworthiness situate him ideally to serve as a confidant on several fronts, a character who knows details of the story from many points of view and observe much of the action firsthand. Nick keeps detached from the rest of the characters in “The Great Gatsby” because he has dissimilar views. He is used by Fitzgerald to subtly voice his own opinions. Nick and Gatsby are the only characters that take part in the First World War. Nick says, at the beginning of the novel that he wanted, “the whole world to be in uniform”. By moving east Nick is trying to escape his past.
Nick uses the Great War as a backdrop throughout the book as a way stressing that you can never truelly escape your past or your roots. This is personified in Gatsby with his pseudo European mannerisms. The romanticised view of Europe is evident within the novel. Fitzgerald notes that Daisy and Tom “spent a year in France for no particular reason. ” Nick puts a spin on this quotation by using a mocking tone. His distain towards Tom and Daisy’s society prevents the reader from becoming entangled in the glamour of their lifestyle as well as adding an ominous undertone to the book. Nick takes the role of a storyteller early on.
He is not objective in his narration and comes from a coloured perspective. Nick, as an observer allows Fitzgerald to pursue his interest in vision. The Valley of ashes, “a fantastic farm ………. ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke”, recalls the moral wilderness of T. S. Eliot’s modernist poem, “The Waste Land” and of Gatsby’s world where God has been replaced by signs of American materialism. It is in the valley of the ashes where Tom has his affair with Myrtle, where Daisy kills Myrtle with Gatsby’s car, and where George Wilson decides to murder Gatsby.
The eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg provide their eternal presence looming above the ash-heaps. It provides a warped vision where the eyes of mass manufacturing dominate life. Tony Tanner said in his analysis of “The Great Gatsby”, that, “Following a central theme of modernism, this new God watches over his paradise which has been reduced to ash-heaps by modern man. ” Nick’s importance comes through with the emphasis given to the valley of ashes. He uses it as a constant reminder of the reality that the other characters are ignorant of.
Nick is a bookish character and represents the intellectual side of the 1920s. “Family Romance” was coined by Sigmund Freud in 1925 (the same year that “The Great Gatsby” was published) to describe the fantasy of being freed from one’s parents and joining a higher social standing. A popular idea in America as an isolationist country with its inhabitants influenced by the American Dream; this also explains why Gatsby changed his name. Later in the book Nick undergoes a spiritual epiphany, “[he] suddenly was delivered from the womb of his purposeless splendour.
The use of “womb” and earlier with “conception” interweaves a religious connotation with the idea of Gatsby’s escape from his past, which is in fitting with Freud’s Family Romance. Again, the use of the epiphany was a key feature of a new strand of writing fashionable in the 1920’s used predominantly by James Joyce in “Dubliners” published in 1914. Fitzgerald uses Nick to stress the academic undertones in the novel. Nick is an unreliable narrator who allows himself to be caught up with the lifestyle of those he is describing. This being indicative of Fitzgerald’s constant association with the decedent society of the 1920s.
Nick writes, “Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have unaffected scorn. ” Yet he narrates a whole story about him. Bryant Mangum notes, “Fitzgerald was reading and studying Joseph Conrad during the composition of The Great Gatsby, was interested in exploring subtle uses of narrative viewpoint”. Fitzgerald uses Nick to emphasise conflicting points of view, he fluctuates from affectionate descriptions of the characters to satirising them. He occasionally lets his guard down to describe, fondly, aspects of each of the other characters.
In chapter five Nick describes, “The exhilarating ripple of her [Daisy’s] voice”. Nick is subjectively objective. He uses satire to distance himself from the other characters. Unlike Gatsby and Myrtle who want to be part of the meretricious society that the Buchanans belong to, Fitzgerald is aware of the superficiality of the society and yet through his experiences could tell that they entice people and then discard them.
Their emotional void is echoed when Nick says, “they [Daisy and Tom] drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. Nick uses humour to convey a profound point and convey an underlying resentment towards those who treated Gatsby with such disrespect. Nick represents the traditional moral codes of America. Himself from the Midwest (which contrasts to the East of Long Island and the world of the Buchanans), Nick is attracted by the beauty, the wealth, and the sophistication of “The Wasteland” but comes to understand the essential emptiness, the gaudy display of “nothingness” which characterizes the Wasteland itself.
The confused image of God in the book, most obviously when Wilson says, “you can’t fool God’……. e was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J Eckleburg”, is indicative of the lack of moral direction widespread in the 1920s. Tom tells Myrtle that Daisy is a Catholic and can not divorce her. Nick is “shocked” by the lie. As Arthur Mizener remarks, it is Nick who at last achieves a “gradual penetration of the charm and grace of Tom and Daisy’s world. What he penetrates to is corruption, grossness, and cowardice. ” Nick is eager to insert a spiritual edge to Gatsby that will separate him from the agnostic society by referring to his, “Platonic conception of himself “.
Nick is the only individual sympathetic to Gatsby. Fitzgerald uses the character of Nick Carraway as a portrayal of a society, other than the socially privileged exemplified by his pathos towards Gatsby. Nick shows ambivalence in his dedication to satirising American society. He detests them and yet thrives off them. Nick is used as the modernist viewpoint with his first person narration and condemnation of contemporary society. He allows the story to have an intellectual depth as well as showing that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a writer of his time.