Sorry, but we’re a day late and a dollar short lately at the Freehold. Too much work and not enough me.
This week’s fine art category is literature. When someone says to me “literature”, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is the first thing that pops into my head. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first work of “literature” that I read as a teenager. I’ve re-read it a number of time since, and a copy is still on my bookshelves.
Gatsby is taken from events in Fitzgerald’s life, and is seen by most as an indictment of Jazz Age society and Prohibition. Given that writing is often cathartic, I suspect that, while those themes are there, it’s much more of an adult Fitzgerald’s attempt to work out various problems in his own life. It seems to me to have a certain adolescent day-dream quality to the story line, with Fitzgerald playing both the part of Jay Gatsby, a man of means but with a shadowy background, and Nick Carraway, poor Midwestern guy trying to make it in the big city.
After a series of events, meetings and misadventures, Gatsby is murdered by a cuckolded husband. Nick Carraway decides to return to the Midwest, wiser for his summer on Long Island.
There is a lot of symbolism in the book, with the green light at the end of a dock being perhaps the most important. Again, for me this seems to tie into the adolescent day-dream quality of the story line. Think back to your teenage years if you can, and how much importance we all put into things like a certain song, a smell, a taste or a place. While we still do this as adults, the experience of first love and first love lost is painful and sticks with you, at some level, for the rest of your life. For some, it sets the tone and expectations for every other love that you experience. For others, such as Gatsby and, I think, Fitzgerald, it becomes much more, and something that one doesn’t get over (or past).
The book is fairly short by the standards of most modern works I’m familiar with. It doesn’t beat you over the head with the same thing 50 times before getting to the point. We go from place to place, event to ever more tragic event, in a linear fashion. We finally wind up at the conclusion, and, like Nick, we are wistfully and perhaps painfully wiser for that journey.
The Great Gatsby was well received by the critics, but it wasn’t commercially successful during his life. However, it has been the subject of 2 movies and I believe various stage plays. It is a consistent best seller, selling around 500,000 copies per year. According to Wikipedia, it passed into public domain on January 1, 2021, so if you want to find a copy, you should be able to scare up one for free or very cheap. No matter the price you pay for it, you’ll get more out of it.