Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite book is, the answer is always the same. The Great Gatsby. Throughout my life, I have read hundreds and hundreds of books, but something about this one sticks with me. I've read it several times since being introduced to it in my high school English class, and my fondness for it has only grown over time. It's been a few years since I last visited it, so when I saw that one of the Back to the Classics categories this year was to reread a favorite classic, I knew exactly what I wanted to choose.
The Great Gatsby is about the elusive and shady millionaire Jay Gatsby and his tragic attempt to recapture the heart of a girl from his past. The book is narrated by a friendly and semi-involved neighbor named Nick Carraway, who watches the events of the plot unfold from his little rental house next door to Gatsby's mansion one summer in 1922. Nick happens to be the cousin of Daisy Buchanan, the woman that Gatsby is in love with. Accordingly, once Gatsby figures this out, he enlists Nick to help in his quest to steal Daisy away from her current husband and rekindle their past romance.
The problem with Gatsby's grand plans are that he is chasing after a girl who no longer exists. Too much time has passed since they were first together, and although Gatsby has spent a lifetime building a fortune to impress Daisy, she is a different person now. She embodies the shallow, spoiled attitude of rich people from the Jazz Age, and while she still feels a bit of a spark for her old, lost love, she isn't about to break apart her easy, convenient life to go back to him. Gatsby, however, is oblivious to these facts and continues to pursue her with reckless abandon. The Great Gatsby is the story of how his ambitions come apart at the seams in the face of a careless, superficial society and how everyone is ultimately helpless before the unrelenting passage of time.
What I have appreciated about this novel has changed over time. When I was a high school student, it was all about Gatsby himself. I thought he represented the very height of tragedy. He was a victim of Daisy's carelessness--a true romantic that loved in a deep and meaningful way. His love drove him to great achievements, and persevered against all odds. For him to be rebuffed after all that effort seemed criminal. I couldn't understand Daisy. I was desperate for someone to love me the way he loved her. The sadness was in the lost romance, the broken hearts.
When I got a little older, and reread Gatsby in college, it was all about the writing. Gatsby was still a tragic figure, yes, but now I could appreciate the way Fitzgerald told the story. This was the first novel I can ever recall thinking was beautiful. The structure, the word choice, and the perfect brevity of the plot blew me away. Fitzgerald was writing in a way that I viscerally responded to--I could hear Daisy's voice "full of money" and feel Myrtle's "perceptible vitality." I could see Gatsby's shirts in a "many-colored disarray" as he threw them before Nick and Daisy and taste his champagne that was "served in glasses bigger than finger bowls." The prose moved me in a way I hadn't experienced before and put a stamp on my heart forever. The sadness of the novel was now in the language, the skillful weaving of a tragic story.
As time moved on and I revisited this story as an adult in my late 20s, it was all about the theme. Having lived a bit more of my life, I was able to understand the novel's message on a deeper level. That idea of reaching back for the good times of the past and never quite being able to recapture those feelings and experiences rang true to me now. The tragedy Gatsby experienced was not a failure of Daisy's love. It was the inevitable march of time. People change, places change, and circumstances change as we get older, and no amount of effort can ever bring back things exactly as they were. Gatsby's confident assertion that one can repeat the past took on a different, and much sadder tone now. For all his enthusiasm and single-mindedness towards his goal, he was destined to fail. His intentions were sweet and romantic, but he was blinded by his past feelings, lost in them, and that was his tragedy. The sadness was in the delusion, the mistaken belief that one can ever recapture the feelings of the "good old days."
It's times like these that I feel very sorry for people who don't read.
Challenge TallyBack to the Classics (re-read a favorite classic): 11/12
Total Books Read in 2018: 38