Last night I read the first chapter of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and nearly swooned.
I read Gatsby for the first time my freshman year in college and wasn’t really a fan of the novel (it was an intro to literature class, and although I was enthusiastic, I was also very new to classics that resided outside of Jane Austen). I was irked by what I thought was the characters’ seemingly lame attempts at reasonable and healthy relationships and their complete lack of substance. I thought, “Man…the twenties must’ve sucked for everyone to be this messed up and depressed.” (I was young and inexperienced in the beauty of Gatsby—don’t judge me!)
And then I was assigned to read it again when I was a junior. The class was ENG 335, American Literature in the Realism and Modern Eras. This time around, I had taken more than my fair share of literature classes. I was in love with the written word more than ever, and I yearned for writing that was classic, but not dull; deep, but not confusing; rich, but not far-fetched. And I found that in Gatsby.
The characters were still very irritating. I wanted to jump into the pages, hold my hands straight out at my sides, and yell “Stop it! Right now! And think what you’re doing! What you’re saying! For heaven’s sake, get a grip!” But it’s easy to ignore those emotions now, after having read the book several times. My focus is purely on the language (because if I love anything more than a good plot, I love a well-written sentence) and I’m able to appreciate the beautiful words that Fitzgerald crafted so carefully.
Some passages show brilliant characterization:
“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
And some expose sardonic humor at its most honest:
“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
“No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”
And sad truth:
“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”
And some passages whose words are so beautifully placed and picked that you almost don’t care about the meaning they convey:
“I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
Either way, Gatsby has earned its title as “Classic” in my heart, and in the hearts of many others. Each person may take something different from a reading of it, but the beautiful language can be admired by all who come across it. We're coming up on the 90th anniversary of the publication of this novel. Nearly a hundred years have passed since Fitzgerald penned these characters, and yet the similarities we see today cannot be mistaken. A world focused on fun and living in the moment; the pursuit of great love; a world run by the younger generation.
Millennials today are the same age, or close to, the main characters in The Great Gatsby. This is significant because we can hold ourselves up to the choices those characters made and weigh our decisions against those of Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, etc. Will we like what we see? Will we be similar to those characters? Is that a good thing? Keep these questions in mind as you turn the yellowed pages of any book you read–but look at it especially as you delve into the opulent world of Gatsby's roaring twenties, with it's loose morals and dedication to living life to the fullest.
Resources: personal experience, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald