For the past few weeks I have been spending my time reading some classic novels. What prompted this was the unveiling of The Great Gatsby trailer and the realization that I had not read the book in about 8 years.
I have a somewhat bad memory. Even my favorite book, The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, looks fuzzy to me if I go a long time without reading it. So I figured giving some of the classic novels another look would be wise, especially now that I have aged and may pick up on the subtleties of the writing.
I started with The Great Gatsby and it felt like I was reading an entirely different book. In high school I guess I was more taken by the decadence of the period and the yearning for a happy ending. The way Fitzgerald sets the scene is fantastic but as a teenager it was blinding and drew me away from the plot and the characters.
As an adult I saw many of the characters as vapid and materialistic. I had a hard time feeling empathy towards Daisy because all her perceived problems are pretty shallow. Instead of going with her heart in the beginning she went with Tom, a man that could buy her things and could take her places but who couldn’t make her truly happy.
Daisy and Tom live lives of mutual indifference; they know the other is not happy in their relationship but it is more important to keep up appearances. What also bothers me about them is their unwillingness to admit that.
Gatsby is another example of that. He loves Daisy and dedicated his life to accumulating enough wealth to draw her to him. Instead of telling her how he feels he throws lavish parties across the water hoping that she will come.
Nick is a fantastic character to narrate the story. He comes from a different world and at first is awed and intimidated by Gatsby and the parties but in the end sees the shallow, hypocritical nature of the rich. Nothing shows that more than when he is planning Gatsby’s funeral and only a handful of people show up. His home was filled with friends every night but he never made a deep, meaningful connection with any of them.
I am excited for the upcoming film version but I hope the story doesn’t get lost in the decadence like so many of the characters.