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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Nick Carraway is our narrator, and for those who haven't been keeping up, The Great Gatsby is the book. It's a little complicated, but here's the basic connection: Nick is Daisy Buchanan's cousin, and he went to Yale with Daisy's husband Tom Buchanan. Jordan Baker, a famous golf player, is a friend of Daisy's and a somewhat half-hearted love interest for Nick. Jay Gatsby (real name James Gatz) has been in love with Daisy for years, but was too poor to marry her, so she married Tom instead. Tom has been cheating with various women, but most recently with a woman named Myrtle Wilson, when we come upon the group in the story. Nick is Gatsby's neighbor. Gatsby is now very rich and has elaborate parties with great frequency. Nick and Gatsby strike up a friendship, and Gatsby gets Nick to orchestrate a reunion with Daisy. On the way home from a trip to New York City together (the rest of the story takes place in East and West Egg, NY) Daisy accidentally runs over Myrtle Wilson, who has run into the street thinking that Tom is driving with his wife. Myrtle is killed, Gatsby takes the blame, and Wilson (the husband), overcome with grief and anger, shoots Gatsby. Only a handful of people attend Gatsby's funeral (much to Nick's dismay). We find out towards the end of the book (after hearing various rumors) that Gatsby created his "rich self" after performing well in the army and running various deals with a few unsavory characters. Oh, and our time period is the early 20's.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

- The first thing I thought of as I read about Gatsby's parties was the movie Sabrina and the parties at the Larrabee's. Oddly enough, after reading about East and West Egg (which, it turns out, don't exist) I found that Great Neck (the likely referent for the Eggs) is on the North Shore of Long Island. Also where the Larrabees live, supposedly. I guess it's not such a coincidence, since it's a wealthy area, but I liked the connection.

I like this book. I like the way it's written, I like the characters, I like the somewhat depressing ending, and I like the quiet eloquence of it. Fitzgerald has exquisite sentence structure, and delicate imagery, and I really just enjoyed the experience of re-reading it. Just wanted to throw that out there.

-Apparently I cut out the title page of this book at one point. (Sacrilegious, I know!) I think it was for an English project, if that makes it any better. I'm still 90% sure I read The Great Gatsby.

-Nick and Gatsby pass by a funeral early in the book, and Nick is glad that "Gatsby's splendid car was included in their somber holiday". I thought it was a nice sentiment when I read it, but after reading to the end and knowing that only 9 people attend Gatsby's funeral (and half of those 9 servants) this moment seems really sad to me. I can't quite explain why.

-Meyer Wolfsheim (one of the unsavory characters Gatsby is in business with) has cufflinks made of molars. As in, human teeth, yes.

-Gatsby asks Nick if he can ask Daisy over to his house so that Gatsby can "meet" her again for the first time. Gatsby cuts Nick's grass in preparation for the visit. I think it's delightfully amusing that Gatsby tidies up Nick's life so that it can be the scene for his reunion with Daisy. Waiting for Daisy, Gatsby gets fed up, and says "Nobody's coming to tea!" and Nick has to persuade him to stay. But when Daisy arrives, Gatsby disappears, and then comes to the door and rings the bell. I love the way Fitzgerald describes it: "Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes." Gatsby seems so vulnerable and childlike here.

-When it stops raining, Fitzgerald uses the weather as a metaphor for Gatsby and Daisy's love being rekindled. "When [Gatsby] realized what [Nick] was talking about, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to Daisy. "What do you think of that? It's stopped raining."

-When Gatsby takes Nick and Daisy over to his house to show it off, Daisy weeps into Gatsby's shirts. She says, "It makes me sad because I've never seen such - such beautiful shirts before." There's such poetry in this moment.

-Tom's first reaction is excitement when he discovers the car accident, before he realizes his mistress has been killed. I think it's deeply fascinating that we, as a society are often first intrigued and excited by death and injury, then shocked and saddened. It's why rubbernecking causes so many traffic jams, right, Dad? :)

-Nick flip-flops throughout the book between liking, loving, and hating Gatsby. And as Nick is our narrator (and therefore, we feel close to him) we, as readers, go through various emotions regarding Gatsby. Nick tells him he's better than "the rotten crowd", but then follows it by saying he "disapproved of [Gatsby] from beginning to end." Despite his disapproval for Gatsby, Nick champions him in the end, managing his funeral, spewing anger at those who share no condolences and make no attempt to celebrate Gatsby's life. To the world, Gatsby was good for a party. Dead, he is worth nothing.

-Gatsby's father shows up for Gatsby's funeral, and he shows Nick a list that Gatsby made as a boy, to prove to Nick that Gatsby was always about something.


No wasting time at Shafters

No more smokeing or chewing
Bath every other day
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week
Be better to parents

I'm sure we could all benefit from doing the things on Gatsby's list. Sounds about right to me.

-Last but not least, in reference to the title of this post: The line before it reads ,"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning-- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

I always liked the middle of this line. It's one of those lines that I keep thinking I understand, then stop and read again, because (at least for me) it's not so much about getting the meaning of it as it is about evaluating the philosophy behind the phrase. I'm fine with feeling a little unresolved in this case.

And now I'm borne back into the past (of necessity, I suppose, as each of these books represents the past, fictional or no) into 19th century Russia.

Do svidaniya!

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