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The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

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The book is in my backpack and ready to go as soon as I finish my current book (which ends in 7 pages time). I'll probably start discussing as I go, so that will be very shortly.

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Anyone got ideas on how you want to go about this?

 

I was thinking whoever feels the need to discuss a particular aspect of the book can start a thread that has that aspect as a title (i.e. characterization, plot, language, that silly remark on page 33, etc.). Then all the comments don't get mixed up in one thread, making it a bit of a mess, and people who drop in later can easily see if there is already a discussion on a topic that they have something to say about.

 

I would also suggest posting a warning in the title if you are revealing surprise twists that other people may not have read yet. A remark like 'I thought George became a more vague towards the end' would not constitute a spoiler, but 'wow, what a surprise when Jenny turned out to be his sister, huh!' would be a bit of a shame. But I imagine that people here are sensitive and smart enough to handle this well.

 

I think, winterwren, you made suggestions along these lines in the 'The Sea, the Sea' thread, so I assume you're on board. If anyone else has other ideas I'd be glad to hear. (You'll have to be quick though, I plan to start discussing in about five hours :P )

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All sounds very sensible to me.

 

Look forward to the start of the discussion - (by my reckoning you're an hour over due by now :P )

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I am sure I have said something to this thread but cannot find it in Google's cache (can't even find this part). Anyway, I quite liked this book, the presentation of the characters and their troubles with society. There was a lot said about that and I often thought, great that we don't have those problems any more. But do we? I think this book is a great foundation for a discussion about the changing in society.

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Well, this is a classic that I have only just got around to reading. I should say I read it blind - only the cover photo to manage my expectations about what it might be about.

 

Now at the end, and apart from anything else, I am utterly mystified by the title. Before I read the book, I thought it had hints of the circus bill - and having read the book I can't see why Gatsby is great. I see Nick caught between admiring his cousin Tom and his old money world, and admiring Gatsby and his new money world. But in truth, neither Gatsby nor Tom is great - both have immense character flaws and I can't see Gatsby as being more of a star of the show than Tom, Nick, or Daisy. I was also struck by the parallel with Line of Beauty where Nick (same name) is caught between two social classes and fails to manage the straddle.

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It's a valid point, Mr. HG. I've always assume it refers to the facade Gatsby has erected around himself that he is a great and wealthy man. Alternately, there's the irony that Gatsby believes these things will make him great.

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I always took it to be ironic - Fitzgerald's comment on the emptiness of Gatsby's lifestyle, and Nick's outsider's view of it.

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I have always taken the title to be deeply ironic - Gatsby isn't great by any measure and is actually very insignificant and superficial.

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Sure, Gatsby is a bit superficial, but he doesn't actually pretend not to be. He has money - although it always seems a bit obscure where the money came from - and he throws parties, ostensibly to attract Daisy. But he never pretends to have depth or great brilliance. He watches his own parties from a distance, seems down to earth, quite open about his background and intentions. Perhaps that's a contrast to Tom and the East Egg set who seem to operate on the basis of nods and winks, looking out for white supremacy without ever quite saying that. Tom has his secret affair, Daisy has her secret admirer, but nothing overt is said.

 

I couldn't quite see the novel being about Gatsby, though. I wonder whether the novel's title gives him an importance he doesn't deserve. He is an important character, sure. But I can't help thinking that the novel is about the contrast between East Egg and West Egg, with Nick caught half way between the two but being an interloper in both by virtue of not being wealthy at all. To that extent, both sides seem able to confide in him without his being a threat.

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I agree with Hazel that the title seems to be ironic. Gatsby at his party-giving peak is certainly rumoured of as 'great' but there are lots of rumours about him (including those started by himself, like that he's an Oggsford man) Fitzgerald had some difficulty coming up with a name - as a manuscript, it was called Trimalchio in West Egg (Trimalchio is a self-man man in the Satyricon, famous for his parties).

 

It's interesting that MrHG should consider it just as much a story of the other characters, I've only ever read it as about Gatsby, with the other characters - even Nick Carraway - designed to show him up in some sort of relief. Especially Daisy - from that early scene where she's introduced in one chapter sitting on a sofa and apparently floating around the room - she's utterly insubstantial. I think she's meant to be, which is part of the reason it's so tragic that Gatsby has fixed his dream and his life on recreating their abortive relationship.

 

To me it really is an example of the novel form at its peak - certainly the finest that I have ever read.

 

(Aside - I wanted to comment on this novel before, it's sort of split off from the rest of twentieth century literature down here. First, I couldn't find it, then I Was conscious of not being part of the 'group' discussing it. Would it be possible for the more general non-bookgroup- read material to be moved up into the appropriate forum?)

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I agree about putting the thread into 20th Century fiction - it is just lost here and took some hunting out!

 

Of course the other characters help shine a light on Gatsby, but they al throw light on each other. It could be argued just as easily that Gatsby, Nick and Mrs Wilson expose the lie that is proper America - that the old money is not really very old, quite racist, opportunistic and not averse to a bit of bed hopping. And if Gatsby's parties are a bit hollow and showy, then I didn't see much different about Tom's party either.

 

Meanwhile, Gatsby is willing to take the fall for Daisy's big mistake (although one wonders whether Gatsby knew he might have to pay such a high price) and is arguably more honorable than the old money who caused the mess to start with.

 

I was a bit confused about the Oggsford stuff. Was that a rumour that Gatsby started or was it more of a half truth - a misapprehension - that he just never sought to correct?

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I was a bit confused about the Oggsford stuff. Was that a rumour that Gatsby started or was it more of a half truth - a misapprehension - that he just never sought to correct?

Thanks to Gutenburg - and that to Australian copyright expiring 50 years post mortem instead of the ROW 70, I've been having a re-read.

 

It seems to me that rumour is an essential part of Gatsby's character. From early on, Nick is told 'you must know Gatsby' by a couple of people, and Gatsby is first seen (entirely misleadingly, as it turns out) looking happy to be on his own and staring out at the green light. When I finish my re-read I'll have more to say about that.

 

This is unrelated - the confusing 'gay' scene that seems to pop up from nowhere (actually, it's at the end of Chapter 2, after Nick meets Myrtle, and Tom breaks her nose).

 

Then Mr. McKee turned and continued on out the door. Taking my hat from

the chandelier I followed.

 

"Come to lunch some day," he suggested, as we groaned down in the

elevator.

 

"Where?"

 

"Anywhere."

 

"Keep your hands off the lever," snapped the elevator boy.

 

"I beg your pardon," said Mr. McKee with dignity, "I didn't know I was

touching it."

 

"All right," I agreed, "I'll be glad to."

 

. . . I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the

sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.

 

"Beauty and the Beast . . . Loneliness . . . Old Grocery Horse . . .

Brook'n Bridge . . . ."

 

Then I was lying half asleep in the cold lower level of the Pennsylvania

Station, staring at the morning "Tribune" and waiting for the four

o'clock train.

What is happening there?

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I've just been rereading this and am struck by how much of Gatsby's life is just rumour. Fitzgerald has Carraway comment,

It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world.
There's the girl at his party who says,
''When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address--inside of a week I got a package from Croirier's with a new evening gown in it…. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars."

 

"There's something funny about a fellow that'll do a thing like that," said the other girl eagerly. "He doesn't want any trouble with ANYbody."

And the other speculation,
"Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once."

 

''...that he was a German spy during the war."

 

''.. I'll bet he killed a man."

 

"He's a bootlegger," said the young ladies, moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers. "One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil.''

The Oggsford rumours are started by Gatsby himself as part of his attempt to make a 'great' man out of himself. It is when he produces a photograph of himself with other young men in blazers loafing in an archway through which were visible a host of spires that Carraway thinks his own story about himself might be true. Because Gatsby does have a go at constructing a past for himself,
"I'll tell you God's truth... I am the son of some wealthy people in the middle-west--all dead now. I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years. It is a family tradition... I lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe--Paris, Venice, Rome--collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only, and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago... (in the war) I was promoted to be a major and every Allied government gave me a decoration--even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!"
None of it is true, of course. But in the end Gatsby seems more a dreamer than a liar. He is the 'rough young rednick' who Carraway sees once or twice, infatuated with a girl mainly because she 'has a voice like money' and is hopelessly beyond his reach. It is that yearning for soemthing beyond reach that is represented by the green light at the end of the dock - it's the future, success, it's the American dream, it's also the unrecoverable past. I could go one and on. There are so many reasons why I love this novel.

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I was also struck by the parallel with Line of Beauty where Nick (same name) is caught between two social classes and fails to manage the straddle.

 

I think Line of Beauty is a cross between Gatsby and Brideshead Revisited

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Sure, Gatsby is a bit superficial, but he doesn't actually pretend not to be. He has money - although it always seems a bit obscure where the money came from - and he throws parties, ostensibly to attract Daisy. But he never pretends to have depth or great brilliance. He watches his own parties from a distance, seems down to earth, quite open about his background and intentions. Perhaps that's a contrast to Tom and the East Egg set who seem to operate on the basis of nods and winks, looking out for white supremacy without ever quite saying that. Tom has his secret affair, Daisy has her secret admirer, but nothing overt is said.

 

I couldn't quite see the novel being about Gatsby, though. I wonder whether the novel's title gives him an importance he doesn't deserve. He is an important character, sure. But I can't help thinking that the novel is about the contrast between East Egg and West Egg, with Nick caught half way between the two but being an interloper in both by virtue of not being wealthy at all. To that extent, both sides seem able to confide in him without his being a threat.

What an interesting perspective.

 

 

Phoebus

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