Lyceum — The Great Gatsby

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 eternal 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.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as author Stephen Fry puts it is perfect word for word just in terms of English. It’s regarded as one of the greatest American books ever written. Fitzgerald’s masterpiece chronicles the story of Jay Gatsby told through the lens of Nick Carraway, highlighting the dysfunctional life of the American moneyed, scrambling for a time long gone, leaving chaos and destruction in their wake and ending in (as John Green says) one of the saddest chapters in English Literature.

I read the book after the Fry comment. I had seen the movie, so I knew the plot but I was interested specifically in the writing. I wanted to test my ability to understand the subtle nuance that great authors use and appreciate the book as many critics have. The Crash Course Videos1 about the book helped flesh out my understanding of the book.

The aristocracy feasts while the poor die. Nick puts it very aptly.

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

It’s a somber book.

A key theme of the book is Gatsby’s desperation to go back to a time long past. His hope that if only he could have Daisy he could set things right. The green light being the enchanted object that symbolized Daisy, money and the American Dream. He believed that the ends would eventually justify whatever means and would absolve him of his sins. Daisy loving him was not enough, he wanted her to have never loved Tom. His insecurity was always hidden under that caviar way of talking. Gatsby is a very empathetic character and Fitzgerald summarizes why perfectly in the final line of the book.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I did not really appreciate the book until I saw the Crash Course videos. I am partly to blame for it. I was rushing through the book. Just reading and not really understanding or thinking, but I am happy that I was able to figure out the problem. Quality over Quantity. The current book I’m reading (Norwegian Woods), I’m taking all the time in the world to read. It’s not a stupid challenge2 that’s important. Yes, it’s good motivation but it’s the books and the feelings and experiences that they provide which are of paramount importance. So in that light, I’ll be re-reading the book, a slow and methodical read, taking my time.

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