I have always been daunted by the prospect of picking up an eminent classic such as “Anna Karenina”, “Piere Goriot”, “Cat’s Cradle”, “The Great Gatsby” or even “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Candidly, I didn’t know a titbit about any of those books before I read them apart from their authors and the grand adulation they have received over the centuries. I could just stare at them, withering away on the shelves of my library, and speculate what they appertained to. My literature teacher often says that the only objective evidence there is on whether a book is worthwhile is time. Only half a century after its publication can a reader shrewdly take cognizance of its values and content for a book is profound solely if it is universal and able to bridge the gap between generations’ distinct perspectives and morals.
Perhaps that’s why I am overawed by all those profusely acclaimed works which have been assessed as the most significant and inherent to humanity. I guess the contingency of my failing to perceive the magnificence of the plot and all the unobtrusive intellectual and visceral notions the author has tried to convey through the mists of time simply horrifies me. The high expectations and the dread are too heavy a burden to carry on an odyssey into the unknown lands of metaphors, epithets and glimpses into the human soul. Fortunately, though, once you surmount the first couple of pages the glamour and grandeur that infallibly accompany every prominent work of art are debunked. As any other book in the whole wide world – it is just a book and it encapsulates the same amount of potential to turn out extraordinary and rank among your favourites. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most legendary novel -“The Great Gatsby”, is by no means an exception.
The story is told in hindsight by Nick Carraway who has just moved back to the tranquil West after a pretty turbulent stay in Long Island about which you would learn everything if you would just dare to read the book. Nick wants to start a life on his own and get into the bond business which purportedly was a lucrative endeavour in the Roaring Twenties. No sooner had he settled down at his “weather-beaten cardboard bungalow at eighty a month,” than he is swept up in the excitement and dynamism of the rumours circulating around his affluent neighbour.
The notorious Gatsby comes over as a pretentious wealthy person who throws vain parties and then cautiously averts his guests. Rumour has it he has made his fortune off bootlegging and other under the counter business. This is all hearsay, though. As Tom Buchanan puts it “Don’t believe everything you hear”. Nick, however, ignores all the gossip and gets to know Gatsby devoid of any presumptions and judgments. His unique and special approach to people, which he has inherited from his father, makes him the perfect character to recount the events that transpired in the summer of 1922 objectively.
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
Nevertheless, Gatsby’s behavior and idiosyncrasies are unfathomable and suspicious. He also has that irksome habit of calling everyone “old sport” which made him look even more affected in my eyes. When Nick is first properly introduced to J. G. they hit it off instantaneously and I couldn’t help but wonder whether the latter is not feigning a bit friendliness and courtesy. After all who invites a complete stranger to a hydroplane adventure unless he has something in mind? Well, certainly not Gatsby.
Before he realizes it, Nick is caught up in Gatsby’s murky past with which he has unsuccessfully tried to do away. At first sight, it is only an unfulfilled love affair that is troubling his peace of mind. However, if it was that easy “The Great Gatsby” probably would not figure in the literary canon despite Fitzgerald’s mesmerizing writing style and the credibility of the protagonists who although may not be the most benevolent people, are real, crude, cruel humans as you and me.
What haunts all of the characters in the story is their unrealized dreams and unforgettable mistakes. Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Jay… They are constantly reminded and bothered by what could have been. The novel represents people’s obsession with aspirations outstandingly. We are all fixated on something – a desire to go study abroad, a wish to win the lottery, a hope to do things over, or the dream to write a novel. Those things are of great consequence to us, but if you take a step back, tilt your head a little, you would probably notice that in the greater scheme they are not that crucial.
“Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
That’s the feeling “The Great Gatsby” engendered in me. I saw that by focusing so much on things that might happen or might have happened I am missing the ones that are taking the place now; and if I go on with my life in the same vein, I would certainly end up disregarding what I’ve looked forward to for so long because attaining it wouldn’t be enough. An infinitesimal blemish would always spring up and mar the impeccability I have imagined and expected. I was simultaneously realizing it, and experiencing it, while reading the book.
“In two weeks it’ll be the longest day in the year… Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.”
This quote astonishingly encapsulates the vicious circle our lives are. The longest day of the year takes place every 365 days but in actuality “the watching for” and “the missing it” happen on a daily basis. We fail to appreciate the presence and the cornucopia of opportunities, gifts and advantages we have right now and we strive for more and more. We are insatiable and indefatigable in our desire to possess, to own and to conquer. Even when our bravest dreams are no longer fictional, we yearn for more.
It’s not enough. It’s never enough. And thus, we just go in circles as the contrite past and the impossible future echo maliciously in our every single move. We resemble Gatsby in so many ways – so naïve, affected, avaricious, covert and hollow.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic 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.”