I finished reading The Great Gatsby, the classic American novel– that portrays life in the roaring twenties or 1920’s in New York, America. I found the book to be a good read. It centres around the wealthy aspirations and materialism of Americans in the 1920’s.
The focus of the novel is the character of James Gatz or Gatsby who remains a mystery throughout till the end where we finally construct the whole picture. He is young man, raised in poverty who falls in love with Daisy Buchanan and her world. Influenced by the seductive and “wealthy” charm of Daisy, he aspires to rise in status and become wealthy so that he can have Daisy. He earns his wealth by bootlegging and trading in stolen securities. He buys a mansion near Daisy and throws extravagant parties every weekend in order to attract her to one of these parties, display his rise with pomp and splendour and “lure” her back into his arms.
The narrator Nick sympathizes with Gatsby and is in awe of his romantic passion and what he calls an “extraordinary gift for hope.” Gatsby is a man in a dream. He waits five years, giving pointless party after party in the hope that Daisy will turn up. The green light visible from the Buchanan’s house to his mansion is a sign of Daisy’s presence, of the longing he feels. He successfully contrived with Nick to finally meet Daisy. It was as if a fairy angel had alighted on him. He re-valued all his possessions according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. In their first meeting, Daisy weeps and remarks that she has never seen such beautiful shirts in her life. This remark is not only a representation of the materialistic mindset but also that Gatsby’s way of accumulating wealth and luring Daisy was perhaps the successful approach to her heart. The strongest example of Gatsby’s love comes into play when he is ready to take the blame for the murder committed by Daisy.
On one hand, all this may represent a clean simple blinding love and unwavering devotion on the part of Gatsby. This is almost heroic. But on the other hand, his heroism is tainted by his narcissism. He idealizes himself and Daisy to an extreme degree. This is manifested in his belief that he is a “son of god” and thereby entitled to be exploitative in any way. It annoyed me again and again, throughout the story in small bits and pieces. Nick Carraway tries hard to present Gatsby as a good old fellow blinded and devoted in love. But is he, really?
When he first met Daisy, “He took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously… He had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same stratum as herself.” Gatsby‘s exploitiveness derives in part from “extreme self-centeredness”, or in Fitzgerald‘s phrase, “overwhelming self-absorption.” Gatsby‘s sense of entitlement is a major force in his character. Gatsby‘s entitlement justifies his grandiosity as well as his exploitiveness. The most extreme expression of his grandiosity has to do with his parentage, which “his imagination had never really accepted.” Instead, he “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that.”
Further, Gatsby never once feels any moral conflict about urging Daisy to marry him – it is as if he believes that she belongs to him, as if she is another one of those fancy luxurious possessions in his house that he must have. Narcissistic people feel entitled to have what they want just because they want it.
The second biggest portrayal of his egotism is putting Tom down. He not only wants to win Daisy but he also wants to assert that Daisy always loved him and never loved Tom. He demanded nothing less of Daisy than the complete obliteration of the last four years that she spent with Tom. He demanded of Daisy to assert that the last four years meant nothing and that she always loved gatsby. This demand of his was detestable, self-centered and highly narcissistic. If he had settled for lesser, if he had really understood Daisy, if he was able to stoop down from his grandiose stature of perfection that he saw himself as– he would have accepted that Daisy loved Tom once but more importantly, loved Gatsby now. In trying to reach his own grandiose projections of himself and idealizations of Daisy, he entirely loses what is most important to him. He does not want to know the real Daisy– or accept that she had moved past him four years ago. The real Daisy has a daughter and loved Tom. But to him, she is “high in a white palace the king‘s daughter, the golden girl” who belongs to him. When Daisy does accept her love for Tom, Gatsby discredits it by describing it as “just personal.” A poor sense of reality and pitiable grandiosity, Gatsby is nothing but a despicable hollow character.
This is further substantiated when he feels no compunction whatsoever in lying to Daisy about his dealings and trade. Daisy, herself, is a flimsy hollow character swayed by cowardice and a search for immediate comforts. Atleast this is how she is portrayed. She weeps over Gatsby’s grandiose display of shirts but leaves the scene of crime without a goodbye to Gatsby; the real Daisy has “impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire.” Perhaps this self-centeredness, selfishness, incapacity for intimacy and impersonality are the qualities that Gatsby is unknowingly attracted to in Daisy.
This novel, like Gatsby presents “a surface which very often is charming and engaging,” but beneath the surface is a working of some profoundly dishonest, ruthless, manipulative and narcissistic elements.
Overall I’d rate this as a good read: 3.5/5.