Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to Understand The Great Gatsby

You begin reading this book for the first time when you are in high school, and you feel it is the most romantic book you've ever read. Perhaps you will read this book over and over again, as I did, with age. Each time you notice new things, such as subtle but deep cruelties.
This is the story of a poor boy, Gatsby, who falls in love with a rich girl, Daisy. Gatsby decides that he must build his fortune to be worthy of her, and he asks her to wait, but she doesn't. One day, upon learning that Daisy is married, Gatsby builds the most magnificent house in the neighborhood, with the back of the house situated directly across Daisy's house, separated only by the sea. He builds a long jetty in his backyard, and every night at the exact same hour, he walks toward the end of the jetty so that he can watch the lights of Daisy's house turn on, every single night.

Gatsby wants to reconnect with Daisy. One way he tries to do so is to throw lavish parties every Saturday. Everybody can come, no invitations are needed. Gatsby hopes that one day Daisy will wander into one of his parties, and they will meet and fall in love again.
Gatsby describes Daisy's voice as "full of money". In three words he describes not only her economic status, but the culture of her family and breed, their ways, what they value, what separates them from everybody else, including Gatsby. Still, Gatsby hopes that money will bridge the gap. He forgets that this breed values old families and sniff at the new rich. Daisy is married to Tom Buchanan and being the rich people they are, they do very little with their lives aside from seeking entertainment. and a trail of blood that can result from a life of overindulgence and too much play and too little accountability. As the story unravels, Tom, an unfaithful husband, sometimes hurts Daisy. But he is even more abusive to his mistress, a common woman named Myrtle. Tom likes "men's clubs" but knows these clubs are common. He is embarrassed and upset when Gatsby sees him in one.

Gatsby meanwhile restarts his love affair with Daisy. One day they all go to a hotel -- Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Nick (a writer and cousin of Daisy) and Jordan (a wealthy professional golfer, and friend of Tom and Daisy). At one point Gatsby tells Tom that he and Daisy are in love. Tom makes Daisy choose. When she hesitates, Tom, in a show of bravado, forces Daisy to go home in the  car with Gatsby. As they are driving, Myrtle recognizes the car. Thinking it's Tom, she runs to the middle of the road. The car runs over her and doesn't pause or stop. It simply keeps on going. We later learn that Daisy was driving the car. However, Gatsby chooses to take the blame for Myrtle's death.

Knowing this, Nick nonetheless tells Myrtle's husband that Gatsby was driving the car. Meanwhile, Gatsby waits outside Daisy's house and later, when he goes home, he stays on the jetty to watch the lights in her house go on. Daisy's cousin, Nick Carroway, tells Gatsby, "They are careless people." He may as well said they are self absorbed and insensitive and thoughtless of others, even those they have killed. 
Gatsby waits for days, believing that Daisy will call him, but she doesn't. One day Myrtle's husband enters Gatsby's house and shoots and kills him.
It is implied that with Myrtle and Gatsby dead, Daisy and Tom can start afresh. And they do, living life as they always have, creating messes and leaving others to take the blame, knowing they can count on still others to clean up the messes caused by their indiscretions. They also have the money to "run away" from their messes by traveling through Europe living as they do. They feel entitled, rather than have a sense of obligation to others.