The ‘greatness’ of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has been a consistent topic of discussion, since it’s publication in 1925. The novel is intensely associated with the fame of Fitzgerald as a novelist, and undoubtedly has set a benchmark for his contemporaries of that time. Very few novels in the history of American literature has achieved the acceptance that The Great Gatsby enjoys, till date.
The novel opens with the narrative of Nick Carraway, who fought in the war, but now shifts to West Egg to sell bonds. Set in the background of America in 1920s, the novel becomes a document of its time. The protagonist of Nick’s story, Jay Gatsby- lavishly rich- not only in monetary possession but also in power. He describes the weekly parties that Gatsby hosts at his humongous mansion, where the entire town was welcome. In spite of the large gatherings, Gatsby remains a mystery and his guests only know a few rumours about him; he’s aloof and waits for a certain someone- Daisy Buchanan, a woman of charm and “the voice… full of money.”
Fitzgerald effortlessly incorporates intense themes of class consciousness, jazz culture of the time, moral values of the aristocrats, and a conflict between the old and new money- the clash between hereditary inheritance of wealth and self-made wealth into every chapter of the book. Tom and Daisy Buchanan represent the aristocratic strata of the society, where Tom requires Daisy to be his beautiful and sophisticated wife but continues his affair with the wife of a car mechanic. Jordan Baker, the renowned golf player who uses unfair means to win her games. These three characters represent the corruption deeply rooted in the ‘Old Money’; the characters are immoral, lack sympathy and are careless enough to retreat back to their delicious leisure “and let other people clean up the mess they had made…”
Gatsby, however is sculpted in stark contrast with these characters. He is determined on his goals, has an awareness of the capability of himself, and is morally sound. His determination makes him an example of the ‘rags to riches’ notion- a characteristic trait common with America itself. Gatsby understands and is extremely committed to love- to the point where it becomes his obsession to turn back time and undo the last five years of his life. He is so engrossed in his vision of the ideal situations, that he almost negates time while chasing his dream.
Gatsby’s greatness has been questioned quite often. One school of thought believes he was the way he has been portrayed by Nick; while the other doubts that Nick’s judgement of Gatsby is clouded due to his sheer admiration for him. The use meta-narrative, where the novel becomes one of Nick Carraway’s creative piece and not Fitzgerald’s, is prominently one of the key factor which contributes to the mass appeal of the book. The fact that the novel is composed in retrospect of Nick’s experience in America and his own contribution in the story as a character who is somewhat closely associated with each character adds to the beauty that the text holds. Fitzgerald’s use of language and vivid description of the locale is a personal reason of admiration;
“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”
The ending of The Great Gatsby, or say, Gatsby the great is a conscious snap back at reality from the illusory nature of a dream. The characters continue living the way they did, but the only one to be stuck in the grey line differentiating dream and reality is Gatsby. But amidst his failure, he manages to remain great, to Nick, as well as the readers; and even though the text is based on the backdrop of 1920s, it remains universal, even today.
This article is contributed by Ayantika Dhar.