Boats Against the Current: The Great Gatsby

Banned_Great_Gatsby

Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!

Warning: This post may contain politically incorrect language and expletives. They exist for the purpose of example and edification; they are not intended to disparage or defame any particular person, race, creed, color, or religion. If you feel you may be offended by such language, stop reading now. You have been warned.

SPOILERS AHEAD

From the Back Cover

Here is a novel, glamorous, ironical, compassionate – a marvelous fusion into unity of the curious incongruities of the life of the period – which reveals a hero like no other – one who could live at no other time and in no other place. But he will live as a character, we surmise, as long as the memory of any reader lasts.

It is the story of this Jay Gatsby who came so mysteriously to West Egg, of his sumptuous entertainments, and of his love for Daisy Buchanan – a story that ranges from pure lyrical beauty to sheer brutal realism, and is infused with a sense of the strangeness of human circumstance in a heedless universe.

It is a magical, living book, blended of irony, romance, and mysticism.

~ 1953 Scribner Edition

Why the Book was Banned

1. Language

2. Sexual references

3. Hedonism

4. Racism

Synopsis

Meet our main cast: Nick (the narrator), Daisy and Tom Buchanan (Nick’s cousins), Jordan Baker (Nick’s love interest), and Jay Gatsby (a mysterious, eccentric individual)

Tom introduces Nick to Myrtle, his mistress; Nick is unimpressed.

Gatsby throws open-invitation parties; Nick meets both Gatsby and Jordan at one of these affairs. Gatsby recounts some history: he had been in love with Daisy before the war (WWI) and lost her to Tom. Now, he wants her back and desires Nick’s help.

The plan works, an affair ensues. Everything is fine until Tom meets Gatsby, becomes suspicious, and starts researching his background. (Hint: Tom knows everything).

Eventually, the truth comes out and everyone parts ways in foul moods. Daisy accidentally kills Myrtle, Tom tells her husband, George, that Gatsby is to blame. George commits first-degree murder and then suicide. Daisy and Tom leave; Nick ends it with Jordan and arranges Gatsby’s funeral.

The book ends with an invective against nostalgia.

Here, have an infographic:

the-great-gatsby-character-map_514d045268c55
Photo Source: http://visual.ly/great-gatsby-character-map
I’d really like this as a poster…

My Thoughts

Fitzgerald packed a variety of themes into such a short book, i find it difficult to choose just a few to write about. Therefore, I picked three; two were at random, one was not. No prizes for guessing which one I purposefully chose.

First, in the Jazz Age, wealth and class went hand-in-hand. Gatsby tries to change his class by changing his wealth; people of a different era might call him nouveau riche. However, Gatsby never fully assimilates into the class he desires. Despite his wealth and lavish expenditures, Gatsby never becomes “one of them.” This begs the question: can America be a classless society? Even today, media pundits talk of “class division.” If we are to believe Fitzgerald, not only is a classless America a myth, but so is the American Dream. Gatsby’s life evidences that no matter what wealth one obtains, others will still judge him by his past. Taken to the extreme, any attempt to change class results in tragedy. Lotto winners, anyone?

Second, “only fools fall in love,” and Gatsby is the greatest fool of all. Other characters possess tolerance, infatuation, perhaps even affection, but only Gatsby is actually in love – and look how it ended for him. In this, Gatsby resembles Romeo and Juliet much more than The Sun Also Rises.

Third, history defines every character in Gatsby. Some, like Gatsby, try to hide or rewrite it. Others, like the Buchanans, base their way of life on it. Despite living in such a progressive era, everyone actually lives in the past (some despite their best intentions). It’s one thing to remember the past; it’s another to live in the past. No good comes from living in the past. Remembering the past helps us learn, grow, progress. Living in the past stunts growth and slows progress. (Trust me: I teach history for a living). Ultimately, living in the past results in insurmountable frustration. As Nick says in the last line of Gatsby:

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

boats_against_the_current

Sisyphus Gatsby by m.e.g
Photo Credit: http://www.themediares.com
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4 thoughts on “Boats Against the Current: The Great Gatsby

  1. I love your post, well thought and said. Excellent post for banned book week.I like seeing the old cover and back blurb. And your analysis of some of the themes is right on point. I read this book when I was child, my mom watched me check the book out of the library because the librarian said I needed her permission. My dad asked me what I thought of the book and we had a nice discussion. To this day I am baffled why anyone would 1) ban any book – first amendment rights (writes!) and 2) why ban this book? Again, I like your post. Thank you.
    http://reviewbooksandmore.com/2013/09/22/first-amendment-rights-writes-banned-book-week/

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  2. I read this in high school. I loved it. We all had writing projects to do and for me I chose to examine the American Dream in that book. Sadly, I can’t remember exactly what angle I took lol. I must be getting old. I think it was just about the American Dream but that in this instance it didn’t work out – at least not as Gatsby would have wanted it to. Anyway, Fitzgerald certainly poses some wonderful questions that I think are just as pertinent now and possibly because like those characters, we haven’t learned from the past and here we are repeating much of it. Sad day.

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