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F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

A plot summary might make this sound like some sexed-up soap opera but, as is usually the case with a great book, the plot is deceptively simple and what makes the book is not the plot but how the writer handles it. And Fitzgerald handles it superbly. He had been reading Conrad while planning this work, he said in the foreword to the reprint of this work, and this can be seen with his use of Nick Carraway, a detached, Marlow-like narrator. Carraway is detached but he knows the main characters and is certainly no saint himself but seeing the events through his eyes gives us the dream-like quality that makes this novel stand out so much.

The story is about James Gantz, a farm boy from North Dakota. He joins the army and becomes a lieutenant, when he meets the glamorous Daisy Fay. He falls in love with her. However, he is called up to France and, when he returns, she has married a rich Chicago boy, Tom Buchanan. He is determined to win her back and, as he sees it, the way to do this is to offer her the rich trappings that the rich Chicago boy offered her. He becomes Jay Gatsby, gangster and rich. He drives fancy cars, wears fancy clothes, has a fancy house and throws fancy parties. He almost wins Daisy back. Her husband is having an affair and Daisy is concerned not with the trappings of wealth, the appearance of wealth but with wealth itself. Of course, it goes tragically wrong.

It’s a fairly simple story and not an uncommon one. But Fitzgerald makes the Gatsby character much more than the-poor-boy-does-well-goes-after-girl person he could have been. We see Gatsby through Caraway’s eyes and, initially, we don’t see him at all. He is this remote, mysterious and fascinating character. As Gatsby rekindles his affair with Daisy, he still has this mysterious, alluring charm. Gatsby himself and his social environment mirror, of course, the heady days of the 1920s and Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age and Fitzgerald portrays this, both with a certain affection as well as a certain concern about the excesses (drink, money, sex). But this is definitely one novel you have to read and not read about.

Publishing history

First published 1925 by Scribner’s