“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” -Nick Carraway The Great Gatsby
It is Classics Wednesday over here at Causeway Lit, and today I’ll be reviewing The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I know, I know, this book has been talked to death. Why do we talk about this book so much? Why do we teach it to our high school American Literature classes? It is considered a “great American novel,” but is it? And was America really great then? Let’s reflect. In America during the 1920s, stocks were soaring (until 1929) liquor was banned (making the back yard bootlegged stuff pretty affordable) and women were breaking the traditional mold, cutting off their hair and showing more skin. Oh, they also started voting– kind of a big deal. So yeah, it sounds pretty great as long as we don’t mention *cough* racism or *cough* The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
With everything going on in the 1920s, Fitzgerald decided to write about gangsters, in particular Gatsby, who is drawn to the fast life of crime to buy enough “things” to impress Daisy Buchanan. As we know, in the end Daisy stays with Tom, kills her husband’s mistress, and then doesn’t even bother to show up at Gatsby’s funeral when he is bumped off in a murder/suicide. She’s such a flat tire. Or is she? You see, so many people love to blame Daisy for this whole charade. Daisy enables Tom to cheat. It’s Daisy’s fault Gatsby dies. It’s Daisy’s fault that Myrtle dies. (Okay, so maybe that is her fault.) But I see Daisy in a much different light.
First of all, Gatsby is delusional (bear with me). He buys a mansion across the bay from the Buchanan’s so he can look at Daisy’s house and stare at the green light at the end of her dock like a
total stalker man head over heels in love . But who is Gatsby even in love with? The Daisy from five years ago was a different woman, and he should have known that because she married Tom, even after reading Gatsby’s letter. Then he decides to throw massive parties in the off chance she might show up to one. While great for the local economy, it’s not exactly a plan that works out until Nick gets involved. He spent countless dollars on her and doesn’t even bother to respect the fact that she is married with a kid. That leads me to my next point.
Daisy wears white pretty much the entire novel, signifying purity. Nothing eludes to the fact that Daisy has ever cheated on Tom, regardless of his “sprees,” until Gatsby comes into the picture. She doesn’t have a picture-perfect marriage to Tom, and despite
my the reader’s hatred towards him, she does love him. The part that no one seems to talk about is the fact that Daisy has a kid! When Gatsby meets the Buchanan’s daughter, he is the perfect idiot, looking at her in surprise as if it didn’t occur to him she existed. Does Daisy think Gatsby would be a good stepfather? Probably not. That is, if Tom even let Daisy run off with his kid in the first place (not likely). Sorry, but as a fellow mother I would never leave my children for anything. No man, no money, no possessions could ever take me away from my kids. Kudos to you, Daisy. Pammy plays a very small role in the story but Fitzgerald wrote her in for a reason. In the end, yes, Daisy stays with Tom as to not taint her family’s name (and the Buchanan name) by divorcing her husband and marrying a “new money” gangster, but she also stays with Tom to keep her family together, and that is commendable. Tom is a jerk, we all know that, but he does promise that he will treat her better from then on. Long story short, I really don’t think everything is Daisy’s fault. I mean, she’s a careless murderer, but also a woman of her times, just trying to be a good wife and mother. We can’t blame her for that. Maybe Gatsby should have preyed on someone else. Someone… single?
So what makes this novel “American?” Well, we’ve got enormously rich people controlling everyone’s life, a delusional man who preys on a married woman, gun violence, domestic violence, and a racist white man. All the while, Nick and Gatsby are trying to achieve some distant American dream that will never happen for them because they aren’t apart of the 1%. Sounds spot on to me. This novel was published 94 years ago and we are still seeing the same issues plaguing America. Nick says you can’t repeat the past. Gatsby begs to differ. Looking at the past and times today, have we progressed? Are we beating against that current?
Food for thought.
Thanks for hanging, old sport. Join me next week for a review of the novel This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. Read along and join the fun!
Book Cover: Goodreads
Featured images: Pixabay