Among the numerous achievements of “The Great Gatsby” can be mentioned the accurate reflection of the peculiarities of time, the careful analysis of the aspirations of American people and the captivating style of writing. The article is aimed at analyzing the reasons Fitzgerald‘s novel is widely recognized as one of the greatest works of American literature.
Key words: American literature, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Роман Фрэнсиса Скотта Фицджеральда «Великий Гэтсби» считается одним из величайших произведений американской литературы. В романе отражены особенности жизни в Америке в начале XX века и стремления и идеи, охватившие американскую нацию в ту эпоху. Цель статьи — объяснить, какие достижения романа обусловили его всемирное признание.
Ключевые слова: американская литература, Великий Гэтсби, Фрэнсис Скотт Фицджеральд
Throughout the 20th century many American writers have been struggling to create a novel that would represent the nation as a whole, the people, the country and its cultural identity and rise to be a part of the magnificent collection of the jewels of national literatures. Among dozens of brilliant attempts by talented writers stands out the book that succeeded in capturing the very essence of American nation and the desperate, fantastic aspirations of its people.
First published in 1925, «The Great Gatsby» did not receive much attentionright away. It could have gone unnoticed among other seemingly similar books, or maybe people at the time were just reluctant to accept certain things about themselves the novel pointed out. In fact, it took about 20 years for the novel to be properly recognized. By that time the Second World War had raged, and turning to the cultural achievements of the years past, people found the literary gems standing out like golden nuggets through the muddy water. Now that the twenties were long over the precision in reflecting the times and tendencies was evident and astonishing, and «The Great Gatsby» finally came to gain the glorifying recognition it undoubtedly deserved.
The American nation goes down in history as a nation of self-made people. In his novel Fitzgerald thoughtfully analyses the nature of American ‘self-making’. Just as James Gatz reinvents himself as Jay Gatsby ( The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself ), the complete transformation that would allow us to match our ideal perception of ourselves and lift us to our dreams is exactly what many people throughout the human history have been desperately striving to achieve. Fitzgerald warns us against losing ourselves in this perfection pursuit, pointing out the struggles one may be confronted with while caught in their obsession with a single dream. The correlation between our dreams and reality may not be as strong as we wish it were, and the disillusionment one is likely to experience when the reality does not quite live up to the fervid passion of imagination can turn out to be destructive and devastating. He warns that the much desired transformation may not bring the satisfaction one is yearning for, failing to become a step to the brighter future and resulting in a hollow and empty loneliness just as it did in Gatsby’s case. Examining the less bright side of the concept of ‘self-making’, the author encourages us to reflect on human nature and some uniquely American traits in particular.
From the very dawn of the country, people came to the new and promising world in search of opportunity and freedom, aspiring to reach «the city upon the hill» in which the most fantastic dreams came true if you were brave and passionate enough. From the very beginning, idealizing the potential and the possibilities has been a prominent trait of the American culture. The years passed, and in the industrialized world the concept evolved into the notion of society defined by extraordinary economic mobility, the rags-to-riches dream guaranteeing that fervid commitment and hard work will inevitably lift you from the ashes to the shining flawless stars. But stars that shine high in the sky are still remote no matter for how long you strive to reach them, and Fitzgerald wonders if the dream of the nation has been a masterful illusion all along, an unreacheable, mesmerizing green light, attracting those who are constantly under the impression that their absolute ideal is almost within their reach. ( His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him ). And yet there is always something vital missing, something that would allow you to touch the charming light. Just like without Daisy at his side, nothing that Gatsby managed to attain makes any sense.
Not able to reach what is unreachable by it’s own nature, people keep pursuing it in hope that one day it will come to be real. ( Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us . It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther ... ) Stating and analyzing that everlasting pursuit that has defined and shaped the nation is one of the most notable achievements of the novel.
The events of the Great Gatsby take place in the twenties — the roaring times of change, the decade of unprecedented economic growth, new music, new money and new people, drunk with unraveling freedom, lost in the blissful ecstasy of hedonism and oblivious of the hardships to befall them in the century to come. These were the times when the class division in America became more evident than ever before. It was the time of mansions and luxury cars, over-the-top parties and dazzling celebrities, with rich people leading an exceptionally extravagant and at times immoderate lifestyle. The overall recklessness of the time inevitably affected people, their attitudes toward life, their values and beliefs ( It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…  ). No matter how unsightly some things might seem, they are the signs of time giving it its special charm. The wild whirl of life seemed to be reaching its peak, with people reluctant to accept that soon the boundless celebration might come to an end. In five years after the publication of the novel the great depression would rage across the world and the country, leaving those frivolous times behind and changing America forever. Yet trends and movements that appeared in the twenties defined the country for decades to come, remaining up to nowadays a page of the country’s history sparkling with ignorant delight. The novel captures that period so vividly as no other book has ever done, reminding with an extraordinary accuracy of the times the country was delightfully lost in a wild celebration of life and endless possibilities and managing to capture the very essence of its delightful whirl. For better or worse, it was only when those rowdy times were over that Fitzgerald’s work could truly be appreciated.
Exploring the universal themes every person can relate to is the reason the novel is recognized as a literary masterpiece all over the world. The revelations about human nature it conveys, as well as the profound observations made throughout the narration make the story capturing and compelling for people of all cultural backgrounds. Among these themes the ones that interest me the most are the theme of motivations that drive people’s actions and the reasoning or it’s absence behind the choices we make. Characters in Fitzgerald’s novel are driven mostly by the unrestrained feelings and impulses, following their passions and seldom considering the consequences their action can cause. Blinded by the idea of loving Daisy, Gatsby spends years frantically pursuing the dream of reuniting with her. Daisy is utterly confused and paralyzed by agonizing hesitation, unable to make a choice and tantalizing Gatsby with false hope. Tom, fueled by bitter revenge, almost consciously drives George Wilson to commit a murder. Invariably practical and charmingly cynical, Jordan is prepared to use any means — whether legit or not — to reach her goals. The characters are undeniably imperfect — and that is exactly what makes them human, realistic and believable. There is something capturing about human flaws and imperfections the novel explores, inspecting thoroughly the tragedies and delights that people’s lives consist of.
The style of writing is one of the most prominent reasons the novel should be read today. Fitzgerald takes the American variety of language and makes it stunningly unique, applying it to express passion and desire, subtle feelings and emotions, aspirations, dreams and ambitions, sorrow, hollowness and despair with such precision that it makes you look past words right to the very core of the ideas, concepts, characters and events. Among the numerous symbolic images are the green light — the distant and fantastic dream, the brooding eyes of Dr Eckelburg that represent the higher judgement, the striking contrast between shining mansions of the rich and the devastated valley of the ashes — the moral and social decay behind glistening wealth. Sophisticated, elegant and metaphorical, the language is yet another component that truly makes «The Great Gatsby» stand out as a masterpiece among many other novels.
Written almost one hundred years ago, the novel remains strikingly relevant today, exploring the eternal topics of one’s dreams and aspirations, the happiness we are all desperately trying to pursue, the feelings that drive us to commit extraordinary and at times bizarre deeds. Apart from universal themes it manages to capture something special and distinctive about the time period and the American nation as successfully as only a few books in the American history have managed to. And that is why I think it would be justified to say that «The Great Gatsby» is — and many would agree — The American Novel.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby. Pearson Education Ltd 2008