The first stop on my literary itinerary is West Egg, Long Island. Hopefully, this will ring a bell for many readers. West Egg is the home of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby. The first book I travelled through in the fall of 2012 was The Great Gatsby. I would spend time giving a plot summary, but considering how popular it is, I don’t think I need to.
This was not my first time reading my way through West Egg and New York during the Roaring Twenties. I first picked up this novel for a A.P. English and fell in love. What is it about The Great Gatsby that keeps readers coming back?
I think the draw is different for every reader. Personally, I was delighted by Fitzgerald’s style of writing. His words fit together perfectly. One example I remember distinctly is from Nick’s description of Tom and Daisy’s lifestyle. He says, “Why they came East I don’t know. They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together.” I have a friend who told me this particular passage reminded him of Douglas Adams. I agreed. It has a quirky elegance to it.
This first time I worked through the novel, I let my self soak up the language and the story. It seemed to me a tragic romance. The rereading I did in the fall of 2012 was a different matter. I enjoyed the plot and characterization just as much the second time, but the reading was an assignment for my Literary Criticism class. Our textbook used The Great Gatsby as its example novel for every type of lit crit. I believe I can confidently say that I am capable of looking at Gatsby from every angle imaginable. Feminist, Marxist, African American, Post-Colonial… You name it.
In some ways, this analytical approach caused me to lose some of the appreciation I felt for the artful writing of the book. I still think it’s wonderful. Do I want to pick it up again? Not quite yet.
Don’t misunderstand me, I highly recommend it. If you haven’t read it, you should! I won’t say you need to. I don’t think classics should be forced upon people simply because they are classics. I have friends who despise the novel, and that is up to them. But if you’re looking for a short, well-crafted novel, I suggest The Great Gatsby. Read it already? Think about taking it up again, but this time, read it through a different lens. You might be surprised at how suddenly the message will change.