Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Great Gatsby discussion: Chapters 7 - 9

This post is to cover the last three chapters of The Great Gatsby. I’ll start another thread by Friday to post your thoughts on the book as a whole.

We arrive at the culmination of the book with infidelities uncovered and murders committed. The author ties it all together as his commentary on the state of the American dream, and exploring the role of the past on our futures.

Use the comments for your thoughts on this section of the book.

Pictures from the Fitzgerald's scrapbooks, available at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Centenary site

1 comment:

Dwight said...

A few thoughts--feel free to add your own or disagree with these...

One of the things about this section that I liked was the “bookending” of earlier events—that is having a parallel or contrasting event to something that happened earlier. One example is Nick leaving Gatsby at the end of Chapter 7. It recalls Nick’s first view of Gatsby at the end of Chapter 1, stretching his arms out toward the green light. As Nick leaves Daisy & Tom's house, Gatsby is on the lawn, longing for her but further away than ever from having her.

Chapter 7 also shows Daisy, Tom and Gatsby in an unflattering light, uncovering them for their true selves. Daisy and Tom come off the worse to me: Daisy since she is such a weak person, easily controlled, and Tom for being a bully and playing the victim card even though he cheats on Daisy. What happened in Chicago so that they had to leave town is never revealed, but based on the scene at the Plaza Hotel you can bet it wasn’t pretty. Gatsby is more complex, with his shady dealings underscoring his character.

Gatsby tells of his initial love for Daisy in Chapter 8, highlighting his perverse view/goal over the years. Fitzgerald is a little heavy-handed in his tying Gatsby’s pursuit of money and Daisy to the American dream of the 1920’s. Material things and possessions, once a means to the dream, have become a perverted dream unto itself. Not only does it represent the death of the American dream (to Fitzgerald), but brings emptiness and death as well. This is one of the reasons I think Fitzgerald missed the mark with the book, which I’ll try and articulate in the ‘whole book’ post.

And just in case we missed the American dream part, Fitzgerald hammers it home again in the last chapter as Nick imagines what the original explorers thought as they discovered the New World. Nick also muses on the inability of those from the Midwest and West to adapt to the “Eastern life,” the glittering shallow life overpowering the boring, value-driven person. Although few of the people he describes as being from the Midwest fall into that category.

The strength of this section for me, however, is the exploration into the significance of the past in the present. The human ability to transform and achieve goals still does not free us from the past. The book ends with one of literature’s most famous metaphors: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” which encapsulates how past, present and future (as well as dreams) are intertwined. I found myself enthralled by the language despite having disagreements with the author’s message.