Who Hates Gatsby?

By Gatsby, I mean the Great One. You know, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. The Great Gatsby. So here we are. I read The Great Gatsby junior year in school. I even had the good fortune of an English teacher who chose to show us the 1974 movie version. My opinion of the book was not particularly high, mostly because it was AP English exam year, I had to write about a dozen essays about the book, and then the movie kind of killed it for me. Everyone was very sweaty, overly shiny with money and clothes, and the partying and excess was sickening. I later described the experience as eating too much cake frosting.

In all honesty, I forgot about our dear friends bestowed upon us by Fitzgerald until several entrances in my life were made. First, I discovered an online store that sold T-shirts (and other things) with old book covers on them (FYI: Out of Print Clothing, and no, they definitely are not compensating me with this bonus advertisement) and then I was published in my university’s new literary magazine that was named after good old Eckleburg. Then I found out the movie was going to be released this summer and I was sort of swept up in the hype.

There are a lot of factors about the movie and the book that I would love to discuss. I truly enjoyed the movie this time around, and I think Baz Luhrmann did a fantastic job (and am happy to discuss with anyone who agrees or disagrees) but what I’m all about is something my friend brought up after he watched the new version. It reminded him why he disliked the book.

See, he does not identify with any of the characters. He asked, “Am I supposed to feel sorry for any of the characters? For Gatsby, who is a thief and Tom, who certainly sets the double standard?” Thinking about it, he is certainly right. When you look at that whole set of characters, they are appalling brats. Even Gatsby, who may have started out poor but I think was born mentally entitled, acts as if he has the right to own what he wants.

But the thing about The Great Gatsby is not the characters themselves; instead, the issue at play is the American Dream. Bear with me, I am going to try avoiding sounding like my English teacher’s lesson. However, a main theme in the book is that these people have everything they could want; specifically, they have money, which is often the key to most people’s American Dream.  Even with that money, they still cannot get things right! Just like everyone else, they are not gods but humans who made some pretty dark mistakes in the past that lead to major consequences that money cannot help them solve.

Even then, the book is not solely about money and the American Dream. When my friend said he did not identify with any of the characters, I was taken aback because my experience of the film was different. I was like Nick, the observer, and I was like Gatsby, the hopeful. I certainly hope my similar qualities don’t make my ending similar to theirs. Yet, the identification I felt was strong. I feel that all of those characters are relatable if you get past their spoiled ways. I think that makes the book more than a commentary on American society or a well-written story. I also think that Luhrmann’s retelling of Gatsby captured everything about the book. What’s more, part of what he captures is exactly what I felt when I saw the 1974 version: the excitement and fervor of Gatsby life in the twenties, and the absolute revulsion that the lifestyle causes. The fact that Luhrmann managed to make it feel like eating a large, decadent meal that satisfies too fully and makes you ready to throw up at the same time is what made this movie great.

Perhaps I am incorrect, and my friend more so, but I’m up for the discussion. Anyone else? Please?

11 thoughts on “Who Hates Gatsby?”

  1. I was a snot about Gatsby when I read it in high school because a friend of our family English professor mentioned that it gets taught a lot in high schools because it’s “easy to teach,” which I interpreted to mean like, too simple (and I do feel like you’re being whacked over the head with symbolism in some cases). But I think my teacher had us do cool things with the book–like we had to write continuations, and I was so into mine that I actually can’t remember which details I invented and which are real. (Does Nick have a fiance in the book? Or did I invent her? I was pretty symbol-heavy in my continuation, if you’re curious. There was a mailbox.) Now I feel like easy to teach is a really valuable category of classic literature, and I LOVE some of the language in GG, so I’ve come around.

  2. Sigh. Dunno if I’ve got any newness to add to these comments, other than what’s already there. I, too, was made to read Gatsby, in the summer BEFORE my junior year (I was taking an AP Language and Comp class). IT TOOK ME NEARLY THE WHOLE SUMMER to read it and do the project he wanted me to do, to the point where my parents told me if I didn’t finish it I wouldn’t be allowed to go to the anime convention my cousin and I had planned on. I don’t have anything against Fitzgerald, but I much prefer his shorter works. They’re MUCH easier to digest. It wasn’t even the spoiled, rich snobbishness of the characters that threw me; it was simply that if Fitz wanted to write an unrequited love story, he could have done it… well, better.

  3. There was a time I was bugged by not being able to like any of the characters in a book. Recently, if the characters are well written and the world building is well done, I can be okay with it.
    The Great Gatsby is -to me- much more about world building, a setting of time, than the people. And the world building is shiny and pretty and I will call it fluffy and it will be mine.

  4. Oh SNAP, I do.

    Read the book a few times, haven’t seen the movie(s) yet. I wrote about Gatsby for a Thing Theory class in grad school, and while I appreciate the novel on a deeper level now, I can’t get past my initial teenage-brain reaction of “ugggghhhh make it stop.” It was like reading The Member of the Wedding mixed into The Bell Jar (but with jazz and bootleg booze, woop!) in terms of making me depressed (and/or book throwin’ mad).

    Fitzgerald= a guy I just can’t agree with, somehow.

    I’m still going to see the new film, tho’.

    1. Gosh I need to reread the book. I haven’t touched it since junior year and so I’m still a little fuzzy. I do know that on the deeper level part I appreciated it, but I can’t remember such strong reactions to it when I read it. It makes me wonder if I even read it, except for the fact that I know I did because I really do not have much feeling at all in my memory banks there. What made you dislike it so much? And sooo see the new film. I don’t know, maybe I don’t know movies, but I loved it.

      1. I think a lot of it is the world view– it seems like Fitzgerald hates everything about his characters and their lives So Much. It’s easier to take in the shorter works.

        I dunno. It’s tricky sorting out why I dislike it. A big part of it is how nasty he is about/to the women. (Maybe it’s like reading something from Flannery O’Connor, but instead of some empathy/wry love/understanding behind the brutal caricatures, it’s just “ew, women are vile, look.”) Part of it is “HEY HERE IS MY SYMBOLISM” smacking me in the face all the time.

        Part of it is probably that I knew someone who lurrrved the gold-hatted lover epigraph like it was serious/truly genius advice. I was like… but that doesn’t work and then the main character DIES, aaarrrrrrgle.

  5. I haven’t seen the new film yet (sadly), but I want to. But I don’t think that Gatsby is Fitzgerald’s best work. I think it captures some of the disdain Fitzgerald had for the lifestyle of the 1920s and the sweeping changes occurring and how everyone got wrapped up in it or couldn’t adjust. Fitzgerald also seems to like to write about how money can ruin people and their lives; The Beautiful and Damned and Tender is the Night both have these themes in them, as does Gatsby. He seemed to be a decent person, though, so I don’t think the money and the pursuit of Daisy, his dream, ruined him as a person, but it certainly led him to an early death.

    1. First off, I do encourage you to see it. I’ve seen it twice now, and I still feel it was worth my money to see. Both times. As for his books, you know, I’ve been meaning to read his other works because I haven’t. The Great Gatsby remains my only Fitzgerald and I am definitely curious about his stuff. I still don’t entirely find Gatsby a decent person. He was still breaking the law to make his fortune, and he truly wanted that fortune because he wanted to be rich, before he even met Daisy. He truly just wanted to be rich, which I find a major foible, that he didn’t grow out of it.I understand growing up poor in America, and then into the twenties as fostering a desire to be rich, because well, that was a goal of society anyway, but still. That’s probably all just personal bias though. We agree though, that early death is definitely what happened as a result of the money and Daisy pursuit. To quote The Master from the Doctor Who episode I watched today, “It’s always the women.” (obviously kidding. :) )

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