Literary Greats Always Cheat at Golf

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Great Gatsy by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I remember reading this book in my high school English class, but when I think back on my curricula, I realize I must have read it on my own in the summer between my sophomore and junior year. Fitzgerald's titular character isn't the only one recreating a more attractive past for himself. At sixteen I was madly in love with Jordan Baker, legendary, literary golf cheater. Fitzgerald always gives Jordan lines that make her seem shallow, but which, nevertheless, reveal depth in her character. At the first party attended by our narrator Nick, Jordan tells him, "I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy."

Oh that Jordan.

But Jordan's bon mot reflects the central theme of the book, which is that what appears shallow is deep, and what appears deep is shallow. At the same time, what appears as corruption and excess is what contains the truest, most honorable, most intimate parts of humanity.

Jordan is right to say what she does; at a small party everyone talks at once, to impress, at a small party we all lean in, pair off, and have a chance to actually learn something about someone. Gatsby himself is a glossy self invented man who has made his wealth by the manipulation of gambling, but he is always truest to his invention of himself, (noted by Nick, our honest narrator).

Gatsby spends a lifetime becoming the man he is, both out of ambition and to atone for what he feels was the unfair way he treated Daisy Fay-- he lured her into bed under the pretenses that he was already a rich man of importance, but he remains forever faithful and true to her. She is his singleminded object, whom he pursues quietly, and gently throughout the book. Everything he does is for her: all his famous parties are thrown in the hopes that she will attend, everything in his house, Nick tells us, was placed there to come alive in Daisy's eyes. Yet Gatsby is not pushy or insistent about his love. When he knows he has lost her, he gives in with grace to his defeat.

We are led, early on, to see Daisy's marriage to football star Tom as sad pathetic shell, but after the car accident, Nick finally sees that marital intimacy may not compare with Gatsby's love and may, in fact, have little to do with actual love, but it is still stronger than a flash of emotion, which is, essentially, what Daisy had for Gatsby after those 5 years of his absence.

It's also easy to see Daisy as shallow and greedy, but she's not. When Gatsby leaves her to serve abroad she marries Tom, it is suggested (by Jordan) in large part for his wealth. But as far as Daisy knew at the time, Gatsby was the richer of the two. Gatsby wants Daisy to tell him, to tell Tom, that she had only ever loved Gatsby or that she had always loved him more, but she can't do it. This isn't a failure or shallowness. Gatsby left Daisy, and she moved on. Her continuing feelings for him reflect the abrupt end of their affair and the problems she has in her marriage with Tom, she isn't the careless adulteress some would portray her as.

Carefulness and carelessness are two qualities constantly referenced in this book. Jordan prides herself on her carelessness in driving, to the annoyance of her boyfriend, Nick, but it is she who must point out to Nick how his emotional "honest" carelessness hurts her. Nick is similarly critical of the Buchanans, "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..."

The book, most obviously, is about the American Dream, and how sad and disappointing that dream ends up being, even when it seems to have come true. This is why the book is more appealing to me now, at 24 than at sixteen (although I loved it then too). Things have already disappointed me. Love has disappointed me, ambition has disappointed me, and I have disappointed myself. In the same way, successes have disappointed me. I have had the experience now of getting what I want and having it not be enough, the experience of having love not be enough, the experience of knowing that I tried my hardest to be the person I wanted to be, and at the end of it, the person I created seemed to be it, but there was something unsatisfying and false about it.

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year receds before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter-- to-morrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther ... And one fine morning--
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back carelessly into the past."

This book tells us how stuck we can be, smashed between our past which has happened, and our future which is fully determined by who we have already become. The flaw of the Gatsby characters is their inflexibility in self-perception and their absolutism. It is this which locks them into famous but miserable parties in which everyone ends up unhappy, drinking and smoking incessantly, and the inability of anyone to love the person they're supposed to love or to make anything productive or pleasant out of the loves they've fallen into.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Statement of Purpose

After five years of keeping a livejournal, I've grown a little tired of just writing about my life here on the internet, so I thought I'd try my hand at something with a little more focus this time around. I'm also in graduate school right now, so it's nice to give my mind a rest from that for awhile.

What you'll see here are my reactions to the books I love, hate, or just have been reading lately. I read quite a bit, everything from the trashiest to the classiest. The title of my blog comes from the book The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which one of the main characters cheats at golf. This isn't a snob thing, I also love books like Valley of the Dolls and the Babysitters Club.

Anyway, I hope anyone exists to read this, and if they do, I hope you enjoy it.