Apr 22, 2013

The Twenties: Money, Parties, Flappers, and Gatsby

Fitzgerald and wife, Zelda
"Well, three months before I was born, my mother lost her other two children ... I think I started then to be a writer."
~F. Scott Fitzgerald

Named for his three-times removed cousin, Francis Scott Key, and his (deceased) sister, F. Scott Fitzgerald has, himself, admitted that he was born to be a writer. He and his wife, the legendary Zelda Fitzgerald, well-known for her lifestyle during the twenties, were married shortly after his first novel, This Side of Paradise, became one of the most read novels of 1920. After living out the Roaring Twenties in Europe, along with his friend, Ernest Hemingway, and his wife, Fitzgerald made any of his books about his wife and their life together. Fitzgerald died early, at the age of 44, from a heart attack .. probably from partying too hard. See, Fergie, a little party CAN hurt somebody!

The Great Gatsby (original cover)
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's most popular work, was released in 1925, and set in 1922, at the start of the Roaring Twenties, the time of affluence directly after World War I. The novel's historical context is taken from Fitzgerald's own life - the setting, Long Island, and the new-money, old-money discrepancies were found in the area that Fitzgerald lived.

Nick Carraway, a Yale grad, rents out a small house next to a mansion owned by the mysterious and filthy rich character of Jay Gatsby. Gatsby likes to hold parties... crazy ones. And this was before noise complaints, guys, so remember that next time you complain about your neighbors rap music being too loud. ( If ya havin' noise problems, I feel bad fo' ya son. I got 99 problems, but Jay Gatsby ain't one.) Carraway's cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom, live in the old money area across the waterfront, and they introduce him to Jordan Baker, a (girl) (cheating) golfer, whom Nick gets involved with. Tom has a mistress on the side - Myrtle, the voluptuous wife of a garage owner.

Nick eventually gets invited to one of Gatsby's parties, and they recognize each other, having served in World War I together (yet another element of Fitzgerald's life being input into the novel). Nick finds out, through Jordan, that Daisy and Gatsby had been interested in each other before the war, and that Gatsby throws these elaborate parties and owns this HUGE mansion in order for her to take notice of him. Nick invites the two to tea, and their love is rekindled. Meanwhile, Tom has become abusive and broken the nose of his mistress. (Affairs and intrigue abound.) Due to this, George, Myrtle's husband, has deduced that Myrtle is having an affair and locked her in their home. He tells Tom this when Tom stops for gas at his garage, and then Tom continues on his trek into New York City where Tom, Nick, Daisy, Jordan and Gatsby all dine at the Plaza.

The Wilson's Garage
Tom confronts Gatsby about his affair after lunch and over drinks, which leads to a huge fight, which Tom thinks he won. Daisy and Gatsby leave in Gatsby's yellow car, returning home together because Tom thinks Daisy won't be involved with Gatsby any longer. Tom, Jordan and Nick return together in Tom's car. On the way home Daisy and Gatsby hit and kill Myrtle, who ran out in the middle of the road (apparently she doesn't have as much brains as she does boobs), and there is an extremely gruesome detailing of Myrtle's right breasts being torn off and hanging onto her body as if by a few threads.

Tom and Nick come upon Myrtle's body after Daisy and Gatsby speed away, in shock. After returning home, Daisy shows herself to be self-serving and selfish by packing her and Tom's possessions and leaving town with Tom. Tom tells George before he leaves that Gatsby was the driver on the night of Myrtle's accident, which makes George think that Gatsby was the love affair that Myrtle had been seeing. Meanwhile, Gatsby tells Nick that Daisy was the driver that killed Myrtle, but that he's willing to take the blame for her sake, and refuses to flee to escape the hand of the law (or the anger of Myrtle's husband).

Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby
George, in a fit of rage, goes to Gatsby's house and finds him lounging in his prodigiously sized pool. George shoots Gatsby multiple times, killing him, then turns the gun on himself, committing suicide. Nick, Gatsby's father and his servants are the only people that attend Gatsby's funeral. Nick is disgusted by the fact that Gatsby doesn't seem to have any true friends, and turns this disgust on Tom and Jordan when he next sees them. He resolves at the end to return to the Midwest, and decides that both he and Gatsby hadn't fully acclimated to life in the East.

Each of the characters in the novel have some inclusion to a person that was involved in the life of Fitzgerald, the author, outside of the Wilsons (Myrtle & George) and Nick Carraway, which very well could've been Fitzgerald himself. Gatsby, originally James Gatz, was inspired by the life of WWI veteran Max Gerlach, an acquaintance of Fitzgerald's who also dabbled in bootlegging (an illegal activity) like Gatsby. Daisy was inspired by the memory of the first girl Fitzgerald ever fell for, Ginevra King, while her friend, Jordan, was inspired by a golfer friend of Ginevra's.

The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckelburg
Colors also play a key role in the novel, with Daisy and Jordan often being shown in white - ironically symbolizing innocence and virtue, since Daisy is playing two men for fools and Jordan is well-known for her 'fast' lifestyle and her tendency to cheat in golf matches. Gatsby's car and Jordan's hair, both alarming shades of yellow, are symbols for the fast life of the East, and eventually stand for things that Nick and Gatsby cannot live up to as Westerners. Nick has to leave Jordan, as he eventually develops distate for her and her lifestyle, and Gatsby's car is the cause of Myrtle's, and in turn, Gatsby's, deaths. The green light on the end of Gatsby's dock is mentioned throughout the book as a symbol of Gatsby's ever-present love for Daisy as well as his hope that she will return to him. The blue eyes, immortalized on the cover, of the optometrist that watches over the valley of ashes, symbolize the judgement of the moral situations that each of the characters face. The optometrist is a sort of all-seeing, but never interfering, judge - seeing each movement that the characters make, but doing nothing to stop them from heading to their own demises.

Cast of Baz Luhrmann's Gatsby (2013)
This book has been made into countless movies, analyzed in countless books, and critically acclaimed as perhaps the second greatest fiction work in the history of American novels. Among my favorite movie versions is the 1974 version starring Mia Farrow as Daisy and Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby. The final scene in this one is stunning, though a bit graphic - Gatsby's death scene is among one of the more dramatic I've seen, and Robert Redford never fails to deliver. A more recent version will be coming out shortly on May 10th, 2013 by Baz Luhrmann. This one features Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. I, for one, cannot wait to see it, and am already avidly listening to the soundtrack. All of Baz Luhrmann's movies have fantastic soundtracks, do they not? This one features Lana del Rey and Fergie in two of the best songs on the album (Young and Beautiful & A Little Party Never Hurt Nobody, respectively). Make sure to look it up, and go read the book and watch the movie for some drama, some intrigue, some death, and a lot of twenties flapper fashion.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the reminder! I gave a presentation of 'The Great Gatsby' in high-school and still remember putting aside my notes because I had got lost in them and talking freely... a great experience.


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