The Great Gatsby Analysis Part 1 (Chapters 1-5)

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Here it is, The Great Gatsby analysis that I promised in this postThe Great Gatsby is often taught in schools but since I attended high school in the Philippines, it wasn’t part of our required reading. I haven’t taken it as part of a college course either. So all analysis here is just my own reading and interpretation of the book. I could be wrong so don’t take my word as bible or jack it for a school paper. Well, you could but you do so at your own risk.

This post is going to focus on chapters 1-5. I’m going to avoid making references to the end of the novel or any events beyond chapter 5, even though I know what’s going to happen since I’ve read it many times before and seen the movie a lot of times (it’s always on HBO!).

“Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn…This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament” – it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No – Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men” (6-7)

The end of this paragraph is one of the most famous lines in the book and deservedly so because it is really, truly beautifully written. “What foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams…” *shivers*

Right. So, the novel opens from the point of view of Nick Carraway. What do we find out about Nick? He’s from the midwest, a mid to upper middle class guy with a good education (Yale), he served in the war, came back and decided to move out East to try his hand at selling bonds. The events of the story happened in the past and Nick is telling it to us from his own recollections, or rather, he’s writing the story down. I know there’s a literary term for this type of storytelling but I can’t remember what it is. Bad English major. Anyways, Nick was in New York but something happened that made him move back to the midwest. Whatever that something is, it has to do with Gatsby. Because of Fitzgerald’s captivating prose, Gatsby is an immediately intriguing figure within the first couple pages of the book, even though it’ll take awhile for us to meet him properly.

First we have to get to know Nick and Daisy and Tom Buchanan. One of the common critiques or complaints of the novel is that the characters are unlikable. Daisy? Shallow and selfish. Tom? Adulterer and all around asshole. Jordan Baker? She’s kind of just meh. She seems more like a device to get Daisy and Gatsby together than an actual character, despite the fact that she and Nick date for a little while. The only likable character is Gatsby himself, who is shown with layer and depth and, ultimately, tragedy. Sorry, I said I wouldn’t reference the ending. But come on? Who doesn’t know the novel ends in tragedy? Nick even implies it himself in the paragraph above. Anyway, even Gatsby’s likability is debatable since some people really don’t. So why read a novel full of characters that we can’t care about?

Well, if you’re in high school and it’s part of your required reading, the answer is: because you have to. Haha. But no really, there’s a reason why English teachers assign this book and I swear it’s not just to torture readers. I’ll pose this question: If you were a character in a novel, would you be likable to everyone that reads the book? I know I wouldn’t be. I’m not Daisy; I don’t ignore my child, cheat on my husband (though to be fair, he deserves it), I don’t let other people take the fall for wrong things that I do, and consistently run away from problems. But I’m not perfect either. I probably wouldn’t like myself very much if I were in a novel. People are good in some ways and flawed in others, that’s what makes them human and that’s what makes them interesting. Literature (like life) is full of people that you can hate and love, sometimes even at the same time.

“‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'” (21)

That’s Daisy’s most famous line and she’s talking about her daughter. You might think “what kind of mother wants her daughter to grow up to be a beautiful fool?” But, for her time period, Daisy actually has a point. Daisy wants her daughter to go through life the way that Daisy, herself, goes through life: carelessly and free of responsibility. The easiest way to do that? Marry rich. How do you surrender your life to parties and superficiality? Empty your mind. Does doing this free you from pain and heartache? Clearly not, if we’re going by Daisy. But to her, it’s better to live a miserable life as a rich person than an unknown life as a poor person. Daisy is a lot of things, but she’s not stupid. She knows very well what she’s doing. And that does make her more reprehensible as a person, but also interesting. She’d rather have her perfect little rich world rather than take a chance at actual real happiness. Personally, I can’t hate Daisy. I just feel sorry for her.

Let’s talk about color. Fitzgerald utilizes certain colors a lot in The Great Gatsby. Green, yellow, white, and blue. Of course there’s the famous green light.

“I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn’t call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone – he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and as far as I was from I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward – and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.”

The more I read this book, the more in awe I am of the sheer beauty of Fitzgerald’s prose. The unquiet darkness…

Anyways, we see Gatsby literally reaching towards the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. The green light represents Gatsby’s dream. On a larger scale, it can also be interpreted as being the American Dream. The green light sits there, within sight but out of reach. Getting to that green light is Gatsby’s entire purpose in life.

We also see an almost overwhelming amount of yellow. Gatsby’s car is yellow, two girls at Gatsby’s party wear yellow dresses, the band at the party is playing yellow cocktail music…How can cocktail music be yellow? Fitzgerald has a tendency to put color to things that you normally wouldn’t describe in colors but it works. Obviously, yellow is associated with gold and represents wealth.

Another dominant color is white. Gatsby’s front steps are white, the younger Daisy that Gatsby fell in love with is associated a lot with white. White represents purity and innocence.

Gray is used a lot as well and so is blue. Fitzgerald fills his prose with all these vivid colors and images.

And then there’s Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. The eyes of God watching over the valley of ashes. I’ll talk about this more in my next post when I discuss the end of the book.

Gatsby and Daisy meet again in this part of the book. I really like this encounter and I think it was portrayed perfectly in the movie. They really brought the scene to life, particularly when Gatsby loses his nerve and leaves the house then comes back soaking wet. Gatsby’s so precious.

“Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.” (101)

Is Daisy a manic pixie dream girl? I can argue yes. Gatsby seems to be more in love with the idea of her than with Daisy herself. In five years he’s built up this perfect picture of her in his mind, preserved in a time where she wasn’t married to Tom. But it’s more like Gatsby wants to return to the person that he was in that time when he loved Daisy. I think this is where I identify with Gatsby the most. I spent all of my teen years and most of my early twenties obsessed with my past, desperate to return to it. But, as Nick tells Gatsby “You can’t repeat the past.” And Gatsby replies: “Why of course you can!” Gatsby’s refusal to let go of the past ultimately becomes his undoing.

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