Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Reflections: The Great Gatsby

In feverish anticipation of the movie, I read this acclaimed book. I know it sounds shallow to read a book just to prepare for a movie-adaption, but it’s so fitting given the main themes of the book. With “Love is Blindness” ringing in my ears, the trailer playing in my mind’s eyes, the reading experience was way more dramatic and sweeping than the book itself inspires.
Jay Gatsby is a mysterious millionaire shrouded in enigma. He yearns and cultivates a dream so fantastical, so pure, so unreal that it represents the collective American dream of the 1920s to pursue the “unreal”. In the age-old clash of idealism against cruel reality, loyalty against selfishness, the dream crumbles and emphasizes the beginning of hedonism and moral deterioration of a materialistic world of excesses.  

Almost everybody has been edified on all the various social and moral symbols pervading the novel. The sudden wealth and economic boom after the first World War saw America burgeoning with so much materialism that it loosened the social morals of the middle and upper social-strata. The American dream turned into something wholly greedy and selfish. With the swarm of such ambitions and vapid pleasure seeking, the disparity between the social classes widened, and everyone wanted to imbue and realize the dream at any cost. When such ambitions consume one, nobler feelings compete with the brasher ones, and the pursuit is romanticized as something one dearly wishes it represents than what it really is. This is the core of the whirlwind drama that tells the familiar story of the careless rich and the trampled poor. These themes are familiar enough for us today because of the innumerable books and movies that have been cloned and inspired from an original piece such as this. Reading the book from that perspective helps to appreciate the author's foresight and insight.

The deeply buried and half-dead romantic in me still gets swept and swayed by stories and characters that idealize and romanticize romanticism just for the sake of it. Jay Gatsby is an impressionable character whose personality is an endearing set of contradictions that make him an aggressive, mindlessly ambitious idealist. All the characters are memorable for the deft ways in which they are given their personalities with so few words. The author is extremely economical with his words (my perpetual aspiration). Everything is expressed with incisive sarcasm, insight, and beauty. Sometimes, the brevity and incisiveness result in a few vague phrases. The other downside to the writing was the sudden shift between scenes, the impulsive (sometimes flighty) dialogues, and the rapid rush to the end. It all seems too sudden to take in, too unbelievable to let the weight sink in. You need some time to let the book touch you. This makes the book constantly alternate between being a satire and a serious drama. Perhaps the writing itself represents all the contradiction and moral conflict of that era.

As I mentioned, the movie and its dreamy lead may have had a strong bias in my reading experience! But I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it.  

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