On April 10, 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” was published, and whenever I hear anyone say that they are going to “write The Great American Novel,” I am pretty sure that this is the book that is swimming in everyone’s head. I know it is the first one I think of, and I am not alone.
When the movie was coming out with Leonardo DiCaprio, I celebrated this anniversary of the novel by becoming completely obsessed with the May premiere of the big Baz Luhrmann film version, and I began a big one-month countdown to the opening. I wasn’t sure if I could wait that long, but if Jay Gatsby could wait five years to see Daisy Fay Buchanan again, then I guessed I could wait one month for this film. Guess what? I survived.
But whether you loved or hated the Leo movie, the Redford version, or the play version that was performed in Galveston at The Grand, here are 10 great things about “The Great Gatsby” (the book, that is) that will remind you of why it is just so, well, great.
1. Best Opening Lines in a Novel: “In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in the world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”
This is great because you can also use this on your own kids, even if it isn’t really true.
2. Best First-Person Narrator: Even if you think that Nick Carraway is sort of a snob, he reels you into the novel as if you were part of a conspiracy, and you are in the thick of that excitement from the first page until the last. He is “within and without,” a role that Fitzgerald himself played as an autobiographical writer, and a role the reader feels as if he or she is playing when observing and judging his intricate narrative.
3. Best Settings: It is hard to beat the decadence of Long Island, both the grit and the glamour of New York City, the glimmers of France and Montenegro, and did you know that San Francisco is smack dab in the Midwest?
4. Best Golden Girl: Daisy Fay Buchanan has great lines like, “I’m p-paralyzed with happiness” and, “Sophisticated — God, I’m sophisticated!” and, “You want too much.” You have to figure out if she is being ironic, and Nick finds this irritating in women, so therefore, he does not trust her — or any other woman.
5. Best BFF Sidekick: Jordan Baker. I know she is morally vapid, but if it were not for her, we would have no backstory whatsoever about Daisy’s prior love for Gatsby. And she says things like, “Tom’s got some woman in New York.” If that doesn’t liven up a dinner party, I don’t know what will.
6. Best Bad Guy: Tom Buchanan, AKA “Mr. Civilization is going to pieces.” I still cannot believe that he knows the word “Nordic.” Even with all of that money, he is hard to like, and Fitzgerald had accomplished something right there given the American tendency to forgive anything and everything in those who have money.
7. Best Original Symbols: Even if you have not read a lick of “The Great Gatsby,” you might have heard of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, or the huge advertorial eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg… (NOTE: If you are in my 1330 university English class, and you have heard of these things from anyone called Cliff or Spark, I do not want to know about it.)
8. Most Excruciating Film Versions: Robert Redford wouldn’t even go to the premiere of his 1974 film version with Mia Farrow, and I could hardly watch Mira Sorvino playing Louisville belle Daisy Fay in the A & E miniseries version. It is a hard novel to put on the screen because so much of it is in Nick Carraway’s head. I love Leonardo DiCaprio, just not so much in this film: too many accents, too much screaming in the Plaza Hotel scene and too many lines that were not from the novel. But if you turn the sound to mute, he was perfect!
9. Best Moral Dilemmas: Love or Rules? Forgetting the past, or changing it? Marriage or adultery? Learning the bond business or fast-tracking to bootlegging? Goodness, the roaring twenties were not quiet for a reason, and this novel helps us figure out why.
10. Best Closing Lines of a Novel: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I sure wish I had written that line. But Fitzgerald did, and it is great every single time.
This is The Great American Novel, and the best part is that, for right now, it still is.
This article was written by Dr. Doni M. Wilson of HBU’s department of English and Modern Languages. To learn more about Dr. Wilson’s classes and HBU’s English program, click here!