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What’s so Great About Gatsby, Old Sport?

It’s been a Gatsby weekend. I finally saw the movie, which I loved. I reread the book for the third time, which I continue to love even more. I even made a promise to address everyone as “Old Sport” all weekend in honor of Mr. Gatsby.

Rereading the book has been a delight. Rarely does a book make me laugh in giddy joy simply by the arrangement of words on a page. I’ve written about Gatsby quite often — strange for a blog about going vegan — and as I read the book again I was trying to think what it is that makes me love this book so. In school I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but now I have to agree with many that those eight chapters and 180 pages are among the finest ever written.

Wouldn’t you agree, old sport? I’ll share some of my favorite passages.

Daisy’s voice

The Great Gatsby, Daisy, Carey Mulligan-It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen,’ a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.

-The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain. I had to follow the sound of it for a moment, up an down, with my ear alone, before any words came through.

-Daisy began to sing with the music in a husky, rhythmic whisper, bringing out a meaning in each word that it had never had before and would never have again. When the melody rose, her voice broke up sweetly, following it, in a way contralto voices have, and each change tipped out a little of her warm human magic upon the air.

-That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money — that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl. . . .

Gatsby

-He smiled understandingly — much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four of five times in life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instance, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible  prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

-If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promise of life, as if he related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. 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.

The Parties

Great Gatsby Party Scene (Which are absurd, wild and full of characters)

-Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, becoming for a sharp, joyous moment the center of the group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing lights.

Great Gatsby Party-One of the girls in yellow was playing the piano, and beside her stood a tall, red-haired young lady from a famous chorus, engaged in song. She had drunk a quantity of champagne, and during the course of her song she had decided, ineptly, that everything was very, very sad — she was not only singing, she was weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song she filled it with gasping, broken sobs, and then took up the lyric again in a quavering soprano. The tears coursed down her cheeks — not freely, however, for when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an inky color, and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that she sing the notes on her face, whereupon she threw up her hands, sank into a chair, and went off into a deep vinous sleep.

The Dialogue

“In two weeks it’ll be the longest day in the year. . . . Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day of the year and miss it.”
**
“I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
**
Great Gatsby Yellow Car“You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all.”

“I am careful.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”

“Suppose you meet someone just as careless as yourself.”

“I hope I never will,” she answered. “I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.”

The Green Light

-. . . he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward — and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far way, that might have been the end of a dock.

 

-Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.

-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.

-And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. It’s vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning —

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Other favorites

-Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

Great Gatsby Tom and Daisy Buchanan

-I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others–young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

-They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to 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. . . .

*****

I could go on and on — the way all the themes are connected, the way it speaks to the American Dream, the way the rich drive through the Valley of Ashes with all their sins being observed by the giant eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg — but all that aside, the words are just fantastic and poetic.

I’ve skipped over many great things, but if you want them all, maybe you should read if yourself. Or if you’ve already read it, read it again. I know I plan to.

4 Comments

  1. I haven’t read this since hogh school, and I only remember once scene — the room with the windows open, with curtains and girls’ dresses fluttering in the breeze. A strong visual image, but I don’t recall much else. I think I’ll have to re-read it now that you’ve made me curious about what I missed.

  2. I read “The Great Gatsby” at age 16, when I was just becoming a serious student of literature (I had just been floored by “Grapes of Wrath”). My reaction then was that the book had no soul. Perhaps I was so critical of the characters in the story that I failed to appreciate the quality of the story itself.

    Your review, Old Sport, makes me think I should give it another shot.

    • I think that’s one of the themes. At one point Nick tells Gatsby something like, “You’re better than the whole rotten bunch put together.” His last words to Gatsby actually. And in the end he leaves the beautiful city, disgusted with everything about it.

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