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What’s So Great About The Great Gatsby

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Winona chapter.

“All I kept thinking about, over and over, was ‘you can’t live forever; you can’t live forever.” Thus summarizing the entire theme of this novel, if you think deeply enough. This was the roaring twenties, and this quote exemplifies the great flaw of all the characters in this novel, which is that they are surrounded by a bubble of dreamlike, naive immortality.  

Once called the “Great American Novel of the 20th Century,” The Great Gatsby has gone down in history as one of the most famous books with an unforgettable character, Jay Gatsby. We all have probably read this short novel at some point in our academic lives and although many see it as overrated, and even boring, The Great Gatsby still lives in the hearts and minds of the ones who enjoy it- even 96 years after it was published. Read at a surface level, it can be intensely bland and may seem like just another tragic love story. However, when you really think about and analyze the themes of this book, it coincides with the Great American Dream, the pursuit of ultimate happiness, and longing for a goal or dream that is just out of reach.

The plot is fairly simple, yet tragic—the novel is set in the 1920’s jazz age of New York, which is filled to the brim with parties, alcohol, wild new trends, fashions, and new ways of thinking. The book is centered on a character named Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire who throws extravagant parties and lives a luxurious lifestyle. This is all to impress and win over his love interest from the past, Daisy, who is now married and lives on the other end of the bay. The story is told by Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s new friend and confidant from the Midwest. He is shocked by the buzzing culture of New York and relishes in it beside Gatsby. He tells the story of Gatsby’s lifelong pursuit of her, and how he fails to realize he can’t reinvent the past for himself, or anyone. Nick also details the extremely lavish parties Gatsby throws, who all comes, and the crazy events which take place in his mansion. However, Nick realizes how superficial the whole setup is with Gatsby and the other wealthy inhabitants of West Egg, the peninsula along the North Shore of Long Island. There are themes of superficiality, yearning, and loss all throughout the book. 

Scott Fitzgerald incorporates his heightened romantic imagination into this story, both in his language and syntax itself and also in the main storyline. His choice of words illuminate the emotion of the characters and help the booking flow together beautifully. Sure, some of the old words may be hard to understand for some readers of today, but again, this book was written almost a hundred years ago. Oh, how the English language has evolved.

Many of us know a “Jay Gatsby” or know of the type. Characterized by a need to reinvent themselves, flourish their riches and extravagance, all in order to win the ultimate prize, whatever that means to them. Internally lonely, longing not for the material wealth which they already hold, but love from ones who are just out of reach. These characters hold an illusion, a view of something that is long gone. They try to reinvent the past, hold on to it in hopes of reaching the green light at the end of the dock. However, in reality, that green light disappeared along with all the aspects of their past—it is simply not there. Others around Jay Gatsby can grasp that concept. They live in the present, where they race and rush to experience the ultimate pleasure of living with no restraint. However, they too, are stuck in their own little worlds. They are so fabulously wealthy they fail to see the hardships of reality and how other people live. 

Ultimately, this book takes you on a journey right along with Nick Carraway, and you observe how these people live around you. It transports you into an era where there were no limits, no restraints, rollercoasters of emotion, and the craziness of nightlife. In the end, you realize that these people who seem to have everything really have nothing. 

Yes, maybe it is depressing. Yes, maybe it all seems very superficial, but maybe that’s the point of the book. Maybe it is exactly what F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted you to see for yourself.