The Life of Bon: April Book Club Discussion: Great Gatsby

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April Book Club Discussion: Great Gatsby


Ah, The Great Gatsby!  Possibly my favorite book of all time and you chicas voted to read it for our book club this year.  That's why I love you.  You're smart cookies.

The other day my mom asked me why I liked this book so much, and it surprised me that I couldn't really answer her.  "It's just good..." I stumbled.
"What's it about?"
"It's basically about all these really despicable people ruining their own lives and each other's lives."
I could tell I wasn't exactly selling her on it. 
"It's like the Kardashians of the 1920s."  I tried to elaborate.  I was selling it to her even less.
"Yes, but what lesson does it teach?"

And I guess that's the problem with Great Gatsby.  There is no lesson.  No moral.  No "now I want to be a better person" from the book.  Instead, the whole time you read the book you feel sort of sorry for all these pathetic characters and their pathetic lives.  It's a book full of booze, cheating, and partying.  And yet, I love it.

It's not just me, either.  America decided that this is one of our classics.  This is in our American literary canon as one of the greatest American books.  So then it has to be about more than just drinking and cheating, right?

I love Gatsby because of the way it is set up.  Early in the book Nick and Jordan have a conversation where Nick tells Jordan she's a bad driver.  Jordan says she agrees, but the thing is that everyone else will watch out for her on the road and so she'll never get in a wreck.

"And suppose you meet someone as careless as yourself?" Nick asks.
"Oh I hope I never do!  I hate careless people!" Jordan answers.

I think this is the perfect metaphor for the entire book.  The whole lot of them- Jordan, Nick, Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Myrtle- they're just the worst drivers- metaphorically speaking.  They're just living their lives, cruising around, not caring who they hit or cut off or how recklessly they drive.  I feel like the first six chapters are us just watching all of these careless drivers and holding our breath because we know that they are all going to crash at some point.  I love telling my students, "You've got six of the worst drivers on the road together.  You know at any second they are all going to come crashing into each other!  Just hold your breath and wait!"

The scene where Gatsby gets Nick to arrange a meet up for Gatsby and Daisy:  I especially love how Gatsby runs out the back door and around to the front door because he's so nervous to meet Daisy.  My students always laugh out loud at that part and there is something magical about students laughing out loud at a book.

The scene where Daisy throws all of Gatsby's shirts and cries, "They're such beautiful shirts!"  I know it's just a little, short scene, but I feel like it symbolizes everything Daisy wanted with Gatsby and lost.  The shirts!  The shirts!  There are beautiful shirts!  As if somehow because Gatsby has such a beautiful wardrobe everything can be returned to what it once was.  This shows Daisy's unsatisfiable lust for money, but also her desire to be with Gatsby.

The flashback to the day before Daisy marries Tom:  She's crying in the bathtub, grasping onto a letter from Gatsby, the letter getting totally soaking wet.  She throws away the $300,000 pearls and yells, "Tell them Daisy's changed her mind!  Daisy's changed her mind!"  This is the one time where I think you can see the complexity of Daisy's situation.  She loves both men, perhaps Gatsby more, but feels such intense societal pressures.  It's not always just about "love"- there are so many other things that play into the equation.  I have to admit, though, I do hate her for going through with it all.

The scene in the hotel where Tom finally comes out with it and asks "What kind of a row are you trying to cause?" to Gatsby.  I love Tom's character because he's so bold and outright- just straight up asks Gatsby what is going on.  And Gatsby's reaction is so classic, "She never loved you!" .  The entire battle that ensues over who Daisy loves more is priceless.

The scene where Myrtle is hit by the car, Gatsby killed by Wilson and Wilson killed by himself.  Who could ask for a more dramatic ending?!?  I try to hype my students up for the ending as much as possible, "YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE HOW THIS THING ENDS!"

One thing that makes The Great Gatsby so unique is that it has such an unusual narrator.  The book isn't third person- it's first person because Nick is telling it.  Yet it almost feels like third person because Nick isn't directly involved in anything that happens.  It almost feels like some stalker who follows these guys around and writes down everything that happens to them.

I always ask my students how they feel about Nick- if he should be more involved.  He says one of his "stengths" is that he doesn't pass judgment.  But should he pass judgment?  Should he try to stop the madness, try to help the people, or is it okay that he just watches all the tragedies unfold?

What absolutely amazes me about this book is that I hate every single character in it, and yet absolutely adore the book.  As far as book recipes go, having every character be despicable is a sure fire way to have a failure of a book.  Yet somehow I love them for my hatred for them?   Makes no sense.  The only one I kind of like is Gatsby because he's just so dang desperate for Daisy that you have to feel sorry for him.

Everytime I read the book I try to figure out who I hate the most.  Nick for never intervening?  Jordan for being a dumb blonde idiot?  Tom for cheating on Daisy in the first place?  Daisy for letting both Tom and Gatsby fall in love with her?  Gatsby for never leaving his past?

I think my answer is Daisy.  But I'll change my mind soon, I'm sure.  I hate Daisy because she is responsible for Gatsby's death- because she leads him on (twice!) when it's pretty clear she never has much intention of marrying him.  I hate her because she is the one who hits and kills Myrtle but she doesn't fess up to it, causing Gatsby's death.  She's so selfish and spoiled and refuses to take responsibility for her actions, resulting in the death of one of my favorite characters ever.  Oh Gatsby, Old Sport, you didn't deserve it.

The great tragedy of the book is what happens to the "Great Gatsby".  Throughout the entirety of the book there is a suspcious air about him and you never really know if you should trust him or fear him.  My heart breaks when I realize how much he must have loved Daisy, how much he held on to that dream, even after she had been married five years.  The fact that he moves in to the mansion across the lake and watches her constantly is just awesome.  The line from the book that I think captures Gatsby's character perfectly is, "You can't repeat the past?  Why, of course you can!"  Gatsby lives his entire life trying to recapture what he once had with Daisy and it results in his demise.  Gatsby IS The American Dream.  The constant chasing for something bigger, better than you currently have.  The end of the book states, "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year receds 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--"

One of the saddest parts of the book for me is how Daisy and Tom just go on with their lives after all the tragedies. As if none of it ever happened. These careless people living their careless lives. They leave all the mess behind and just kind of move on. In the last pages of the book Nick runs into Tom months later and sees him living his life totally as it was before. Nick comments, "It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into 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..."

This, I believe is for two reasons.  One is the way it is written.  I don't care who you are, you can't read this book and not agree that it is absolutely beautifully written.  Fitzgerald is a master of the written world.  It didn't come naturally to him, either, the man drafted and redrafted and edited and re edited everything he wrote.  By the time we see what Fitzgerald wrote it was likely rewritten as many as six times.  I admire that about the man- his commitment to finding the perfect word, the perfect sentence.  I read so much that has been written in the past twenty years and I just think, "Lazy!  This author was so lazy!  It was just all about making a buck!"  (The third Hunger Games.  The book was all about money, not about the story whatsoever) Fitzgerald's writing is totally cleaned up and every part of the story comes together. seemingly effortlessly to leave you feeling completely satisfied.

The second reason I believe this is a classic is because of what it represents.  It represents Americans.  The American Dream.  We are a people who are never satisfied, who always want more, who can't forget the past, no matter what the cost.  This book is such an accurate description of what lies in the hearts of American culture- the desire to be rich, beautiful, and happy.  All characters are seeking these things throughout the book, but sadly, come up short.

Whew!  I talked your ear off on that one!  My apologies.  That's what happens when book club chooses my favorite book ever!

If you are having trouble knowing what to write about in your discussion of Gatsby, here are some questions to get you started:
  • Who do you hate the most in the book?  Why?
  • Why is Gatsby so focused on Daisy?  What is it about her that makes him love her so much?
  • Is Daisy's affair excusable because Tom is having an affair?  Why do people cheat and is it ever justified?
  • Why is this book an American classic?
  • Why do you think Fitzgerald chose Nick as the narrator instead of someone more directly involved in the action
  • Did you like the book?  Why or why not?
Don't forget to get involved in May's book club.  Discussion is always the last Thursday of the month, putting us at May 30.  May's book club selection is Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick.  (A full list of book selections for 2013 can be found here.)

Get reading, darlings.

P.S.  If you do a post on the book, leave the url for the post in the comments so we can all check out the other reviews.  Or just comment it up in the comment section!  Whatever floats your boat, people.  Can't wait to hear your thoughts!

P.P.S. Oh- and please copy and paste this button to your post if you write your own entry on Gatsby!



    I started reading this one, but then another book I've been waiting for, for FOREVER FINALLY came available to download through my library and I only had a week to read it. (Devil in the White City, should be finishing it tonight.) But I have read The Great Gatsby before, and once I'm done with DITWC Gatsby is next. So I'm a bit behind. Eh. Oh well. But seriously, it's all just so good.

    And I can't wait for Silver Linings Playbook. I FINALLY saw the movie over the weekend. (It randomly came back to my theatre for a week, even though the DVD comes out April 30. Weird.) But I saw it and fell in love. The book has been sitting on my iPad for awhile and I can't wait to dig in.

    1. Hurry and finish it so that you can join in on the discussion!

  2. I'm an english major and have never read this book (That I can remember) - it is on my reading list however :)

  3. I think one of my students put it best when we were reading this: "These people suck." Yes, they do suck.

    I think what is interesting though is that as Americans we are, to some degree and at some point in our lives, at least like one of them. Yuck. I hate that. But it's true. Which I think is why we hate them EVEN MORE!

    My students also laughed at Gastby's nervousness during the big "re-meet"-- but they SO get that emotion.

    As for Nick as the narrator: I like that Fitzgerald went this way, because it left most of the book's BIG ACTIONS behind closed doors, much like it is in real life. It's like how the scariest movies are the movies where you never actually see the monster because your imagination is far stronger than anything they can portray on the screen; so are the affairs and scandals in this book, right?

    My two big essay questions on the test for this book were about how this book shows the American dream, and if they believed Nick was a good narrator, specifically defending or arguing against his "strength" of not passing judgement.

    And authors today? Totally agree. Harper Lee threw the manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird out the window because she couldn't get it to say what she wanted it to say. Her editor picked it up, thankfully, and Lee worked on it for 2 more years. You can't crank a book out every year and expect it to last like these classics.

    1. I wish you still taught English. And I wish you taught English at my school. Then collaborations would actually mean something. I feel like I learn so much from you. I never thought about how all the big actions take place "off screen" so to speak- we only know as much as Nick knows. I agree that it makes us imagine so much more than may even be there.

      Love the question about Nick too. I actually think he might be one of the most complex characters in the whole book because what in the world is he doing following all these psychos around and never doing anything about it himself?!?

    2. Okay fine…I'll move to CALI with you if I must, strap my baby to my back whilst we teach, and we can collaborate away. I'm sure my husband will be okay with that, right?

      And yes, I feel like Nick is the one person who could have actually changed the story if he wanted to-- he could have manipulated people, or just let people in on some truths, that would have in turn changed everything. So why doesn't he?! I think if you can answer that question, then you really understand the complexities of Nick.

  4. LOVE Gatsby and I am so excited they are doing a movie version! I'm currently reading it for the 4th time but it has been so long since I have picked it up I totally forgot lots of the good parts! It's great to get back into it!

    1. Wow! Four times! I'm so impressed by your dedication! And yes, I can't wait for the movie release!

  5. I teach English too and Gatsby is best. I hate the book! I hate the characters! I hate they way everyone acts! But it leads to the best conversations, most memorable classroom moments, and deepest thoughts from my students.

    I offered extra credit for my students to go to the movies with me when Gatsby comes out, they are so excited. They even made their prom theme Gatsby. I love that Fitzgerald wrote a book about terrible people that is so captivating and as applicable to life today as it was in the 1920s.

    One of my favorite parts is when Daisy cries over Gatsby's shirts too!

    So Much Sunshine

    1. I can't believe your students made the prom theme Gatsby! How sweet! I have students who told me that they ordered sweatshirts for the movie release that say "I party with Jay Gatsby". You gotta love students that are than into the book.

      I agree that the book is "awful"- but teaching it really is the best. The students get so into it and the conversations go so deep. Maybe it's easier to talk about people we hate than people we love? They really get riled up about so much that goes on in this book- much more discussion than I can get from other books.

      Where do you teach?

    2. Erica,
      The prom theme is awesome! I wish I would have coerced my students into that! :) And then I would have totally dressed like a flapper and crashed their party! Just kidding. Maybe.

      I taught this last year to Juniors, and their last day as seniors is coming up and they get to leave school at 11. They decided to spend the afternoon with me at a matinee showing of the movie! Can't wait! Should be fun….and since I'm technically not their teacher anymore, I don't have to be in charge of any transportation or permission slips! WIn, WIN!

    3. Hi girls! Yes it is so sweet that is their theme. The prom in in three weeks and I am a chaparone so I am really looking forward to my flapper dress :)

      Bon I must find out about these sweatshirts, that sounds amazing.

      I teach in Southern California in very very very North Orange County or very very very East Los Angeles County.

      Kelsey, I hope you have so much fun at the movie with your students! I love when they want to do random things that are academic-ish with me.

  6. I have to say from the moment I started reading this book back in high school, I fell in love. I feel just like you, you cannot begin to try to explain what attracts and holds you to the book. It almost seeps into your soul and speaks to you. I have read and re-read this book many times and every time I find myself falling in love with Gatsby all over. In a way, the tragedy of each character is what romances the reader and keeps them entwined to the tragic end. I always find myself angry with Daisy, thinking "You evil woman, you are the reason Gatsby is dead!" I could literally sit here for hours going over every detail of the book, but I will leave it at this is one of my favorite books of all time and I think I need to re-read again for the 15th time :)


    1. Totally agree on your thoughts towards Daisy! By the time I get to the last chapter I hate her so much I almost can't stand it!

  7. Anonymous12:16 PM

    I seriously attempted to read this book but just could not get into it at all! Excited to read Silver Linings next month though!

  8. I also like Gatsby, but I LOATHED Tender is the Night (which is surprising, considering it was supposedly Fitzgerald's best work). Have you read that one? Maybe I didn't like it just because it seemed like every other page was half in French, it seemed...

    1. I read Tender is the Night I think when I was a freshman in college and it was totally over my head. I don't think I understood a thing that was happening. I've been thinking about starting it over, but I'm not sure if I'm quite ready to embark on that journey. I'm actually very interested in "The Beautiful and the Damned." Have you read that?

  9. so i am ashamed to admit that ive never read the great gatsby... i am not sure how i escaped it in high school (isnt it usually on the reading lists?) but then again, i didnt decide i actually enjoyed reading until AFTER high school... so im thinking i should add it to my vacation reading list this summer before i see the movie. yeah?

    1. I think it's definitely the type of book that you enjoy more post high school. I think if my English teacher would have taught it well I would have liked it, but I read it on my own so I didn't know what the crap was going on.

  10. I think the book is a classic because it showcases some of our worst faults, that are seen as American stereotypes. Over-emotional women who base every choice on what they're feeling, and a population obsessed with material goods and status. Nick as a narrator is another portrayal of American stereotype...someone who isn't even personally involved, and yet look how much he knows about them. Kind of reminds me of our obsession with celebrities.

    1. LOVE your connection to our obsession with celebrities. I totally agree. I never thought about that and I'm totally stealing it to tell my students tomorrow :)

    2. Yes! The obsession with celebrities as a comparison to Nick's demeanor in the book is EXACTLY how I feel!

  11. I finally read this book earlier this year because it was on my list of books I should have read. I hated it - and not in a love/hate sort of way. Reading your review and discussion makes me think that I should have liked it, but I still pretty much hate it.
    BTW, I absolutely loved your comparison with the Kardashians. Genius!

    1. You are totally entitled to hate it! So many do! I think you either hate it or you love it.

  12. This post made me really excited to finally read The Great Gatsby. I have been looking for some good books to add to my summer reading list, and this definitely will be good. I am pretty sure I will like it. I rather enjoy books where the main characters are not always the most likable. Though I don't think I have read a book yet where all the main characters were kind of awful, but the book was well written. I recently discovered this blog, and I absolutely love reading your posts.

  13. I absolutely love this book, it's probably my second favorite ever. I've been meaning to re-read it before the movie comes out and still haven't seemed to get around to it. I'm like you, I can never explain why it's one of my favorites, but from the moment I read it I just knew it was.
    While I do love lots of newer books, my favorites have always been some of the classics. You just cant beat how well written and thought provoking they are.

  14. Anonymous4:42 PM

    I am still trying to decide how I feel about this book. When I finished it on Saturday I said: hmmmm..... and then sat there thinking about what the heck i just read. ha!

    I love the writing! and the language and how the author actually put thought into it. And I love Gatsby. I think he is intriguing and just plain cool and i love those parties and wish I could be at one!
    Hate Daisy.- I think we can all agree on that ;) But at the same time, I love a good romance and was secretly hoping that her and Gatsby would end up together even though she's a married woman. (Somehow I justify the whole cheating thing when it happens in books.)
    I think this book is great because it's a messy story and all of the characters are ridiculous and imperfect which makes it seem real.
    And it's a great book because it's making me want to read it again and again- even though I don't know if I should love it or hate it.

  15. I absolutely love this book. And I went all crazy answering your discussion questions in my blog post.


  16. This is interesting, and your mom has a great point that I didn't realize until now. Wow. Eye-opening!

  17. Almost finished but so far it's not really fantastic. I feel like the author takes away from some of his beautiful descriptions but over describing, like he had to put in every phrase he liked. The characters annoy me. I like to read to get an escape from people gossiping and acting like morons. But I'll be gla I read it because now I can har an opinion about it and know why I do or don't like it. I haven't really decide on that point yet. ??

    1. Daisy is a B.
      No one came to the funeral. That was the only part that stirred any emotion with me. :(

  18. One of my favorite pieces of literary work in almost every sense. I was an honors english student throughout high school and we went much further in depth of Gatsby than most others I knew. I think one of my least favorite characters throughout the whole of the novel would definitely have to be Daisy. All of the other characters seemed so honest and crass with their faults. Daisy on the other hand, was particularly avoiding of anything she caused harm to. But I cannot say I really liked any of the characters either way. I always admired Fitzgerald's beautiful use of the written word and I do not believe I have ever had such a clear picture of the setting and the events as I have while reading this masterpiece. The spectacled eyes I always felt were especially powerful imagery, in that we might be careless and we might destroy in secret but there is always someone watching.

  19. Did I miss something with Nick and Mr. McKee and their conversation on the elevator about going to lunch together? Sorry. Over my head. Anyone??