Families that Discuss together, stay together

Families that Discuss together, stay together
Families that Discuss together, stay together

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Great Gatsby---Ramblings...

1.    Why is this book a classic?
At the beginning of the book, my question was sincere with yearning, however, by the time I finished the first chapter, I was irritated that I was even reading the book because of its obvious lack of substance and I asked the same question above judgmentally and indignantly. Over the next few chapters I was pushing myself with repugnance to read it to get it over with only to get a grade—I was certainly not enjoying it or thinking that it had anything to do with me and I still could not fathom why, on earth, it could be a classic! At last I finished, but was taken aback by Nick’s observation about the green light and the rising of early America and the comparison that he made with the green light Gatsby adored from across the bay. I finally began to make a connection. What was the connection? Both signified a search for the American Dream. Additionally, I was interested in Nick’s geographical movement “back” to the Midwest and how it connects with the idea that the founding generations of America had traveled west to freedom. Nick, too, was travelling back to a land more free than the east—I surmised that the Midwest was a symbol of moral virtue and liberty of the New World, whereas the east was a symbol of opulence, greed, power and social class struggle; the same thing one would find in 17th and 18th Century Europe. In conclusion, I found the answer to why The Great Gatsby is a classic—It is a classic because it exhibits the unending struggle for freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Only can these two things be real if they are founded upon the Judo-Christian principles. Poor Gatsby and his crowd sought their happiness through money and greed. Nick realized that happiness comes only through living ethically and morally. Another reason I would call this book a classic is that, just as in any classic, you get to see yourself as others see you and see others as they see themselves.

2.    Compare The American Dream of our Founders and the new American Dream of the 1920’s.
The American dream is abundantly boundless with opportunity and prosperity. In contrast, Fitzgerald’s novel exposes the “new” American dream with all its limitations. What is the difference? The first was founded upon the rock of God, freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness, the kind of happiness that comes when the heart, mind and hand that produces it follows the godly and ethical standard laid out in the Bible. The second is founded upon the sandy shores of money and fame and false perception of the past. Gatsby wants to recreate the past by returning to that glorious month he spent with Daisy. He does not realize that by basing his decisions built on a false foundation, he lives in a befuddled quandary. “[Gatsby’s] life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was....”[1] The new American Dream requires us to reinvent ourselves, live in the past and glory in all the selfishness to acquire everything in order to obtain our goals and yet, we never end up with the goal nor the happiness we thought we sought.

Fitzgerald was a genius to retell parabolically our American Founding gone awry. In the same way that James Gatz wanted to reinvent himself by raising his social status with money and greed, our pilgrim fathers set out to reinvent their lives by leaving their fathers and their governments to establish a new order founded upon God and liberty. In the end, the pilgrims paved the way for the American Dream of prosperity, abundance and happiness. For the reinvented Jay Gatsby, whose foundation was a false rendition of the American Dream based on money and loose morals, he and his crowd ultimately destroyed the path of prosperity, abundance and happiness. Fitzgerald exposes the limitations of the American Dream when the foundation is built upon immorality and bondage. Otherwise, the American Dream founded upon high morals and liberty brings the greatest happiness and prosperity.
Glaring amidst the splendor and material extravagance, came the decline of the American Dream in the 1920’s. The subtle tweaking of the once true foundation turned to a love of money and fame that superseded the noble and moral goals. Lavish parties, alcohol, greed, and the quest for pleasure caused the degeneration of the once good social and moral values portrayed by America’s founding fathers.
Compare this idea to Lenin’s regime to reinvent government based on a proletarian uprising (actually a total control of the masses) or later, Hitler’s regime to reinvent humans based on particular characteristics of his own prejudice. One can say that all happy nations are alike, each unhappy nation is unhappy in its own way.”[2] And the unhappiness comes simply because life is based on any of the millions of untrue and unethical principles, whereas, happiness is always and only based on and a few simple principles—the laws of God (morals, ethics and liberty).

Nick Carraway embodies the conscience of the novel. He leaves Minnesota in the Midwest to pursue the bond business in the east and gets entangled with Jay Gatsby, Tom and Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker, the characters who embody the arrogance, greed and gaudy wealth of the day. Although not perfect, Nick believes “Every one 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.”[3] The dishonesty of Jordan; the greed and lust of Gatsby and the carelessness of Tom and Daisy disgust him greatly. In the end of the novel, he is alone, as all the others have either fallen to their deaths or the depths of apathy, complacency or moral degeneration. Nick turns westward and back home to his quiet, humble circumstance where it seems that the morals and morale are held higher and idyllic.
Nick’s westward movement impressed me and caused me to think of the 17th Century pilgrims and later the 18th Century pioneers who both sought political and religious rest, in addition to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Is the West where we will always go for those precious commodities? Are the ideals, morals and ethics in the West? Ancient History began in the East and moved westward first to the Greeks, then the Romans, then throughout all of Western Europe, finally to the New World in the west. It seems there is a pattern, but where do we go from here now that the new west would be the East? Are we at the end of time now that we have no more “wests” to go to for our higher knowledge? I do not know, but it appears that until we know, we ought to follow Nick in a literary sense and continue our studies in the great books of the Western World with an eye to seeking the ideals, the high morals and the careful measure of our own characters that we might remember that the road to happiness lies only in these 

Study Questions:
  1.      Jay wants to reinvent himself. How is this an analogy of the culture of the 1920’s?
  2.      How does this book treat the problems of social classes?
  3.      Compare the symbolism of the two instances of “green lights”. Once when Gatsby looks over across the bay at Daisy’s mansion and then at the end when Nick is pondering on the other green light. What is the significance of each and the difference between them?
  4.      What are the limitations to the American Dream and what poses those limitations? Are the limitations removed if the American Dream is founded upon certain principles?

[1] The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, (Scribner:2004), Chapter 6, page 110.
[2] Based on Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, First line of the book. Original line goes like this, “All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”
[3] The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, (Scribner:2004), Chapter 3, page 59.

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