The ‘Gatsby’ Platitudes

The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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One

So, I finished “The Great Gatsby,” again, and I was telling someone that I was struck by how much of it I remembered. I don’t think I had read it since high school, yet several times I was overwhelmed by almost ghostly memories of the plot. Things like the first big party and the drunk in the library who was remarking about how the books were real; the meeting with Gatsby’s lawyer and his nose; their encountering [spoiler! deleted] toward the end.

I was glad I re-read it, though it was much sadder than I remembered. Totally sad. Some of the conversations are so sad they are hilarious. The first time you meet Daisy, and she is all bored and asking, “What do people do?” I mean, that is a special kind of wealthy person.

It really stirred something in me. My overall reaction to it is that I think it somehow colored my reaction to mundane high school things. It might have been a kind of warped toolbox for me to see and assess things that happened. Nothing like car accidents and gay trysts. But, for instance, just how a Gatsby party seems to become a model for how parties are supposed to be judged.

The book raises expectations, I think, in life. In thinking. Not for how things actually are, but for the meanings they could possess. I mean, before you read Gatsby a green light at the end of a dock was just a green light. After Gatsby, it’s a whole thing. You start wondering why he was wearing a green shirt in a flashback, or why a witness first identified [spoiler! deleted] as being green.

Two

It is interesting that there are two, or maybe three, scenes in the novel that seem to describe incidents of gay sex, and there is not a lot written about it online. Well, that isn’t true. There are quite a lot of people who are asking, in various Web discussion groups, if the narrator (Nick Carraway) is gay, and quite a few college essay farms offering articles on “Sexuality in Gatsby.”

But it doesn’t come off (from an Internet search) like Mr. Carraway is out of the closet, so to speak. It still hits you like a matzoh ball in your lap when you read, for instance, in Chapter 2:

Taking my hat from the chandelier I followed.
“Come to lunch some day,” he suggested, as we groaned down in the elevator.
“Where?” “Anywhere.”
“Keep your hands off the lever,” snapped the elevator boy.
“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. McKee with dignity, “I didn’t know I was touching it.”
“All right,” I agreed, “I’ll be glad to.”
. . . I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.
“Beauty and the Beast . . . Loneliness . . . Old Grocery Horse . . .
Brook’n Bridge . . . .”

I realize that is ambiguous. But I don’t it means that I am a pervert that “gay sex” is the interpretation I am going with. Consider this even odder chunk from Chapter 7:

My commutation ticket came back to me with a dark stain from his hand.
That any one should care in this heat whose flushed lips he kissed, whose head made damp the pajama pocket over his heart!

Does it matter? I think it does, if only because “Gatsby” is more properly seen as a love triangle.

My reading of the book starts with this premise: Nick Carraway, and not the more dashing eponymous character, is the protagonist of the novel. …My other premise is less obvious, but no more difficult to argue: Nick is a) gay and b) in love with Gatsby.

via Nick Carraway is gay and in love with Gatsby – Salon.com.

Three

The book begins with a kind of platitude. The narrator, Mr. Carraway, is recalling a piece of advice his father gave him.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

It is fitting because Mr. Fitzgerald basically spends the balance of the novel holding forth with similar bits of advice and observations.

The most famous is perhaps Mr. Gatsby’s incredulous reply to Mr. Carraway: “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” That hopefulness, a theme of sorts, is expressed again in the novel’s probably famous closing line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 

But there are others. The range of insight is fairly broad, the effects uneven. Sometimes Mr. Fitzgerald is profound, other times bemusing. And at least once, in Chapter 6, he seems to be making fun of himself:

I was reminded of something — an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever.

I made a game of noting the others that Mr. Fitzgerald was able to give voice to:

  • Reach excellence at 21 and “everything afterward savors of anti-climax.” Chapter 1.
  • “Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry.” Chapter 5.
  • “…most affectations conceal something eventually, even though they don’t in the beginning.” Chapter 3.
  • “Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues.” Chapter 3.
  • “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.” Chapter 4.
  • “It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people. You can hold your tongue and, moreover, you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don’t see or care.” Chapter 4.
  • “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.” Chapter 4.
  • “It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment.” Chapter 6.
  • “…show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead. After that my own rule is to let everything alone.” Chapter 9. 

 

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