The Secret Meaning of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Many associate “The Great Gatsby” with glamor, chic and high society hangouts, but this is just one of the wrong interpretations of the novel, which began from the moment of its first publication.

The protagonist Jay Gatsby is simply the perfect embodiment of that era or the “age of jazz”. However, a century later, this character, created by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, is still perceived by readers only as a wealthy nouveau riche and the organizer of endless parties with champagne fountains.

The Great Gatsby: The Secret Meaning of Fitzgerald's Most Controversial Novel
Scott Fitzgerald Photo Wikipedia

His name now adorns everything – from condominiums to hair wax and even luxury cologne. Now you can lie on the Gatsby couch, check into the Gatsby Hotel, and even eat a Gatsby sandwich — essentially a huge bun stuffed with meat and fries.

But who is this Jay Gatsby? The love of a luxurious and vibrant life is only part of his rather complex and extraordinary personality, but on the surface he is just a smuggled alcohol dealer, head over heels in the criminal business.

And if Gatsby embodies the so-called American Dream, then he also demonstrates the limitations of this dream. In the end, his death turns out to be as senseless as it is cruel.

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A misunderstood novel?

Misunderstanding of the essence of the novel has been part of the history of The Great Gatsby from the very beginning. Shortly after the first publication in 1925, Fitzgerald bitterly complained to his friend Edmund Wilson that “Of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, none had the slightest idea what the book was about.”

Fellow writers were very enthusiastic about the novel, but as critic Maureen Corrigan writes in her book “How The Great Gatsby Came To Be, And Why It Stands The Test Of Time”Popular critics and reviewers read it like a detective and were disappointed.

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Fitzgerald’s Last Failure – that was the headline of an article in the NewYorkWorld newspaper. The book sold slowly, and by the time of the writer’s death in 1940, even the second, very modest edition had not yet been sold out.

Fortune smiled at The Great Gatsby when the novel was chosen as a gift from the US military. By the end of World War II, almost 155,000 copies were printed in a separate edition, which immediately led to the appearance of new readers.

In the early 1950s, the popularity of the “American Dream” made the book even more in demand, and in the 1960s, The Great Gatsby became almost a cult novel.

In 1977, the word “gatsbyesque”, which means “artsy,” appeared in the dictionary, just a few years after Robert Redford starred in a film adaptation of the novel, written by Francis Ford Coppola.

In the 21st century, based on the novel, performances were staged, a musical was created and a rather controversial 2013 film by Baz Luhrmann was shot with handsome Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby.

Probably, in the future we will see even more new adaptations and interpretations, since at the beginning of 2021 the copyright for the novel expired, which allows any director to take on the adaptation or production of The Great Gatsby.

It would be great if such projects could convey to the audience the real essence of the book, as Fitzgerald wanted.

A pipe dream?

Like many people, writer Michael Ferris Smith first encountered romance in high school.

“Then I just didn’t understand him., – he admits. – It looked like the heroes were complaining about things that they really shouldn’t complain about. ”

When Michael Smith was in his twenties, he picked up the book again and began to understand the power of the novel.

“It was a very surreal reading experience for me. It seemed that every page of the novel almost spoke to me in a way that I did not expect at all “, – the writer recalls.

When he reached the scene in which Carraway suddenly remembers that he was thirty, Smith wondered what kind of person the character on whose behalf the story really was:

“It seemed to me that there was some real trauma that made him so detached, even from himself. The thought occurred to me that it would be really interesting if someone wrote the story of Nick Carraway. ”

The Great Gatsby: The Secret Meaning of Fitzgerald's Most Controversial Novel
Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby

In 2014, Michael Ferris Smith sat down to write a novel without telling his agent or editor. The novel was finished 10 months later, but Smith learned that under copyright law he would have to wait until 2021 to publish his work.

The writer points to a quote from one of Fitzgerald’s contemporaries as the key to understanding Nick Carraway:

“Ernest Hemingway says in his memoir” The Holiday That Is Always With You “that we do not trust those who did not participate in the war, and for me this was the real beginning of the story for Nick.”

Michael Ferris Smith envisions Carraway returning home to a country he does not recognize, suffering from concussion and PTSD.

For Smith, Carraway’s character is the reason Fitzgerald’s novel continues to be popular: “Maybe it’s not the champagne or dancing, but the feeling of surprise at where we are, the feeling that everything can collapse at any moment. That’s the point. “

William Caine, an expert on American literature, agrees that Carraway is critical to understanding the book: “Fitzgerald was going to write a novel in the third person, but as a result he chose Nick Carraway, who will tell the story of Jay Gatsby in the first person, and who will act as an intermediary between us and Gatsby. If you want to understand Jay Gatsby, remember that you perceive him through Nick’s very specific point of view and through Nick’s very complex relationship with Gatsby. “

Like Smith, William Caine became acquainted with the novel as a student in the 1960s. But even then, Nick Carraway received little attention.

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Kane recalls talk of symbolism, such as the legendary green light and Gatsby’s luxurious car. Such was the limited perception of the text at the time. Ironically, given that this is a novel of illusions and delusions, readers are equally delusional in terms of its perception.

William Kane re-reads the novel every two or three years, and he believes that the American Dream is undoubtedly another key theme of The Great Gatsby that continues to be misunderstood.

“Fitzgerald shows that this dream is very strong, but for most Americans it is very difficult to realize it. The dream fuels their great hopes and great desires. They put in an incredible effort, but this dream is unattainable for many, and they give up, says Kane. “One of the obstacles, according to Fitzgerald, is the rigid class boundaries that Gatsby cannot break with any money.”

By the way, the increased attention to “The Great Gatsby” is caused not only by the end of copyright. It’s just that Fitzgerald’s book is relevant to this day.

Read The Great Gatsby at 27 and you will find a novel that is different from the one you read in school. Return to the book again at 45, and it will seem completely different to you than at 27.

Photo @ossfray

This is how really great novels “work”!

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