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The Great Gatsby

[gats-bee]
The Great Gatsby is a novel by the American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. First published on April 10, 1925, it is set in Long Island's North Shore and New York City during the summer of 1922.

The novel chronicles an era that Fitzgerald himself dubbed the "Jazz Age." Following the shock and chaos of World War I, American society enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity during the "roaring" 1920s as the economy soared. At the same time, Prohibition, the ban on the sale and manufacture of alcohol as mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment, made millionaires out of bootleggers and led to an increase in organized crime. Although Fitzgerald, like Nick Carraway in his novel, idolized the riches and glamor of the age, he was uncomfortable with the unrestrained materialism and the lack of morality that went with it.

Although it was adapted into both a Broadway play and a Hollywood film within a year of publication, it was not popular upon initial printing, selling fewer than 25,000 copies during the remaining fifteen years of Fitzgerald's life. It was largely forgotten during the Great Depression and World War II. After its republishing in 1945 and 1953, it quickly found a wide readership and is today widely regarded as a paradigm of the Great American Novel. The Great Gatsby has become a standard text in high school and university courses on American literature in countries around the world, and is ranked second in the Modern Library's list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century.Time Magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

Writing and publication

Fitzgerald made with Gatsby a conscious departure from the compository process of his previous novels. He started planning it in June 1922, after completing his play The Vegetable, and began composing it in 1923. He ended up discarding most of a false start, some of which would resurface in the story "Absolution. Unlike his previous works, Fitzgerald intended to edit and reshape Gatsby thoroughly, believing that it held the potential to launch him toward literary acclaim.He told his editor Max Perkins that the novel was a "consciously artistic achievement" and a "purely creative work — not trashy imaginings as in my stories but the sustained imagination of a sincere and yet radiant world." He added later, during the editing process, that he felt "an enormous power in me now, more than I've ever had."

After the birth of their child, the Fitzgeralds moved to Great Neck, Long Island in October 1922, appropriating Great Neck as the setting for The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald's neighbors included such newly-wealthy New Yorkers as writer Ring Lardner, actor Lew Fields and comedian Ed Wynn. Great Neck, on the shores of Long Island Sound, sat across a bay from Manhasset Neck or Cow Neck Peninsula, which includes the communities of Port Washington, Manorhaven, Port Washington North and Sands Point, and was home to many of New York's wealthiest established families. In his novel, Great Neck became the new-money peninsula of "West Egg" and Manhasset Neck the old-money peninsula of "East Egg".

Progress on the novel was slow. In May 1924, the Fitzgeralds moved to the French Riviera, where he completed the novel. In November, he sent the draft to his publisher Perkins and his agent Harold Ober. The Fitzgeralds again relocated, this time to Rome, for the winter. Fitzgerald made revisions through the winter after Perkins informed him that the novel was too vague and Gatsby's biographical section too long. Content after a few rounds of revision, Fitzgerald returned the final batch of revised galleys in the middle of February 1925.

Original cover art

The cover of The Great Gatsby is among the most celebrated pieces of jacket art in American literature. A little-known artist named Francis Cugat was commissioned to illustrate the book while Fitzgerald was in the midst of writing it. The cover was completed before the novel, with Fitzgerald so enamored of it that he told his publisher he had "written it into" the novel.

After several initial sketches of various completeness, Cugat produced the Art Deco-style painting of a pair of eyes hovering over the bright lights of an amusement park. The woman has no nose but full and voluptuous lips. Descending from the right eye is a green tear. The irises of the eyes are a gouache, depicting a pair of reclining nudes.

Fitzgerald's remarks about incorporating the painting into the novel led to the interpretation that the eyes are reminiscent of those of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg (the novel's erstwhile proprietor of a faded commercial billboard near George Wilson's auto-repair shop) which Fitzgerald described as "blue and gigantic — their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose." Although this passage has some resemblance to the painting, a closer explanation can be found in the description of Daisy Buchanan as the "girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs".

Title

The last piece was the title. Fitzgerald was ambivalent, shifting among Gatsby, Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires, Trimalchio, Trimalchio in West Egg, On the Road to West Egg, Gold-Hatted Gatsby, and The High-Bouncing Lover. Initially, he preferred Trimalchio, after the crude parvenu in Petronius's Satyricon. Unlike Fitzgerald's reticent agonist, Trimalchio actively participated in the audacious and libidinous orgies that he hosted. That Fitzgerald refers to Gatsby by the proposed title just once in the entire novel shows it a misnomer. As Tony Tanner observes, there are subtle similarities between the two.

On November 7, 1924, Fitzgerald wrote decisively to Perkins — "I have now decided to stick to the title I put on the book [...] Trimalchio in West Egg" — but was eventually persuaded that the reference was too obscure and that people would not be able to pronounce it. His wife and Perkins both expressed their preference for The Great Gatsby and, in December, Fitzgerald agreed. A month before publication, after a final review of the proofs, he asked if it would be possible to re-title it Trimalchio or Gold-Hatted Gatsby, but Perkins advised against it. On March 19, Fitzgerald asked if the book could be renamed Under the Red White and Blue, but it was at that stage too late to change. The Great Gatsby was published on April 10, 1925. Fitzgerald remarked that "the title is only fair, rather bad than good.

Plot summary

The story is presented as a recollection of Nick Carraway, a young man from a patrician Midwestern family who lived in New York after graduating from Yale in the early 1920s. Nick declares that, following his father's advice, he avoids judging people: a habit that has caused trouble, exemplified by events concerning a man named Gatsby.

Nick explains that in 1922 he was renting an inexpensive cottage sandwiched between two mansions in West Egg, a seaside community of wealthy parvenus on Long Island Sound. Directly across the bay was East Egg, inhabited by members of the "old aristocracy," including Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Daisy, née Fay, is Nick's second cousin once removed; Nick knew of her husband Tom, a celebrated polo player at Yale. Nick describes the Buchanans through a visit to their opulent East Egg mansion: although phenomenally wealthy, Tom's glory days are behind him; he is a brutish, overbearing dilettante and Daisy, although engaging, "gay," and attractive, is pampered and superficial while saddled with a largely-ignored three-year-old daughter. Nick detects a strain in the relationship and Daisy's friend Jordan Baker, a well-known lady golfer, tells him that Tom has a mistress in New York City.

Tom offers Nick a lift to the city and on the way they stop at a shabby garage -owned by Myrtles husband, George- where Nick is introduced to the owner's brassy wife, Myrtle Wilson. Her colorless husband George has no suspicion that she is Tom's mistress. Nick passively accompanies the pair to their urban love-nest, where Myrtle presides over a pretentious party that includes her sister Catherine. Catherine approves of the extramarital affair and informs Nick that both lovers can't stand the person they married and would marry each other if Tom's wife wasn't a Catholic who "doesn't believe in divorce," something Nick knows to be untrue. Nick finds the evening increasingly unbearable but is unable to leave until Tom breaks Myrtle's nose in a spat. Nick, half-drunk, leaves with Chester McKee, a would-be artistic photographer; Nick later wakens to blearily go off to his job as a bond salesman.

Nick's next-door neighbor is the wealthy and mysterious Jay Gatsby, who each weekend throws lavish parties hosting hundreds of people. Nick receives a formal invitation from Gatsby's butler and attends. The party is wild and fun, but he finds that none of the guests know much about Gatsby and rumors about the man are contradictory. Many have never even met their host, as the parties are open and guests often attend uninvited. Nick runs into Jordan Baker, but they are separated while searching for Gatsby. A man strikes up a conversation with Nick, claiming to recognise him from the US Army's Third Division during the Great War. Nick mentions his difficulty in finding their host and the man reveals himself to be Gatsby himself, surprising Nick, who had expected him to be older and not as personable. Gatsby invites Nick to more get-togethers, and an odd 'friendship' begins.

One day Gatsby appears in a magnificent yellow roadster and drives Nick to New York City, irritating him with the odd statement that Jordan will be asking Nick for a favor on Gatsby's behalf. Gatsby then presents a clichéd description of his life as a wealthy dilettante and war hero to an incredulous Nick, but the latter is convinced when Gatsby displays a Montenegrin war decoration. Gatsby then introduces a bemused Nick to underworld figure Meyer Wolfsheim, but when Nick sees Tom and tries to introduce Gatsby, Gatsby disappears.

Jordan reveals to Nick that Gatsby fell in love with Daisy before the war and hosts parties in the hope that she will visit. Gatsby has asked Jordan to ask Nick to get him a meeting with Daisy. Nick agrees: the reunion is initially awkward, but Gatsby and Daisy begin a love affair. An affair also begins for Nick and Jordan, but Nick knows of Jordan's shortcomings and predicts that their relationship will be superficial.

Tom eventually notices Gatsby's love for Daisy and, in front of Gatsby, Daisy, Nick, and Jordan, claims that he has been researching Gatsby. Tom alleges that Gatsby is a bootlegger and expresses his loathing of him. Gatsby urges Daisy to say that she never loved Tom; Daisy says that although she did she still loved Gatsby as well. Tom mockingly tells Gatsby that nothing can happen between him and Daisy. Gatsby retorts that the only reason Daisy married Tom was because he (Gatsby) was too poor to afford to marry Daisy at the time. Tom is angered and for the second time in the novel visibly loses his composure. Gatsby and Daisy drive off together while Tom takes his time getting home in the company of Nick and Jordan.

The suspicions of George Wilson, husband of Tom's mistress Myrtle, have also been aroused and he too has been arguing with his wife. Myrtle runs outside only to be struck and killed by Gatsby's car, which is driven by Daisy. Daisy and Gatsby speed away. Later, Tom, Jordan, and Nick notice a commotion by the garage on their way to East Egg and stop. George Wilson, half-crazy with shock, rants about having seen a yellow car and Tom tells Wilson privately that the yellow car was Gatsby's, but Wilson does not seem to listen and Tom, Jordan, and Nick leave. The half-crazed Wilson, however, later makes a mental connection between the driver of the car and Myrtle's lover and resolves to pursue it.

The following day Nick learns the truth about the accident while breakfasting with Gatsby by his pool. Gatsby is depressed, unsure of whether Daisy still loves him and hoping for a call from her. Seeing himself as Gatsby's closest friend, Nick advises Gatsby to leave for a week. "They're [Daisy, Tom, Jordan] a rotten crowd," Nick says, "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together." Gatsby smiles the irresistible smile that Nick describes as having "faced—or seemed to face—the whole world, then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor."

Wilson appears at the Buchanan mansion with a gun, finding Tom packing to escape with Daisy. Tom, unaware of Daisy's culpability, names Gatsby as the driver of the car that killed Myrtle. Wilson finds Gatsby floating in his pool and kills him before committing suicide nearby.

Gatsby's funeral devolves upon Nick, whose attempt to find other mourners is virtually fruitless; not even Gatsby's shady business associates will attend. Apart from Gatsby's servants and Nick, the only other mourners are "Owl Eyes," a Gatsby party guest, and Gatsby's father, Mr. Gatz. Left in the past by his son, he shows Nick a well-worn photograph of their modest house and a notebook from Gatsby's youth that he feels illustrates his son's drive and ambition.

Nick severs connections with Jordan, and, after a brief run-in with Tom, Nick returns permanently to the Midwest, reflecting on Gatsby and the experience.

Characters

Major characters

  • Jay Gatsby (originally James "Jimmy" Gatz)—a young, mysterious millionaire later revealed to be self-made, ex-army officer, originally from North Dakota, with shady business connections and a nostalgic infatuation with Daisy Fay Buchanan
  • Nick Carraway—a 29-year-old (thirty by the end of the book) bond salesman from the Midwest, a veteran, a Yale graduate, and resident of Long Island.
  • Thomas "Tom" Buchanan—an arrogant "old money" millionaire who lives on East Egg
  • Daisy Buchanan née Fay—an attractive, effervescent young woman; Nick's second cousin, once removed; and the wife of Tom Buchanan.
  • George B. Wilson—a mechanic and owner of an East Egg garage, the cuckolded husband of Myrtle.
  • Myrtle Wilson—George Wilson's wife and Tom Buchanan's mistress.
  • Jordan Baker—Daisy Buchanan's long-time friend, a professional golfer with a slightly shady reputation. Fitzgerald told Maxwell Perkins that her character was based on the golfer Edith Cummings, a friend of Ginevra King.

Minor characters

  • Catherine—Myrtle Wilson's sister
  • Chester and Lucille McKee—Myrtle's New York friends
  • "Owl-eyes"—a drunken party-goer whom Nick meets in Gatsby's library and is one of the very few people to attend Gatsby's funeral.
  • Meyer Wolfsheim— a man Gatsby describes as a gambler who "fixed the World Series"
  • Ewing Klipspringer—a sponger who virtually lives at Gatsby's mansion
  • Pammy Buchanan—the Buchanans' three-year-old daughter
  • Henry C. Gatz—Gatsby's somewhat estranged father
  • Michaelis—George Wilson's neighbor

Film, TV, theatrical and literary adaptations

The Great Gatsby has been filmed four times:

  1. The Great Gatsby, in 1926 by Herbert Brenon – a silent movie of a stage adaptation, starring Warner Baxter, Lois Wilson, and William Powell. According to the IMDb, no known copies have survived (only a trailer with a few minutes of footage is known to exist);
  2. The Great Gatsby, in 1949 by Elliott Nugent – starring Alan Ladd, Betty Field, and Shelley Winters; for copyright reasons, this film is not readily available;
  3. The Great Gatsby, in 1974, by Jack Clayton – the most famous screen version, starring Robert Redford in the title role with Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan & Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway, with a script by Francis Ford Coppola;
  4. The Great Gatsby, in 2000 by Robert Markowitz – a made-for-TV movie starring Toby Stephens, Paul Rudd and Mira Sorvino.

Famous American author Truman Capote was originally hired as the screenwriter for the 1974 film adaptation. In his screenplay, Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker were both written to be homosexual. After Capote was removed from the project, Coppola rewrote the screenplay.

The 2002 film G (released in 2005) by Christopher Scott Cherot claims inspiration from The Great Gatsby.

Stage

The Great Gatsby, a stage adaptation by Owen Davis, was first performed at the Ambassador Theatre in New York City on Feb 2, 1926 in a production directed by George Cukor with James Rennie and Florence Eldridge.

The Great Gatsby, in a new adaptation by Simon Levy, was performed for the opening of the new Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota in July 2006. This was billed as "the first authorized stage version of the novel since 1926."

However, two months earlier, in Brussels, Belgium, The Kunsten Festival des Arts debuted Gatz, a six-hour production by the New York theater company Elevator Repair Service. Set in a ramshackle contemporary office building, Gatz utilized the entire text of Gatsby, at first read by employees at the office building, and eventually acted out by them. Gatz premiered in the U.S. on September 21, 2006, at the Walker Art Center (also in Minneapolis) just eleven days after the closing of The Great Gatsby at The Guthrie.

Also, it has received an adaptation by the Japanese musical theater company Takarazuka Revue in 1991, performed by Snow Troupe. It will performed by Moon Troupe of the company in 2008.

Opera

An operatic treatment of the novel was commissioned by the New York Metropolitan Opera to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the debut of James Levine. The work, which is also called The Great Gatsby, premiered on December 20, 1999.

Books

  • Ernesto Quiñonez's Bodega Dreams adapted The Great Gatsby to Spanish Harlem
  • The Great Gatsby, a graphic novel adaptation by Australian cartoonist Nicki Greenberg
  • The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian imagines the later years of Daisy and Tom Buchanan's marriage as a social worker in 2007 investigates the possibility that a deceased elderly homeless person is Daisy's son.

References in other works

Andy Kaufman would occasionally read extensive excerpts from the novel as part of his comedy routines.

Businessman Bill Gates has inscribed in his library a sentence from the last page of the novel: "He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.

The Great Gatsby is the book that links Toru and his friend Nagasawa in the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.

Alternative rock musician Kay Hanley lamented the fact that she was "cast as Gatsby" in the song "Faded Dress", which features on her debut solo album Cherry Marmalade.

In the South Park episode "Timmy 2000", a doctor reads the novel to Timmy, later diagnosing him with attention-deficit disorder.

In America: The Book, The Great Gatsby is said to be written by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writers, as told to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Elsewhere in the book, a brief mention is also made of one of the considered alternate titles, Trimalchio in West Egg.

Cultural references

Notes

References

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External links

Sources

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