Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


To reread Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is to glimpse yesteryear’s excessive indulgence, how America’s lost illusions and idealism were grounded in materialism, its morality debased by money and power. It's all too familiar, isn't it?

Excerpts:
“… A sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth… I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart…
“Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn…  Tom [Buchanan] would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrevocable football game…
“The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon… Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen,’ a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour…
“Miss [Jordan] Baker… was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire… As for Tom, the fact that he ‘had some woman in New York’ was really less surprising than that he had been depressed by a book. Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart…
“This is the valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally with a transcendent effort, of ash-gray men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air… the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg… brood on over the solemn dumping ground…
“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars… they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks…
“I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known… ‘There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired’…
“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion… No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart…
“[Daisy has] an indiscreet voice,’ I remarked. ‘It’s full of—“I hesitated. ‘Her voice is full of money,’ he said suddenly…
“There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind… [Tom] saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization…
“So I walked away and left [Gatsby] standing there in the moonlight—watching over nothing… and Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor…
“You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together’…
“He must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about… like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees…
“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…
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes 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—so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
(1925)
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953.

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