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June 6, 2013

Telling It Like It Is: THE GREAT GASTBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Hi guys. Emily here, and I’m ready to begin Telling It Like It Is: Classics Edition™. I’m going to revisit some of the classics I read in high school (for class and for FUN --- because, come on, most of this stuff is seriously uh-mazing) and break them down in "Real Talk." Because, although a good classic has universal and timeless appeal, we’re modern kids with our own modern way of processing and sharing information, (I mean, how much easier would Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy have been if he could just Facebook her?) and sometimes we need to express ourselves that way. Oh and *SPOILER ALERT* in case you haven't taken sophomore English yet.

On that note, why not get things started with THE GREAT GATSBY? Nothing to kick off a spanking new blog series like a story about the impossibility of the American Dream. So the book takes place in the 1920s, and is narrated by Nick Carraway --- who I always pictured as a schlubbier Joseph Gordon Levitt (Tobey Maguire plays him in the 2013 movie) --- a guy pushing 30 who basically left his life and family in the Midwest because he felt pressure to marry his high school sweetheart and wasn’t totally feeling it. He buys this teeny, tiny house out on Long Island --- in the less fashionable West Egg, where the whole flashy “new money” community likes to party hard. Nick’s neighbor is the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who owns the monster mansion next door and throws the swankiest ragers for fellow West Eggers, Hollywood types, mobsters, etc. Gatsby, Nick notices from afar, has this weird obsession with a green light across the bay (metaphor alert!).

Over in East Egg is Nick’s cousin Daisy, and her mega-rich, mega-jerk husband Tom Buchanan. The thing about Tom is that he was a college football star and has gobs of money, so he’s really full of himself even though he’s kind of dumb and mean. Nick joins the Buchanans and their tennis-star friend, Jordan (who’s a girl! I know, right?) for dinner one night, where he learns that Tom is having an affair with some woman and basically everyone knows about it (a problem Daisy probably could’ve avoided if she listened to more Taylor Swift). Tom convinces Nick to join him one day for a drive through the Valley of Ashes, an industrial dumping ground between West Egg and New York City, and essentially a metaphor for the entire problem with early 21st century industrialization and the waste produced by ambitious American Dreamers. There, they pick up his mistress, Myrtle, who lives with her husband, George Wilson, over the garage that he owns and runs, and head to Tom’s love-nest in NYC. Things don’t go so well for Nick there: let’s just say booze and mistresses and fistfights are not really his thing.

As the summer progresses, Nick decides he could use a bit of a social life (his friends-without-benefits situation with Jordan Baker isn’t quite doing it for him), so one night he heads over to Gatsby’s house to see what all the fuss is about. He finds that nobody else seems to know, either, who Gatsby is and how he’s so freaking rich. Everyone has a theory, but nobody knows for sure.  Nick bumps into Jordan at the party, and a random, youngish guy with a million dollar smile pulls them aside, and it turns out (GASP!) he’s Gatsby! It seems the elusive Gatsby found out about Nick and Jordan’s connection to Daisy --- who, as fate would have it, is his long-lost love --- and wants Nick to arrange a reunion for them. No big deal, just tea and a little chit chat and the culmination of FIVE YEARS WORTH OF TOILING AND LONGING AND DREAMING. Nick agrees, and the lovers are reunited --- after some initial awkwardness they fall right back into things, and Gatsby, delighted, shows off his wealth and everything to Daisy, hoping that it will all impress her enough to finally see him as a real baller type who can take care of her. The thing about Gatsby is that he comes from a dirt poor family but always dreamed big, and when he met Daisy he projected all his romantic ideas about the Good Life onto her, so she represents everything he ever wanted in a way that is too big for her IRL. But because Gatsby and Daisy are characters in a book, they don’t know all this, and proceed to have an affair behind Tom’s back (also behind the reader’s back, btw --- the book is pretty PG).

One day, Nick gets Gatsby invited to the Buchanans for lunch, and Gatsby pretty much drools over Daisy the entire time. Tom might be dumb, but he isn’t blind, and he realizes that all this shady stuff has been going on behind his back, and, after forcing the group to drive --- in two cars (important!) --- to the Plaza Hotel, he confronts Gatsby and Daisy about it. Gatsby insists that Daisy confess that she loved him all along, and while at first it seems like she’s ready to run off with him, she can’t lie and admits that she did love Tom, too (not so coincidentally after Tom calls Gatsby out for being a bootlegger and a mobster). Gatsby is kind of needy and this is NOT COOL with him, so he freaks, but Tom has the upper hand at this point and contemptuously sends Gatsby and Daisy back to Long Island together --- which sucks because they’re mid-breakup and if you’ve ever been stuck for two hours in a small space with your soon-to-be ex, you know that it’s pretty much the worst and no good can come of it.

What happens next is all very fast, and all very dramatic. As Nick, Jordan and Tom drive through the Valley of Ashes, they find that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Myrtle, Tom’s secret lover. If all this is starting to feel very Pretty Little Liars, just wait --- it gets even more twisted. Turns out, Myrtle had mistaken Gatsby’s car for Tom’s, and after a fight with Wilson, who was beginning to wise up to her cheating ways, she ran hysterically toward what she thought was Tom’s car, hoping he would rescue her. But she had the wrong car, and --- here’s the crazy thing --- DAISY WAS DRIVING! So basically Daisy accidentally* murdered her husband’s mistress after confessing her own love for another man but choosing to stay with Tom after all (still following?). Gatsby, though, can’t seem to get this through his head, and mistakenly thinks protecting Daisy and taking the fall for Myrtle’s death is the noble thing to do (spoiler: It’s not). Tom "suggests" (kind of a euphemism) to Wilson that Gatsby was Myrtle’s murderer and also probably her lover, and Wilson decides to go after Gatsby. The next morning, poor Gatsby, who is waiting for a call from Daisy that will never come --- letting him know that she is alright --- goes for a swim in his pool, where Wilson, who has absolutely lost it over Myrtle’s death, shoots him dead. Only Nick and a handful of people --- including Gatsby’s dad, who is kind of a hopeless hick --- show up to Gatsby’s funeral, which leads Nick to basically lose his faith in humanity and move back to the Midwest.

Whew. Don’t let anybody tell you that the Kardashians invented drama. They could learn a thing or two from F. Scott Fitzgerald, amirite?