Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby is a monument to the 1920s, to all its glamour, music, fashion and excesses. It is predominantly a cautionary tale about the American dream and advises that there are some things that money just cannot buy. The post war era in America is depicted by Fitzgerald as amoral, corrupt and essentially we become aware that this is a society that has thrown itself headlong into the pursuit of hedonism without recourse to the moral or social values at the foundation of pre-War America.
Gatsby's story is reported through the steady, calming voice of Nick Carraway; an involuntary participant in this tale, who co-incidentally is Gatsby's neighbour, Nick becomes embroiled in this story of mystery, intrigue and unrequited love set against the backdrop of New York's fashionable Long Island. Gatsby participates in this wanton hedonism by throwing lavish parties on a weekly basis for swarms of hanger-ons who have never met their host, but Gatsby's purpose is more complex than his party-goers. Gatsby is quintessentially a man, shaped by the poverty of his youth and driven, naively as it may seem, to rekindling his relationship with the somewhat perfectly plastic Barbie doll figure of Daisy Buchanan.
Gatsby's past is uncertain and this contributes to the sense of mystery about Gatsby which Fitzgerald works up during the opening chapters of novel. Who exactly he is we will never know, certainly Gatsby is not his real name; precisely how he has amassed his empire of inordinate wealth we are never certain, although a definitively dubious past linked to the Jewish Mafia and bootlegging amongst other criminal activity is assured. But Gatsby is in love with Daisy, who, by chance is our friendly narrator's cousin, and Gatsby has spent his entire adult life creating a world for Daisy to inhabit. It is a world of gaudy luxury, of decadent parties, gossip and glamour; a world Gatsby believes will lure his beloved Daisy to him.
That Daisy and Gatsby were once in love is clear; back in 1917 as he trained to be an officer they met in Louisville. Conversely to Gatsby Daisy comes from the upper class, who have made their money in traditional ways and it is precisely this disparity of class that will ultimately allow Daisy to betray Gatsby and his dream and remain in her unhappy marriage to her reprehensible, but well heeled, old-monied husband Tom Buchanan.
Pervading this love story is death; death and decay are alluded to throughout the novel which culminates in the assassination of our hero. Through the weather motifs Fitzgerald communicates the mood of each moment; when Gatsby and Daisy meet for the first time since their tryst in 1917 it is pouring rain; the day their relationship ends is the hottest day of the summer, and in the baking heat confusion reigns. The moral breakdown of this society is depicted through the deathly metaphor of the Valley of Ashes; between Long Island and New York it serves to represent the wasteland of values that modern America has become. Fitzgerald's language is laced with not only metaphors of death but death itself, tragic accidental death reminding the reader that this optimistic love wish of Gatsby's can never be realised.
Beyond the plot and the unravelling of a lover's long held passion, the language of this novel will move you; phrases will echo in your head for years to come long since you have put the book down.