I’m not sure what it is about The Jazz Age that is so intoxicating, whether it’s an idea we get from film or fiction, but there is this carefree, throw caution to the wind, all wrapped up in chiffon and glitz image that we, ok - or, that I correlate with the roaring 20‘s. Maybe that’s what drew me to reread a book that was already a High School requirement. Though I had read through it before, (at least claimed to) I couldn’t recollect much more than the last scene from this 9 chapter story. Reading The Great Gatsby is like being in Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris” only you would call it “Midnight in New York.” It’s like following F. Scott Fitzgerald around and drinking in his view of America of the 1920’s. It’s intoxicating, yet simple. Brief, yet timeless. Likely my random fixation to reread this tale was sparked by the recent remake of this film (which sadly has been pushed back till May of ’13, no doubt due to fear of another remake that was scheduled to premiere the same day) still everyone knows a film is nearly never as great as the book. So while I was anticipating two major Christmas film adaptions from literature (now left with only one come Christmas Day) I still wanted to walk through the classic story as it was first written.
The Great Gatsby is introduced as an enchanted, fairytale flapper-esque world that I wouldn’t have minded living in. Taken place during the Prohibition era, when drinking was “untouchable” and crime was at it’s peak, Fitzgerald paints for us the veil of this corrupt age. Like a silhouette covering a mess that you never clearly see, past billows of softly laid silk and satin, it may be the prettiest mess on paper. Life seemed to be all parties, drinking and love though both were “off-limits,” it’s conveyed as if love, drinking and money were fruitful and free for all. Everyone felt entitled to the glitz, glamour and wealthy lifestyles whether they could afford it or not, both literally and figuratively speaking. Sound familiar? It’s likely that the real America during this era was not the dreamy effortless world I envisioned it to be and, even less, the dream world that Fitzgerald initially depicts for us. But depict it, any which way, he does so well.
The Great Gatsby has been referred to as a story of the loss of innocence, one of the first of it’s kind. Knowing this before you read F. Scott’s story really puts things in perspective, as far as our culture’s reflection of itself at such a young, ripe age. Charles Hitchens may have put it best: “That phrase, ‘loss of innocence,’ has become stale with overuse and diminishing returns; no other culture is so addicted to this narcissistic impression of itself as having any innocence to lose in the first place.”
From mundane high-society marriages and bright shallow party scenes, The Great Gatsby was the American Dream, living for the moment. Though it’s set in a time that seems distant and unfamiliar to us, it’s a story that can probably resonate with our cultural values and pursuits, whether we’d like to identify with it or not. I’m sure F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote it in hopes to change the ways of money, love and status or at least thought we might not still be so deep in it now. But update the flapper gowns and men’s many colorful shirts a few decades further and Fitzgerald himself might be taken back at how little we’ve progressed. This age seemed untouchable and ethereal but truly, as the if it were the formative young adults years of America’s life, it was the era of decayed social and moral values. It was the time when forbidden lovers were the norm, when extravagant parties were the casual nights outing, and when romance and affairs were the closest form of thrill and entertainment at our fingertips. The only difference now, along with the same induldgences and ways of losing our innocence, is that we have thrills such as The Great Gatsby right at our fingertips.