Sunday, March 13, 2011

"OMGWTF, Gatsby!"

It's been a few years since I read Gatsby, and I've found that I've absolutely loved coming back to it.  It really is such a beautiful, lyrical read, and I keep underlining passages that pull at me.  Most of the book, I want to read out loud, I want to have it read to me, I want to fall asleep to Fitzgerald's long descriptions of Gatsby's parties and wake up to the Valley of Ashes.  I could read most of the book every day of my life, I think.  But not all of it.

I've realized, upon this reading, how very much the dialogue drives me nuts.  Take, for instance, this conversation between Catherine and Mrs. McKee at Tom's flat in New York in Chapter II.

"When they do get married," continued Catherine, "they're going West to lie for a while until it blows over."
"It'd be more discreet to go to Europe."
"Oh, do you like Europe?" she exclaimed surprisingly.  " I just got back from Monte Carlo."
"Just last year.  I went over there with another girl."
"Stay long?"
"No, we just went to Monte Carlo and back.  We went by way f Marseilles.  We had over twelve hundred dollars when we started, but we got gypped out of it all in two days in the private rooms.  We had an awful time getting back, I can tell you.  God, how I hated that town!"  p.34

I read passages like this and just go crazy.  Their livelihoods revolve around gossip and social interaction, and their analysis of life events is surface-level and shallow.  I mean, I'd hate to throw something like this into the mix as a means of comparison, but I really can't help it.  Gatsby's dialogue is better (except when he's around Daisy), but the majority of characters in this novel are always crying out, nodding their heads, and gazing off distantly.  It's absurd to me.

Of course, I took a step back and gave it another thought.  I realized that this was F. Scott Fitzgerald and it's an exceptionally short novel, and if he wanted to put something in his work then there sure as hell was a good reason for it.  So I'm caught between two theories on this.

One, that Fitzgerald really wants to set this mood of emptiness and idiocy in his work and includes these trains of dialogue as a way of drawing the reader into the sense of emptiness and lack of substance.  It's a true reflection of the idle rich and communicates Fitzgerald's commentary on the lack of substance or meaning in the upper crust.

Two, their dialogue is actually ripe with meaning beneath the guise of being utterly inane.  While on the surface, it seems like nothing these people are saying to each other matters, but underneath lies a current of meaning and social commentary.  This is actually compelling and fairly ironic, that people with so little to say could say so much.  They're a bunch of beautiful people with simple lives and no responsibility, so what could it mean that Fitzgerald might employ their empty dialogue to communicate his deeper meaning?

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