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Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
140-50 pp. (varies by publisher)

Summary 
The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, who after serving in World War I moves from the midwest to New York's Long Island. There he picks up with a college friend Tom Buchanan and his wife Daisy, Caraway's second cousin—a feckless, self-indulgent couple of privilege.

He also befriends his mysterious neighbor Jay Gatsby, whose mansion is the scene of lavish nightly parties. Gatsby reveals to Caraway that, as a young man without wealth, he had met and fallen in love with Daisy during the war. Now moneyed, Gatsby is obsessed with winning her back.

What follows are the tragic consequences of his pursuit—and Carraway's return to his roots in the midwest to contemplate, with new found cynicism, the moral decay and carelessness of privileged.



Author Bio 
Birth—September 24, 1896
Where—St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Death—December 21, 1940
Where—Hollywood, California
Education—Princeton University


F. Scott Fitzgerald was named for his famous relative, Francis Scott Key, though he was always referred to as "Scott." Minnesota born and Princeton educated, Fitzgerald published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920 to critical and popular acclaim.

That same year, He married Zelda Sayre, the queen of Montgomery, Alabama youth society, and the two lived a boisterous, decadent life in New York City. (See LitCourse 5 with Fitzgerald's story "Babylon Revisited" for an idea of their life.) To better afford their extravagant lifestyle, the couple moved to France, where Fitzgerald befriended Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, becoming part of the legendary group of expatriate writers and artists, which Stein labeled the "Lost Generation." In Paris he wrote his finest novel, The Great Gatsby (1925).

Zelda was eventually hospitalized in 1930 for the first of many breakdowns, and Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood (William Faulkner was there, too), where his heavy drinking ended his screen writing career. In 1934 he published Tender Is the Night. He died there of a heart attack six years later at the age of 44.

More
The 1920s proved the most influential decade of Fitzgerald's development. The Great Gatsby, Scott's masterpiece, was published in 1925. Hemingway greatly admired The Great Gatsby and wrote in his A Moveable Feast "If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one" (153). Hemingway expressed his deep admiration for Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald's flawed, doomed character, when he prefaced his chapters concerning Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast with:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless. (129)

Much of what Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast helped to create the myth of Fitzgerald's eventual demise and Zelda's hand in that demise. Though much of Hemingway's text is factually correct, it is always tinged with his disappointment with Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald began working on his fourth novel during the late 1920s but was sidetracked by financial difficulties that necessitated his writing commercial short stories, and by the schizophrenia that struck Zelda in 1930. Her emotional health remained fragile for the rest of her life. In 1932, she was hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland.

Scott rented an estate in the Baltimore suburb of Towson and began work on Tender Is the Night, the story of the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a promising young psychiatrist who falls in love with and marries one of his patients. Some critics have seen the book as a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel recounting Fitzgerald's problems with his wife, the corrosive effects of wealth and a decadent lifestyle, his own egoism and self-confidence, and his continuing alcoholism. Indeed, Fitzgerald was extremely protective of his material (their life together). When Zelda published her own version of their lives in Europe, Save Me the Waltz, Fitzgerald was angry and succeeded in getting her doctors to keep her from writing any more.

Tender was finally published in 1934, and critics who had waited nine years for the follow up to The Great Gatsby had mixed opinions about it. The novel did not sell well upon publication, but the book's reputation has since risen significantly.

Although he reportedly found movie work degrading, Fitzgerald was once again in dire financial straits and spent the second half of the 1930s in Hollywood, working on commercial short stories, scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (including some unfilmed work on Gone with the Wind), and his fifth and final novel, posthumously published as The Last Tycoon (based on the life of film executive Irving Thalberg). Scott and Zelda became estranged; she continued living in mental institutions on the east coast, while he lived with his lover Sheilah Graham, a well-known gossip columnist, in Hollywood.

Fitzgerald had been an alcoholic since his college days, and became notorious during the 1920s for his extraordinarily heavy drinking, leaving him in poor health by the late 1930s. According to Zelda's biographer, Nancy Milford, Scott claimed that he had contracted tuberculosis. Fitzgerald suffered two heart attacks in late 1940, and on December 21, while awaiting a visit from his doctor, Fitzgerald collapsed in Sheilah Graham's apartment and died. He was 44. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
(Older works have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. Take a look at customer reiews from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)

The new American humor [is] a conflict of spirituality caught fast in the web of our commercial life. Both boisterous and tragic, it animates this new novel by Mr. Fitzgerald with whimsical magic and simple pathos that is realized with economy and restraint.... A curious book, a mystical, glamourous story of today. It takes a deeper cut at American life than hitherto has been essayed by Mr. Fitzgerald.
Edwin Clark - New York Times  (4/19/1925)



Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Great Gatsby

1. This book is infused with symbolism, particularly the green light at which Jay Gatsby gazes so intently, and the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg on the billboard. What do these symbols suggest? (Symbolic meanings are fluid, not fixed; they often mean different things to different observers/readers. See LitCourse 9 on symbolism.)

2. Is Jay Gatsby great? In other words, is Fitzgerald's title sincere...or ironic?

3. Discuss the four main characters. Who, if any, do you find most sympathetic? Most important, in what way do the events of the novel affect Nick Carraway? How, or to what degree, does he change? (Some see this work as a coming-of-age story.)

4. What statement might Fitzgerald be making about the mores or ethos of American culture—particularly the American Dream?

5. Quite frankly, I have never liked this book...or any of Fitzgerald's novels. Why?

(Questions by LitLovers. Pleae feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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