How can I become the Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald "The Great Gatsby"

Status: 12/29/2015 2:10 p.m. | archive

In 25 episodes of the knowledge series "Great Novels of World Literature" we stroll through the history of the novel from its beginnings to the present. This episode is all about F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby".

Of Hanjo Kesting

"The Great Gatsby" was published in 1925.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of the novel "The Great Gatsby", is widely regarded as the chronicler of what he called the "Jazz Age". The heyday of his life was the third decade of the 20th century, the explosive and ambivalent epoch of modernity that began with the end of the First World War and ended with the great stock market crash in October 1929. The proverbial "American Dream" of happiness and splendor, quick fortune and radiant fame has never been dreamed more violently than in this short period of time, the legendary "Roaring Twenties".

Fitzgerald embodies this American dream like no other of his writing contemporaries, but nowhere has he described its fragility as vividly as in "The Great Gatsby". The theme of the book is the destructive power of time and the transience of everything earthly, because behind all the external sheen that makes the book so attractive and downright intoxicating at first glance, you sometimes think you hear the tone of a baroque vanitas sermon. Jay Gatsby, the book's title character, is also chasing a deceptive dream. And although he sometimes seems close to the realization of this dream, in the end it turns out to be unattainable.

To the plot

The novel basically tells a fairy tale fantasy: a young man of modest origin falls in love with a beautiful and rich heiress whom he cannot win due to the insurmountable social distance. Thereupon he amassed a huge fortune with permitted and prohibited means in order to pursue his childhood dream and to win back the woman of his heart. It is not difficult to recognize in Jay Gatsby the embodiment of a collective dream figure: the American self-made man who, with financial success, binds a beautiful woman from better circles to himself. And his dreamed-of beauty named Daisy is a spoiled child woman whose voice already sounds like money: "Her voice is full of money", it says in the original American text.

Fitzgerald is always about money, directly or indirectly. It is money that makes people happy and beautiful, that opens the doors to the earthly paradises and enables the wildest dreams to come true. Gatsby acquires his fabulous wealth for the sole reason to realize the life he dreamed of with Daisy - that makes him a literary figure reminiscent of fairy tale heroes like Aladin and Sinbad, from a distance he also has a resemblance to Don Quixote of the chivalric novels. Like the knight of the sad figure, he has the ability to lose himself so deeply in a dreamed life that he confuses it with his real life.

From the chronicle to the love story to the bloody melodrama

Fitzgerald's novel is not a completely homogeneous book. It begins like a chronicle of the great twenties with their uninhibited abundance and gradually transforms into a love story that is as tender as it is fantastic. It culminates in Gatsby's reunion with Daisy in his vast palace. Then a wild colportage story rolls off full of absurd coincidences and misunderstandings, which ultimately culminates in a bloody melodrama. In the end, Gatsby lies dead in his swimming pool, and the great party comes to a macabre end.

Story of the power of money

In 2013 the Australian director Baz Luhrman filmed the "great Gatsby" with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role.

"The Great Gatsby" was published in 1925, it was not a great success, rather the beginning of Fitzgerald's unstoppable decline, which ultimately made him the poorly paid wage clerk in Hollywood. His rediscovery did not begin until twenty years after his untimely death. Hollywood has seized this story four times, which is a deeply American story, according to the motto of the then President: "The Business of America is Business." It is a story of the power of money, which measures all things in everyday life, not least people, according to their monetary value and transforms them into goods. So "The Great Gatsby" is indeed the disenchantment of the "American dream", but at the same time the exact expression of that ostentatious world in which all beauty serves the purpose of whitewashing the poison of the financial economy.

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