Unpopular Opinions: The Great Gatsby

WARNING: Contains a substantial amount of bellyaching. Those who do not wish to subject themselves to ranting about American literature should flee immediately. Hide your librarians. 

The Great Gatsby was one of the few novels I remember people liking in high school.

I was not one of those people.

In fact, I thought it was one of the more tedious required readings we had to tackle in English class.

For the record, this account is not to convince you, dear reader, to dislike the book. I am merely trying to explain my perspective on it. Below are some of the reasons I found this book a drudgery to get through:

The Characters 

I know they aren’t supposed to be likable.

I don’t have a problem with that.

In fact, I love reading about terrible people. One of my favorite characters I’ve ever read about is a girl that allows her gypsy boyfriend to murder her father just so she can turn around and kill him for having the gaul to harm a member of the upper crust (read Wideacre, it’s phenomenal).

My issue is I felt completely indifferent towards the characters in Gatsby.

When you create a cast of mostly unlikable characters, you have to incorporate something that compensates for their lack of pleasantness. For instance, Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With The Wind is a selfish brat, but her level of determination to keep Tara prompts her to do many daring and unpredictable things that make her an interesting person.

Some people argue that the poetic style of the book is meant to to make up for the characters’ dickishness, but it was never enough for me. In my view, they were just a bunch of snooty white people with almost no dimension whatsoever. I started off by not knowing much about them or their motivations (besides Gatsby), and I ended in the same boat. As a consequence, I didn’t care what happened to them.

The Damn Colors and Other Symbols

“You see, Fitzgerald wrote that everything was yellow as symbolism! You know, to represent wealth and the Golden Age, get it? Gatsby’s car is yellow, Daisy’s house is yellow, everything is yellow! Do you see how brilliant it is?”

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Who knows, maybe if this book hadn’t been force-fed down my throat in high school the symbolism wouldn’t annoy me nearly as much.

However, as it stands, the literary devices in this book are so painfully obvious it feels like Fitzgerald grabs you by the collar and slams your face into the book until you lose a tooth.

I’m getting horrible flashbacks of the class period we spent talking about the damn green light that represented Gatsby’s hope. As I recall, we had to remark on all the things green symbolized for an entire hour and why it was important and….and…

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Okay, so I thought the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg and the Valley of Ashes were kind of cool. Obvious, but cool. Everything else, however, felt like it was being smeared in my face.

You will embrace the message of the American Dream’s futility. The Valley of Ashes compels you!

The Language 

I’ve heard countless teachers and authors alike give tongue baths to Fitzgerald’s writing style (I’m looking at you, John Green).

I don’t think it’s terrible, I just think it’s a bit overrated.

In many areas it just becomes downright repetitive.

Nick says Daisy’s voice “sounds like money” and that the flowers outside Gatsby’s house “smell like gold.” 

We get it.

Money.

Lots and lots of money.

For most of the novel, it felt like I was being held captive at a really boring party, forced to listen to some socially inept guy drone on and on about what he did over his summer vacation. Nothing about his account seemed all that personal or intriguing.

That’s not to say I thought all of it was meh. I liked the description of Daisy and Tom’s ceiling as “wedding cake” and how Gatsby had a smile that seemed “prejudiced in your favor.”

Nonetheless, it was never enough to hold my interest for very long.

Final Thoughts

While I doubt I’ll ever truly appreciate the novel’s brilliance, at least it has given joy to millions of literary nerds throughout the decades.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my grievances. I hope I haven’t offended you too much.

However, I’m afraid I must deal fans of the book one final insult.

……….I thought the movie was better, Old Sport.

*Flees*

 

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Don’t Want No NaNoWriMo

To a writer, National Novel Writing Month is like the olympics of literature. It gives those who have been holding out on their creative ideas to explode in a frenzy of words and storylines. The goal is to write 50,000 words (the length of an average novel) in one month’s time. NaNoWriMo has gained more momentum over the last few years and it has created a community around it that’s goal is to keep potential authors motivated. There are websites now dedicated to shelling out prompts, forums, and supportive quotes to those that wish to participate.

My Twitter is alight with Tweets from exhausted writers, boasting their day’s word count like athletes about their increased running distance.

I thought about NaNoWriMo this year.But then after a week of it, I thought the same thing I had thought last year, and then the year before that: nah.

I agree NaNoWriMo has many positive attributes:

1. Writers need goal, and NaNoWriMo gives them something to strive for (in this case a word count).

2. It creates a community of authors that can discuss and problem-solve together.

3. It helps authors get the first draft out of the way.

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My contention is that, at times, it can grow a bit competitive. Often in the writer’s quest to “win,” they forget the point of NaNoWriMo in the first place. It’s suppose to give writers an excuse to write instead of just letting ideas fester in their heads. It isn’t about brownie points or seeking self-validation from the approval of others.

I take umbrage with the designated word count that’s required to accomplish the goal of NaNoWriMo, as well. From my perspective, a story needs to be as long as it needs to be and only the author of the story is able to effectively determine how long the story should continue.

I realize that the goal isn’t necessarily to write a ready-for-publication novel in one month, but rather to complete a single draft in one month. Still, this might be too strenuous of an undertaking for most people to embark on in a single month. Most people have jobs, spouses, children, school, and other responsibilities to attend to. While this doesn’t mean a serious writer shouldn’t set aside time to write at least a little bit a day, some people may only have a few minutes to themselves on any given day.

I believe a more effective method would be for writers to create weekly or biweekly goals for themselves. Not necessarily measured in words, but in time devoted to the project. Even if you’re just sitting at the computer, staring at the same paragraph for hours, your brain is working on it.

It takes most writers months, even several years, to write their first novel. It doesn’t make them any less successful or productive. Some people just work at different paces.

I don’t mind if other people find NaNoWriMo useful or fun. If you enjoy doing it, then by all means participate. I won’t think any less of you. However, based on the reasons I’ve given above, it’s just not for me.