The Great Gatsby: Fitzgerald’s novel and Luhrmann’s film

Seeing as the film is set to come out in cinema’s tomorrow, and I am in love with the soundtrack, it only seemed appropriate that Gatsby should feature on my blog. It even features on the about me section, so it definitely deserves to be here. In fact I love it that much that I refuse to listen to the criticism that the academics have written about it, the words that I need to know for my exam in a couple of weeks. I know that studying a text can ruin its beauty, simplicity, take away certain qualities that make it perfect for the reader; but it also allows you to understand it at a deeper level. Different elements come to life that may not have at first been apparent from your own independent reading. So I guess I will just have to grin and bare it…

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

The first time that I read Gatsby was for my IB English exam so I have been unable to read it from a purely pleasurable reason. The second time was for the exam coming up so I am still struggling along. Other people who haven’t had the pressure of exams have told me that they found the story to be less exciting and almost bland in comparison to the praise it has received. They agree that it is beautifully written and Fitzgerald creates a perfect and yet simultaneously a distorted version of a perfect life throughout the pages.

The Great Gatsby in my opinion is fantastic. It has elements of good and bad, on the surface it presents a romanticized view on life, and it isn’t until you scrape away at the perfectly constructed language that the realities of that lifestyle present themselves. Daisy is nothing more than a rich woman who enjoys being at the centre of everybody’s attention, in love with money and the life that it buys. “Her voice was full of money” summarises it pretty nicely I think. Tom is nothing more than a bored rich American, who enjoys to dip into the women that the proletariat has to offer, because Daisy is nothing more than a trophy wife. She is not a working woman who aspires to be a woman of leisure. Nick, a biased author is probably the reason for the romantic construction of 1922 New York. He is unable to see the political and sexual agenda’s that are prevalent throughout the story. He doesn’t question where Gatsby’s fortune comes from – he is completely oblivious of any wrong doing.

I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

Although set in 1922, which was an important era for modernism, Fitzgerald wrote it 3 years later in 1925. Ezra Pound a contemporary  poet and critic even argued that 1922 marked the beginning of a new modern era. The invention of the car, end of the war, economic boom and rise of America, development of cinema and television and thus the creation of the BBC, publication of Ulysses and The Waste Land all had a huge impact on the direction that culture chose. It could have merged, or stayed separate, or ultimately and what was most likely to happen, there would be a collision. An inevitable explosion of opinion and division.

Gatsby, although written over 90 years ago is an extremely modern novel still. The creation of money. Inherited or stolen or made honestly. The need for one to fit in, into social circles that are higher than your status, that inherent desire to succeed and improve. They are all very human qualities and I think this is one of the main reasons why the novel is considered one of the all-time best pieces of literature to come from America.

I could go on forever, in fact upon looking over what I have mentioned I have barely touched the surface of how passionately I love this novel. In fact, I didn’t even realise I loved it this much until I wrote this post. For those of you who haven’t read the book and are planning to see the film, I cannot recommend it more than I hope this post has done. It will be completely different from the film, because no Baz Luhrmann film is ever similar to anything else except other films he has directed. Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge both completely different in tone, musicality, pace, culture and yet they have been united by the modern music. They have been brought forward into the present, and in some ways, that is exactly what Fitzgerald and other modernists were trying to achieve. Unite the past and present, whilst refining and progressing down the literary canon.

And to end, of course there has to be a link to the soundtrack. I love all of the songs so much that I am just linking the entire thing. Click here to listen! 

 

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The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka: Political agenda or utter fantasy?

I am currently reading an eBook that was sent to me to read by a publishers, and I am nearly finished so that review will be up here soon. The book is focussed around a funeral and the impact that the death of a loved one has on those who were close to her, the characters all feel alienated with themselves, life and those around them. Which got me thinking about the same topics and all I could think of was Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. 

In The Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa is transformed into a cockroach and then struggles to adapt to his new life. His family and those who visit his house are not particularly bothered by this change, they don’t question its impossibility but instead worry about money. How will they know fund their lifestyle that the breadwinner is incapacitated? The father and sister will have to do jobs they don’t like now Gregor isn’t doing the job he didn’t like. They will have to rent some of the spare rooms out to lodgers to create extra income. Hire a cheaper maid to do the cleaning.

There was a complete disregard for Gregor’s feelings. He was the one who had metamorphosed overnight into a bug that was unable to communicate with anyone, unable to protect and defend himself against his family; and yet his family don’t care. He is completed isolated and alienated (similar to Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Ryeis unable to do anything about it. Although alienated, Kafka appears to be critiquing society, with particular reference to Marxism and the exploited worker. Gregor has worked hard to support his family and seems unaware that they take him for granted. he just assumes that his family are incapable of working and doesn’t question their actions, which is interesting to compare at the end of the novella when the family does work. They found work easily, it tires them out and exhausts them, but that is nothing more than what the work did to Gregor. His metamorphosis could potentially have been cause by his physical exertion in order to provide for his family. He felt so alienated from his family, that he physically transformed so that he is also alienated from humanity. He is unable to interact with others and hides behind his sofa to protect himself. This alienation is just a demonstration and exaggeration of the alienation he felt as a human.

It's a bugs life.

It’s a bugs life.

I don’t want to put people off. Although this book is a bit of a criticism on humanity and the treatment of individuals, it is not all doom and gloom. Gregor himself seems unaware of his exploitation and so remains relatively optimistic throughout the novel which shows that not everyone is willing to take and give nothing back. Moreover the text is so full of the impossible, implausible and the absurd that it is hard to take the novella as a serious criticism of society. The possibility of a human metamorphosing into a giant cockroach is next to none and so the text has to be taken as a piece of fantasy. The story never explains why Gregor transformed and so I guess my theory is as good as the next.

Despite the often pessimistic outlook on life, the novella is truly a fantastic piece of literature. Whether it has a political agenda or whether it should be read as nothing more than the story of an overworked man who wakes up as a bug one morning – it is still bursting with value and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

America. Alienation. Adolescence. These three words, to me, seem to summarise The Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger’s only full length novel focuses on the troubles and difficulties of growing up and the desire to belong whilst maintaining ones own identity.

The protagonist Holden Caulfield leaves his school after realising that he is unhappy being surrounded by people he doesn’t like because of their annoying personal habits or their outlook on life. Phonies. Phonies is the go-to word of the narrator. Adults that he meets whilst spending time in New York city drinking, smoking or just generally wandering the cold winter streets are phonies. They are superficial products of the post second world war society. The worst part for Holden is that everyone is unable to realise their phoniness. Even sadder is the fact that Holden doesn’t realise that he is a phony himself. His compulsive need to lie and the speed at which he disregards people because of this highlights the phoniness that is present in the world.

Holden is both alienated and alienates. He is unwilling to grow up and take that final step into the adult world, like a traditional bildungsroman. He also refuses to like various characters in the book because of their artificial qualities. He also alienates himself because relationships confuse him. Opportunities for emotional and physical relationships present themselves to Holden throughout the novel but he inevitably declines because he wants to remain individual and apart from the norm.

The Catcher in the Rye

I think it this that has left The Catcher in the Rye with such a legacy. But also a universality. So many people can relate to Holden as a character. He is just one small person trying to be himself in a world full of phoniness and change. His fascination with the natural history museum shows how isolated and alone Holden both is and likes to be. The creatures frozen in time haven’t changed since he was young and this is one of the only static elements of the novel.

In a world that is rapidly developing, with technological advances and a booming economy, there is no time to build up the intimate relationships that Holden believes should exist. His romantic view of the world is outdated and again he prevents himself from belonging. Sex is prevalent throughout the novel, with his need to lose his virginity and his apparent interest in it. Holden is a product of this changing society. He wants to lose his virginity to someone he respects and loves but is also aroused by people he doesn’t care for and considers stupid.

It is this inability to grasp the world which makes the character of Holden so relatable. Although the reasoning behind his self-alienation and inability to connect with the real world is unique to him, I feel that I can relate to him as a character. The social pressure to belong in a constantly moving, changing, growing world is something which cannot be done without trouble. Everyone has problems. Some people are just better adjusted at coping with them than others.

Phonies