Classics: The Great Gatsby

Now that I am retired and have more time to read books for myself, I’m trying to catch up on many classics that I have missed out on.  I got into the recent novel about Zelda Fitzgerald, Z, and that has led me to other books I will be writing about in the coming days.  I have found many, many pins, blogs, and websites to do with Scott and Zelda and I have added a number of pictures and comments where I can.  I’ve been trying to read as many of the sites as possible as well as working on my ever-growing list of “books to read”.

Many devotees of F. Scott Fitzgerald have expressed surprise that he never had much success screenwriting in Hollywood.  Much ink has been spent on speculating about this given the great success of movies (at least 30) based on his books and short stories. I’ve been reading The Great Gatsby which alone, had 5 movies made based on it, and despite their successes, many reviewers have said they were left less than satisfied.  Despite the self-destructive theme, Gatsby movies have been well-received at the box office.  What has become evident to me is that Fitzgerald’s strength and the popularity of his writing is the rich, evocative narration.  His words create not only the mood but make the subtle thoughts of characters, of the narrator, vivid in your mind.  Take this passage near the end:

West Egg, especially, still figures in my more fantastic dreams.  I see it as a night scene by El Greco: a hundred houses, at once conventional and grotesque, crouching under a sullen, overhanging sky and a lustreless moon.

West Egg becomes mysterious, even haunting.  Each reader will have their own idea of which El Greco night scene this may be, their own mental picture of, perhaps their own neighbourhood, and a singular characterization of the grotesque, their own memory of a sky that matches the description.  Without having the whole story filmed with narration beginning to end, it would be almost impossible to capture the images conjured up by the words.  It shouldn’t have surprised me that when I began to type in “el Greco night sky” in the Google search line, I got as far as “el Greco night” and it completed it for me in its entirety:  el Greco night sky Gatsby.  Several options come up which would be suitable to go with the description; each reader would have a favourite.

These are from websites/blogs that are talking about this exact passage from The Great Gatsby and there are so many sites that it wouldn’t be practical to list them or even to go to them all.  El Greco certainly had a way of making the ordinary grotesque but Fitzgerald says it is both at the same time.  Tricky!

I think this one of Toledo would be my favourite.  I like the church spire and somehow it going up into the brooding sky makes it seem even more ominous.  I’m not sure that the last one would do it for me but on at least one site, it worked for that author.  To me, it doesn’t quite resemble a night sky and what we’re missing in each is the lustreless moon.  Just the suggestion that it resembles an el Greco brings the style to mind, where features are distorted and there is a suggested ugliness to the atmosphere that Nick now associates with West Egg.  The idea that the town is “crouching” under this sky gives the sense of something almost evil impending, ready to leap into action.  How can this translate to the silver screen?  Have you seen more than one of the Great Gatsby movies?  How do they compare to each other or to the book?  Do they leave you, too, flat?  Let us know.

 

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About mysm2000

Having taught elementary school for more than 25 years and been involved in many amazing technology and curriculum projects, I find I've developed a myriad of interests based on literature I've read and music I've heard. I've followed The Wright Three to Chicago, Ansel Adams to Colorado, The Kon Tiki Expedition to Easter Island, Simon & Garfunkel lyrics to New York City, Frank Lloyd Wright to Fallingwater, Pennsylvania, and have only just begun.
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