Tuesday, October 13, 2009
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 'Great Gatsby': A Great Event in U.S. Literature
I'm Shirley Griffith.
And I'm Steve Ember with the Special English program, People in America. Every week, we tell about someone important in the history of the United States. Today, we complete the story of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In nineteen twenty-five, just five years after his first novel appeared, F. Scott Fitzgerald published “The Great Gatsby.” It was a major event in American writing.
“The Great Gatsby” is a story about success -- American success -- and what one must do to gain it.
It is a story about appearance and reality. It is a story about love, hate, loyalty, and disloyalty. This is how the story begins:
"In my younger years, my father gave me some advice. The ability to do what is good and right is not given out equally at birth. The rich and powerful -- who should have it -- often do not. And those who were born knowing neither good nor right, sometimes know it best. "
Gatsby is a self-made man. Almost everything about his life is invented -- even his name. He was born Jimmy Gatz. As a child, Jimmy Gatz sets a daily program of self-improvement. These are the things he feels he must do every day to make himself a success.
When Jimmy Gatz invents himself as Jay Gatsby, part of his dream of success is the love of a beautiful woman. He finds the woman to love -- as Fitzgerald did -- while training in the army during World War One.
The other part of his dream is to be very rich. That, too, was part of Fitzgerald's dream. In just three years, Gatsby gains more money than he thought possible. All he needs to do now is to claim the woman he loves. In those same three years, however, she has married someone else.
A still from the movie, "The Great Gatsby"
opening December 2012.
For a brief time, Gatsby seems to succeed. He does not know that he can never succeed completely. The woman he loves, Daisy Buchanan, is part of the very rich world that Fitzgerald found so different. It is a group that does not share what it has with people like jay Gatsby. Fitzgerald wrote:
"They were careless people. They smashed up things and creatures. Then they retreated back into their money, or their great carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together. They retreated and let other people clean up the messes they had made.”
The mess they make in “The Great Gatsby” is a tragic one. They hit a woman with a car, and kill her. Gatsby accepts the blame, so Daisy will not be charged. He, then, is killed by the dead woman's husband.
Not even Gatsby’s few friends come to his funeral. Of all the hundreds of people who came to his parties, no one will come when the party is over. After Gatsby’s death, Nick Carraway, the storyteller, says:
"I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first recognized the green light at the end of Daisy's boat dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn. His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to hold it. He did not know that it was already behind him . . .
"Gatsby believed in the future that, year by year, moves away from us...
"So we beat on -- boats against the current -- carried back endlessly into the past."
The story is told by a third person. He is a part of the story, but he rejects the story he is telling. His answers are like those heard in an ancient Greek play. The chorus in the play tells us what to think about what we see.
“The Great Gatsby” is a short novel whose writing shines like a jewel. The picture it paints of life in America at that time -- the parties, the automobiles, the endless fields of waste -- are unforgettable.
Fitzgerald wrote at great speed to make money. Yet no matter how fast he wrote, he could not stay out of debt. By the end of the nineteen twenties, the Jazz Age had ended. Hard times were coming for the country and for the Fitzgeralds.
In nineteen-thirty, Zelda Fitzgerald became mentally sick. She lived most of the rest of her life in mental hospitals. Scott Fitzgerald also became sick from drinking too much alcohol. And he had developed the disease diabetes.
In nineteen thirty-four, Fitzgerald wrote another novel, “Tender is the Night.” He thought it was his best. Many critics disagreed. They said Fitzgerald no longer recognized what was happening in the United States. They said he did not understand what was important to the country during the great economic depression.
“Tender is the Night” tells the story of a young American doctor and his marriage to a rich, beautiful patient. In the early part of his life, he believes in success through hard work. Slowly, however, his wife's great wealth ruins him. His energy is weakened, his work destroyed. His wife recovers her health while he becomes worse. In the end, she seems to have stolen his energy and intelligence.
"Tender is the Night"
At the age of thirty-nine, he realized that his life had cracked into pieces.
It became a time for him to look at himself. He realized that he had not taken care of the people and things he loved. "I had not been a very good caretaker of most of the things left in my hands," he said, "even of my own skills." Out of the wreckage of his life and health, he tried to rebuild himself.
Fitzgerald had always written many stories. Some were very good. Others were not good. He wrote quickly for the money he always needed. After his crack-up, however, he discovered he was no longer welcome at the magazines that had paid him well. So, to earn a living, he moved to Hollywood and began writing for the motion picture industry.
He had stopped drinking. He planned to start writing novels and short stories again. It was too late. His health was ruined. He died in Hollywood in nineteen forty at the age of forty-four. There were few people who could believe that he had not died years before.
Fitzgerald was working on a novel when he died. He called it “The Last Tycoon.”
These books re-established Fitzgerald's fame as both an observer of his times and a skilled artist. That fame rests on just a few books and stories, but it seems secure.
Today's program was written by Richard Thorman and produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another People in America program, in Special English, on the Voice of America.
1. F. Scott's Fitzgerald characterizes rich people in "The Great Gatsby" as _____________________ .
2. F. Scott Fitzgerald describes the twenties as a time when ____________________.
3. In "The Great Gatsby", the character of Nick Carraway is _______________________ . .
4. When Daisy's careless driving kills a woman, Jay Gatsby _____________________ .
5. Gatsby's love for a wealthy woman is __________________ Fitzgerald's love for the wealthy Zelda Sayre.
6. Jimmy Gatz doesn't think he is good enough. The first thing he does is ____________________ .
7. In the novel, Nick Carraway advises Jay Gatsby ____________________ .
8. Although "The Great Gatsby" was not a great success, _______________________ .
9. In 1931, the Fitzgeralds returned to the United States from Europe. Zelda ___________________ .
10. "______________________ " is a novel about a doctor whose wealthy wife seems to steal his energy and his intelligence.
The following is a trailer for the upcoming release of "The Great Gatsby" this December, 2012. The director is Baz Luhrman. The film is in 3D and stars Leonardo Di Caprio (You may remember him from The Titanic) as Jay Gatsby and Cary Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan. Baz Luhrman is known for "over the top" cinema. "Over the top" means very extravagant, lush, rich in garish imagery.
The Great Gatsby from ebooks
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Part One