Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 123: “Her voice is full of money”

“No one rightly knew who Gatsby was. Some said that he had been a German spy, others that he was related to one of Europe’s royal families. He seemed to be a person without background, without history, without a home. Despite this, nearly everytone took advantage of his fabulous hospitality. And it was really fabulous. On his superb Long Island home he gave the most amazing parties, and not the least remarkable thing about them was the fact that few people could recognize their host.”

So say the sleeve notes of the jacket of my 1960‘s Penguin Modern Classic publication of 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the 1974 film version, written by Francis Ford Coppola, we knew who Jay Gatsby was - he was Robert Redford - for when the film was made, Robert Redford’s star was fast rising, having already made The Sting and The Way We Were; he was, to use that quaintly old-fashioned term “a hearthrob”.

Gatsby was deeply in love with Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow) and those post-war “parties”, so fabulously staged in the film, were put on to impress her, although she never came to one, and that “fashionable palace” of his, on “the very tip of West Egg” yards from the water was accquired only so that Gatsby could gaze across the Sound to the home of the Buchanans on East Egg; at night’s, standing there alone, “he could pick out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.”

Whilst narrated by Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston, now of ‘Law & Order’ fame), Daisy’s second cousin once removed, whose point-of-view we are given for most of this tale, the story’s protagonist is, naturally, that of Jay Gatsby. We catch an early, enigmatic glimpse of him and no more, until he makes his entrance - or rather we and Nick are summoned for an audience with him - thirty-five pages into the screenplay, that’s thirty-five minutes into the film. Redford’s Gatsby is the last major player to get an opening line; the party cannot, indeed, start until he arrives, "old sport".

Gatsby’s late entrance consequently spells the late arrival of the Central Plot of the film, which is his quest to win back Daisy, a young woman he loved before the war took him to Europe, however, in his absence, Daisy married another, the cruel and philandering Tom Buchanan. It’s uncommon, but not totally unheard of for the main plot of a film to come in so late, even so our first meeting with Gatsby is worth the wait and then the first orchestrated reunion between Jay and Daisy (the young woman not knowing who will be joining her and Nick for tea), is even more than worth the sixty-five minutes that have elapsed (not without drama) before this moment comes to pass.

However, a sense of foreboding and ominous portent are never far away and from early on, gossamer thin unease permeates the dream, fear always stalking our hopes for Gatsby. Is it because the Buchanan’s is old money and Gatsby’s is not, no matter how much he has? When Tom gets wind of Gatsby’s intentions he sets a man on the case of researching him, about whom so little is known. Was he really an “Oxford man”, did his truth or lie around that count for so much? Is it because early on in the piece, the brutish Tom cares not about physically assaulting his lover, Myrtle, in front of a party of people that we realise then that Jay’s competitor, for Daisy, is a coward and would probably stop at no underhand trick to thwart his rival?

But doomed, Jay Gatsby’s ambitions are, and shattered his dream is, but not just the quest to win Daisy back, tragically, it’s more than that; it’s the conception of his love for her and hers for him, that has sustained him over their years apart that is smashed and undoes him so, long before Wilson does for him.

Day #123 Tip: The Dissillusionment Plot
“...a protagonist (Jay Gatsby) starts out in th full bloom of faith, in a certain set of ideals and, after being subjected to some kind of loss, threat, or trial, loses that faith entirely” says Norman Friedman (‘Form and Meaning in Fiction’ [University of Georgia Press, 1975]).

The loss, that which is unthinkable (to Gatsby) happens when the great confrontation finally takes place between Jay, Tom and Daisy in New York’s Plaza Hotel. When Gastby reveals his designs to Tom, (that Daisy is leaving her husband for him) Daisy, in a state of distress, reveals this, to Gatsby: “I did love him once - but I loved you too”. What Daisy is confessing here to Gatsby is that what Jay thought was a loveless marriage, may not always have been so; the singular love that he believed she carried for him alone, is not actually so. The ground on which Gatsby stands falls away beneath him and he can only manage to utter “You loved me 'too’?”.

Back to Mr Friedman “...when he (Gatsby) sees that she (Daisy) is not worthy of his conception of her, he has nothing left to live for and his subsequent death is an act of mercy, however mistaken it is in fact. Since this plot leaves this hero at the end somewhat like a puppet without strings, our long-range fears eventually succeed in thwarting our short-range hopes, and we are left with a final sense of loss and pity - mitigated, however, by our counterbalancing since that there was something excessive about the protagonist’s illusions to begin with, and that therefore he is better off without them.”

Nick Carraway says this towards the end of The Great Gatsby “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together.....” and of Jay Gatsby, at the very beginning of the tale, he says this “...there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life....”.

Sure was.

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