Previously, on Forever Mountain Publishing… I talked about reading Shadow of Ender and Enders Game as part of my ongoing study of character representation. I also said I’d read The Great Gatsby. Well, I did and I’m glad I did.
There’s a lot you can learn from reading other people’s stuff. In the case of The Great Gatsby, the book’s been used as an example in several books about writing and editing. So, it’s worth the read both for what you can learn from the book itself, and to help you understand the “About writing” books that reference it.
Spoiler alert! We’re talking about a book here, and in doing so we may (Will…) give away certain details about said book…
It’s the narrator’s story (even though it’s Gatsby’s)
It is. Nick, the narrator, starts off talking about his own life and why he went to New York. He mentions Gatsby, but we don’t actually see Gatsby in the first thirty pages. And, we have to wait even longer before Gatsby actually says anything. Gatsby dies before the book ends, and the last portion of the book is Nick telling about life “After Gatsby.”
Gatsby is absolutely central to the story. It couldn’t happen without him. And his story is told. But the book’s about how Gatsby and his choices affect those around him as much (or more) than it is about what happened with Gatsby himself.
Gatsby the “source of conflict”
Gatsby is the center of the book. The choices and moves he makes have a major impact on the characters around him, and the whole social scene of his area. He takes heavy blame for what happens in the end. But it’d be more accurate to say he’s the catalyst of conflict than the source. Yes, he’s going to get a lot of the blame (speaking of misplaced blame, check out my Words Mean Stuff post this week).
A lot of the story’s conflict was already present. People were already cheating on their spouses, drinking, and acting like shallow little mayflies before Gatsby speaks his first sentence; and the survivors are still doing it after Gatsby’s body is in the ground. But it was Gatsby that brought things to the flash point. The events of the story might never have come to pass if it weren’t for Gatsby, even the stuff he wasn’t directly involved in.
Nick’s story, because Gatsby couldn’t tell it.
As I’ve said, It’s Nick’s story, not Gatsby’s. Gatsby’s story is in there, but Gatsby couldn’t tell it, not in a way that would satisfy the author or his readers. Gatsby does a lot of hiding, including hiding from himself. He couldn’t tell the story.
Nick could tell the story. But he couldn’t tell Gatsby’s story without telling his own. Gatsby had a profound effect on Nick’s life and Nick is a pretty realistic character. He couldn’t tell Gatsby’s story without telling his own.
The Great Gatsby (the man and the book) has a lot to teach us. It’s a fast read (barely over 100 pages), even though you have to get used to the 1920s writing. And it has 1920s writing. It’s an artifact of its era. But even that has something to teach us. How would the book be different if it were written now?
I’m actually not answering that question. It’s too big for one post, and I want you to come up with your own answer. This post is about learning from books and I want to encourage you to do that (If you come up with something good, leave a comment).
This blog is about writing and learning, I wouldn’t bring something here if it didn’t have value. So, I encourage you to read The Great Gatsby (or reread it) and learn from what’s there. I’ll also encourage you to keep writing. And of course, I’ll see you next post!