Gatsby Geek Out: My Favorite Passages from ‘The Great Gatsby’
It's no secret that I am psyched about the theatrical release of Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Here's a Fun Meg Fact: I was an English Literature major in college. I've probably read The Great Gatsby at least 20 times; it is one of my favorite novels. Let's get our Gatsby on with a look at some of my fave passages from F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece.
"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."
This passage always strikes a chord with me, as my grandparents taught me this lesson at an early age. It's a reminder that judging others unfairly is a serious character flaw.
"He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey."
Speaking of grandparents... this passage always brings a tear to my eye as it reminds me of my Paw Paw. Yes, the passage is about none other than the infamous Gatsby; however, I can't help but see my Paw Paw in Fitzgerald's words here. He's always been there for me, encouraging me to pursue my career in radio, listening to me, supporting me--he is someone I admire so much that I feel this passage describes him perfectly.
"All right... I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool--that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
Here we have flighty Daisy Buchanan referring to her daughter. Daisy's words were actually those of Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, after the birth of their daughter, Scottie. Much of Daisy was modeled after the fabulously beautiful and larger than life Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, a native of Montgomery, Alabama. This passage resonates with me because the aching truth in Daisy's words--at the time, the best thing a woman could be was beautiful and gullible, just a pretty pawn in a man's world.
"His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete."
SWOON ALERT. This passage is so achingly beautiful I can't even attempt to handle it. Here Gatsby's dream becomes reality in an instant, a kiss bringing years of longing to passionate fruition.
“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”
Here we learn of the years Gatsby has spent pining away for Daisy. I didn't "get" this until I was older. The first time I read Gatsby, I was a sophomore in high school and blissfully unaware of the painful nature of love. I understand it now, the longing for someone you just can't have, how you build a gilded pedestal up for this person, erasing all his or her flaws, hopelessly in love with the IDEA of this person, haunted by that longing.
"For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened - then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk."
DANG IT, Fitzgerald. This is some of the most beautiful prose ever written. The words are so profoundly beautiful and vivid. I can see Jordan Baker here as I have seen others before, with night falling and the world transforming between two people at dusk.
“Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.”
Fitzgerald does it again here. I see the brightness in Daisy's eyes, the excitement that carried itself in the hushed tones of her Southern drawl, her beauty mesmerizing all those around her. This is another one of the passages in the novel that obviously refers to Fitzgerald's feelings for Zelda during their courtship--beautiful, bright Southern belle Zelda, he girl in the gilded tower, the girl of his dreams.
“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Oh, excuse me for sitting here and bawling like a baby. This passage always makes me cry. This breaks my heart. I know the pain of longing for someone for so long and having it all fall to pieces before it ever truly begins. Gatsby never had a chance with Daisy, but he loved her any way. Every move he made, every plan, every party--he thought--brought them closer together; in reality, she was and always would be out of her reach--but he loved her anyway.
The passage can also be interpreted to be about the grand illusion of the "American Dream," of the unattainable things we waste our lives away pursuing, the lies we tell ourselves as we pursue those dreams, the denial that's sustained for years as we strive for the things that always manage to stay just out of reach.
And there you have it--a few of my favorite passages from one of the true masterpieces of American Literature. Below is a track from Florence + The Machine to tide you over until the midnight premiere of Gatsby. Enjoy!