"The Great Gatsby" is a sad book. But perhaps the saddest thing of all is that F Scott Fitzgerald's tragic, moving portrayal of the American Dream demonstrates that the typical American's pre-occupation with the yearning for wealth, class and an easier life can ultimately be so empty, so meaningless and so utterly unfulfilling.
When Nick Carraway left what he saw as a comfortable but mundane existence in the Midwest, he moved East to a magnetic New York City to learn the bond business. Renting a "weather beaten cardboard bungalow" in a town called West Egg on Long Island, he met a distant cousin, Daisy Buchanan; her husband, Tom, struggling to live up to the brilliance of a university football career in New Haven; and his next door neighbour, Jay Gatsby, an enigmatic man whose wealth had originated from mysterious means. The many rumours hinted at everything from Prohibition rum-running to murder.
The actual plot of the story, told through the eyes of narrator Nick Carraway, is so utterly pointless and virtually directionless as to leave the reader wondering how such simplistic, almost mindless melodrama manages to be so compelling and so captivating.
Nick tells the story of his move to New York City. We learn that Jay Gatsby had fallen in love with Daisy Buchanan several years earlier, at a time when he was an impoverished nobody and couldn't hope to marry someone like her. After Gatsby leaves to go to war, her subsequent marriage to Tom Buchanan is ultimately unsuccessful as Tom has an affair with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of a local mechanic. Jay Gatsy, now wealthy almost beyond imagining as a result of his involvement in criminal activities - the details of which are never fully disclosed in the story - asks Nick to re-connect him with his former love as he seeks to have Daisy admit that she had never stopped loving him since their first affair many years earlier. Gatsby desperately wants Daisy to confess she had never actually loved her husband at all.
The reader witnesses a non-stop whirl of debauchery as the shadowy Gatsby hosts an endless string of decadent, liquor-soaked bacchanales at his Long Island mansion. The readers are left to question Gatsby's motives as he is portrayed as an observer who never truly participates in his own parties. Indeed, the majority of his guests are clearly pretenders to his acquaintance and wannabe seekers of the trappings of wealth who have never even met their host and wouldn't know him to speak to him on the street.
The climax of the story arrives after a tragi-comic confrontational gathering of virtually the entire cast of Fitzgerald's tale - Tom and Daisy, Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway and his erstwhile lover, tennis player Jordan Baker - sitting in a steamy, overheated, hotel room sipping on iced mint juleps casually discussing whether or not Daisy's future rests with Tom or with Gatsby.
The brim of the cup that is "The Great Gatsby" runneth over with licentiousness, hypocrisy, greed, amorality, false friendship and weak-kneed love - in other words, a veritable cocktail of moral turpitude to sip or swill and digest while pondering its base flavours plus a variety of notes and subtle overtones.
In hindsight, it is also worth considering the irony that, as a bond trader on Wall Street in 1925, Carraway would have had but a scant four years remaining before encountering the Wall Street Crash and the utter collapse of his fantastical New York world. Perhaps F Scott Fitzgerald was prescient as well as a brilliant writer who would have us take away the message that it might be worth a moment to reconsider the true meaning and value of every American's fondest "American Dream"!