I just finished listening to the audiobook of Maureen Corrigan’s So We Read On, in which she examines the creation and effects of one of the best works of American literature, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I’ve always loved the book, since I first read it in high school, and have re-read it periodically, always finding something new to it. Of course, I just re-read it (I think this was the eighth reading for me), and discovered even more to it, particularly in the book’s structure.
I’ve always preferred Fitzgerald to Hemingway, and think that Fitzgerald, while deeply flawed, was a much nicer human being than Hemingway. Hemingway always seems such a “masculine” writer, and his personal relationships were a mess, largely because of his selfishness and misogyny. Fitzgerald obviously had his share of bad relationships, too, but he didn’t walk away from them like Hemingway – Fitzgerald worked until the day he died to pay the sanitarium bills for his mentally ill wife, Zelda, and Fitzgerald was very close to his only child, Scotty. While I tend to think that Hemingway got what he deserved in the end – cancer and a bullet to his head (I know, that sounds harsh), I feel deep sympathy for the tragedies of Fitzgerald’s life. One of the saddest tragedies was his belief that he was a failure, and the book he had believed would be his finest – The Great Gatsby- was not appreciated until years after death.
In my most recent re-reading of the book, I was deeply struck by a sentence toward the end of the book, when the narrator, Nick, is trying to make sense of the last day of Gatsby’s life. Fitzgerald wrote:
” 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 let other people clean up the mess they had made…”
I’ve known people like Tom and Daisy; not all of them have money, but they have had a sense of entitlement to mistreat people or animals. They are people who use other people, then drop them like used tissues. If you try to explain to such people why their behavior is bad, they look at you as if you’re speaking another language – or they walk away from you. Those are people who should come with a warning label. Maybe Hemingway was such a person?