Lessons From The Great Gatsby

The House Where Gatsby Lived

I read The Great Gatsby for the first time in 11th grade and promptly fell in love with Gatsby: His decadent parties. His fancy cars. The flowers and champagne he showered on his friends. The opulence of the time. I understood Gatsby’s romantic notions and tortured love for the wilting Daisy Buchanan. I loved how Gatsby stared across the water at the flashing green light, clinging to a dream because, for Jay Gatsby, for a time the world was green with possibility. The narrator, Nick Carraway, realizes Gatsby’s dream is  seriously flawed – and Nick walks away one night leaving Gatsby alone in the moonlight “watching over nothing” (153).

Anyone who has read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel knows that Gatsby was all about illusions. He was stunningly good-looking, which can get you pretty far in America. He was born James Gatz, the son of unsuccessful farmers, but he reinvented himself. An officer; a gentleman; a businessman.

Gatsby was the lover of ideas. Fancy ones. He had the audacity to believe in the American Dream, where anything was possible. But his thinking was terribly flawed. He believed in things that could never be.

For all his faults, Gatsby was beautiful because he was so very vulnerable.

Oh, how I wept.

(I don’t mean to sound dramatic. Any student who has ever sat beside me as I watch the film version knows I weep like a baby at the end of Gatsby.)

A few days ago, a former student told me The Sands Point, Long Island mansion – that is said to be author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for his legendary novelis about to be demolished.

The 24,000-square-foot, 25-room home, which in the 1930s used to be the scene of lavish parties by celebrities, is now a deteriorating shell of its former glory.

After sitting on the market at $30 million, the home — called Lands End — is set to be knocked down, and plans are in the works to split the 13 acres of land into five lots worth an estimated $10 million each.

“The cost to renovate these things is just so overwhelming that people aren’t interested in it,” Lands End project construction manager Clifford Fetner told Newsday. “The value of the property is the land.” Source

It’s all just so damn symbolic.

I know we are struggling right now – as a country, as individuals – but like Gatsby, we have to have hope. There were many tragedies here, to be sure – but to take this magnificent house and demolish it? Call me sentimental, but it seems a little short-sighted.


Ain’t that America?

I wonder if anyone will show up for the funeral.

What do you remember about reading/seeing The Great Gatsby?

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Macmillian Publishing Company: New York. 1991. Print.

32 thoughts on “Lessons From The Great Gatsby

  1. My absolute FAVORITE book! I can’t tell you how many times I read it in high school. And how many times I watched the movie. I’m so sadden by the demolition of the house. I used to dream about buying this house one day. Then, as I grew older, I would think of visiting this house. If only I could win powerball!!!

    1. I don’t know if Powerball could even save this house. Its asking price of 30K is to get the house in “as is” condition. It has fallen into utter disrepair, which breaks my heart.

      It would likely cost several millions more to restore it. And, honestly, we tear things down in America. We’re not big on saving monuments to the past.

  2. This is my all time favorite book! I read it many times. I love everything about the the 20’s, the fashion, the architecture, the innocence of the American psyche. It is sad that they want to take down that beautiful mansion, but I think it is a sign of the times. Things have just become too costly. [NY property taxes probably haven’t helped with its resale value]. It looks like it is more profitable to split the land. *sigh* Daisy would be spinning in her fictional grave.

  3. I find this infinitely sad, on many levels.

    That’s all I’ll say. Now I’m off to reread TGG. Well, after I change students lives today. Insert. sarcasm. please.

  4. I wonder why the house can’t be designated an historical landmark or used as a tourist attraction or Bed & Breakfast.

    1. I did a little research and apparently there are many famous homes on this area once called The Gold Coast which are being saved because they are in better repair. This one, however, is so enormous and in such bad shape, well… it’s going to go.

      Seems like it would have made an amazing museum to the 1920’s and all things Gatsby. But then, most likely only English teachers and old literature buffs would have visited. Hardly enough cash to keep things afloat.

      Wilson would have been thrilled to watch Gatsby’s house crumble.

  5. Thank you for the eloquent piece on your feelings about the book. I’ve not read it but it’s going on my book list. My next read will be Huck Finn after having watched a great documentary about Mark Twain on PBS last Sunday, Pt II this Sunday, 3/13.

    1. Huck is a must read, but do please read the version with the “n-word” in it. I know it is controversial, but Twain meant for it to be there. If you read it carefully (and I know you will), you’ll understand the irony of its use. 😉

  6. Noooo! Say it ain’t so!

    I totally had a literary crush on Gatsby. I was all, “Boy, please, that Daisy don’t deserve you. Page me!” (I was, what, 15? That’s how we talked back then.)

    1. I’m guessing I was crushing on Gatsby a good 25 years before you as I watched it in 1984. And after seeing the movie in class, we sighed, “I hope some boy will look at me the way Robert Redford looks at Mia Farrow.”

      Oh, and in 1984 only doctors had pagers. 😉

  7. This beautiful landmark is about to fall prey to the “disposable” mentality we have here. Wouldn’t it be lovely to leave something of this amazing era standing for future generations like they do the “castles” in Europe and the UK?

    1. It’s funny you should mention that. When I went to Italy and England and France, I was struck by how many sculptures and castles and fountains were just… everywhere. I realized how, in the United States, we really don’t have those things – and when things get old, we generally tear them down.

      I have never had this reaction to something being torn down before, but I am really sad. I will always imagine Gatsby floating in that pool of his, looking so very cool.

  8. OH…how very sad. You would think that somebody would snatch it up. Thanks for reminding me of this great book, I think I might just haul it out. Enjoyed!

  9. Shame on me, I never read The Great Gatsby but I bet no one this generation has read Institutes of Religion by John Calvin cc 1550’s, so we are even. The picture of the house up there, it looks just like the one in the film The world According to Garp with Robin Williams.

    1. Carl, a great historian like you would adore Gatsby. It takes place during the end of the 1920s, just before the crash of Wall Street that led to The Great Depression. Fitzgerald captures it all.

      And, by the way, I read Calvin’s Institutes of Religion in undergrad in a philosophy class.

      1. Wow. You did Calvin? Thick stuff, huh? Found I could ponder over and absorb about a page a day. Luther is much easier. OK. I’ll do Gatsby but Joyce or Eliot, Naw. Could not get past second page of anything they wrote. Liked Inge and Agee, however.

  10. Never really liked Fitzgerald ficton and I have tried. But I have much enjoyed reading bios of both F Scott and Zelda. The period and personalities are facinating to me.

    What a shame Land’s End is being torn down! Ideally, it should be on some sort of historic register which protects it. Renee, I think you’ve got it right: a museum would be wonderful. Even if it wasn’t greatly visited, it would be appreciated by history and literature buffs. Wouldn’t this give The Gold Coast real class?

    I have a friend who works at the Marriot on Kaui where her hubby is a chef. A couple years ago, Robert Redford and Billie (now his wife) were staying there. My friend said RR was nice, nice, nice. He’s so normal she forgot he was famous after awhile: forgot he was IT, like “call me Bob” terms. Bob said he’s an environmentalist, not so much an actor. (Just an excuse to tie in my second hand brush with fame.)

    1. Alas, Americans will buy Land’s end clothes trying to achieve the relaxed look of the era, but they will not find the monies to save the estate. Not in this day and age anyway, when our social and health and school programs are on the chopping block. It’s a double-edged sword. If it is developed, people will be unhappy and if federal funds were used to save it, people would be unhappy, too.

      I’m feeling so down about this, your second-hand brush with fame is a real pick-me-up! 😉

  11. Were we in Miss Murphy’s class together for the reading of this book? SHe really brought it to life and made it an all time favorite! It’s sitting on my bedside table as I often pick it up for old time sake! XO

    1. KC:

      Actually, I had Ms. Landfear in 11th grade (as I was just discussing with a former classmate of ours), and she also rocked this book. How do I know this? Because I stopped doodling kissy-fish all over aforementioned classmate’s spiral notebook. I. Was. Riveted.

      Glad to know you still have a copy to hold close. 😉

  12. My favorite part of GG was during the party, when Nick and whatsername-tennis-player come across a bespectacled man in the library, pulling down books, exclaiming how they are all real! That, for me, epitomized the idea that the old school (old money, xth gen. ivy league) will always be an exclusive club, and no matter how rich, good looking, or smart you are, if you’re new to it, you will never cut the mustard.

    Interesting, too, that none of those really, really rich people want the house– certainly not because no one can afford it! Maybe it’s still somehow West Egg “nouveau-riche” and not-classy-enough?!

    1. Sorry, Hat Girl:

      Adjunct Instructor J is in the house. (And I really need to vacuum.)

      You are right, an owl-eyed man at a Gatsby party sits in awe in the library, murmuring with amazement that all the books on Gatsby’s shelves are “real books.” But the books have never been opened – and we can tell because the pages have never been split. (Books used to come with a block of solid pages which would be split into individual pages once opened and read!) Owl-eyes’ incredulity may be the fact that the books are real (and therefore very expensive), but that they also just there only there for appearances!

      I think we are supposed to wonder, ‘What’s up with this Gatsby guy? Why would he buy these books if he doesn’t read them?’ The image suggests much of what Gatsby presents to the world is a façade; he wants people to believe that he’s a well-educated, Oxford man, but really he only spent a short time there after the war. The books reinforce the idea that Gatsby has built up an image of himself that is not consistent with the facts of his life.

      But you are right, he is desperately trying to impress Daisy, whom he hopes will be wowed (foolish girl that she is) by his gorgeous library filled with books – and the appearance of an abundance of moolah.

      And I love that scene, too! 😉

      1. I just saw this reply– so late!– and had to argue. 😉 The owl-eyed guy is glad the books are uncut because that would mean Gatsby overplayed his hand, tried too hard to look authentic, overstepped a line. It is, for him, the money and attention to detail that matter, not the fact that G might have read the books. Owl-eyes likes to think of himself as an intellectual superior. G’s money and his education are real, but neither count for much in the end. I am enjoying your blog. Keep ’em coming!

  13. Not only am I a Fitzgerald man, but I also like preserving history being that I’m a dork for that stuff. I’m surprised they’d rather tear that place down than find a way to capitalize. I guess they say they just can’t? Sigh…

    1. Do you think this is our way to get rich quick? How about you, me, Chase, Ironic Mom, WoPro, Carl, Julie Gardner and a bunch of the rest of us bloggers all throw in a million and turn the joint into a historical monument? We can throw our annual blogging convention there. What do you think?

      It’s totally doable. Haven’t you heard? We teachers are mad rich! 😉

  14. Very thought provoking. I love The Great Gatsby. I actually finished the book in two years, due to the fact that I was twelve years old and grew up with a different language. It was hard to read the first time of course without the knowledge of the whole American Dream thing. But when I read it again,it eventually became one of my most read books, mostly because of the illusion that is Jay Gatsby and how great of a symbolism he is for all our dream. I like how he it was stated that he was so busy reaching hisd reams to notice that it went past his grasp. I’m also moved by his love for Daisy, all becasue I’m so romantic and all. I am very excited about the new film.

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