Going back, after however many years, and reading a book over again can yield a tremendously different overall experience.
What I am getting at here, is that I recently found myself going back (in time?) and re-reading ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald. When I read it for the first time I was oh…fourteen years old, maybe fifteen, and I very much didn’t get the gist of the thing at all. I was a good student in general and got mostly A’s for my work, but this one book didn’t do anything at all for me at the time. Maybe high school English classes have bad habit of killing great books anyway, but I think this may have been a special case.
I was recently moved to go back to this classic, rather shamefully, because a new film by one of my favourite directors is being released this Christmas, bearing the same title. Baz Luhrmann is magically putting together another adaptation of the story, and I wanted to be a bit more up on it beforehand.
When I pressed my brain to try to remember the story line, recalling that I had read it in my ‘youth’, I was more or less at a loss. I distinctly remember sitting down in my basement with the Penguin edition of the book and reading it, but I couldn’t remember any of the plot. None of it at all. I knew there was a yellow car, a girl called Daisy and a fancy house. That was it. I could almost feel the shame and disappointment careening towards me from my old English teacher. I was one of those students. The one’s they talk about in the staff room, as being hopeless and generally uninterested. The, “They’re just not going to get it no matter how you teach it” sort of conversations. But deep down I knew I wasn’t really like this, and I felt sad. So as to make some sort of otherworldly amends towards said teacher, I got myself another copy of the book, and sat down and had at it again.
The result of this thought experiment turns out to have been a general success. The book itself did not seem as long and daunting as remember it being, and it’s setting seemed much more attractive now having known a bit more about that era in general (Thanks to a hearty helping of Jeeves and Wooster as of late). The character of Nick Carraway though, I was still not comfortable with. I think we know too little about his personality and mannerisms to get a good grip of him, particularly as he is the one delivering the story. But that might just be my humble opinion.
The idea of Gatsby enchanted me this second time around, being a complex character with many levels of mystery and attractiveness that change as time passes, but initially I was just confused and left to wonder how it all made sense.
In hindsight I could have used the lesson in this story at the time, being everyone and no one, all at once. It would have done a great deal to help me through high school, but alas, that concept was never touched on. It all makes me wonder how many other great books I have shunned because of my fabricated hatred for them due to the tradition of force feeding literature.
Maybe that little purple book about racism and Boo Radley wasn’t so terrible after all, maybe Macbeth wasn’t just about someone’s crazy mother who could have used a Valium, and just maybe Frankenstein was in fact as exciting as the movie. If only I would let my imagination go back to these times and see with a more refined and educated perception, what all of those teachers are endlessly trying to teach.
And maybe after all that, I will no longer be one of those students.
-Miss Hailey Jane