Okay, I have to admit that before I read The Great Gatsby this weekend, I had always wondered what a Gatsby was. It sounded to me like a period of time, like the Great Depression, or the Great Awakening, or a major event of history (perhaps in a fictitious world, like the Coming of the Great Pumkin, as anticipated by Charlie Brown and the little red haired girl). So now, I've been duly enlightened. Gatsby is the name of a man.
Once I discovered that Gatsby is not a momentous event, I now had to grapple with this very complicated word, 'great'. In my experience, great means of epic proportions. So Beauwolf is one kind of great. So is Superman for that matter. Joan of Arc and Napoleon Bonaparte are another kind of great. Abraham Lincoln and George Washington are another. And The Beatles and Bob Marley are another; Susan Bolye might have fallen into that category, but alas, Fate didn't have it that way.
'Great' in the context of The Great Gatsby is not so clearcut. In fact, at first I thought F. Scott Fitzgerald is using the word satirically. For how can someone whose tools of trade are subterfuge and bribery be considered great? How can someone who takes out all his fine shirts to show his ex-girlfriend be considered anything but vain and hollow? But gradually I found that he is not laughing at Gatsby's crazed motivation to be rich, he is not mocking Gatsby's fantastic wealth which has failed to buy him a good life. Fitgerald is genuinely writing in praise of Gatsby's optimism, determination and, yes, goodness at heart. In the end, for all his flaws, Gatsby is really 'better than the whole bunch of them'.
Fitzgerald is a proper comic, I smiled in my mind often and laughed out loud one time. I never cried, I was never revolted by any gory details, and there were no inordinately boring pages for me to skip. I hope you read this classic, if you haven't already. If you never do, at least you are perfectly clear on what a Gatsby is, and what it is not.