The Sun (Malaysia)

Do away with excesses

- BHAVANI KRISHNA IYER

“Modern industrial civilisati­on has developed within a certain system of convenient myths. The driving force of modern industrial civilisati­on has been individual material gain, which is accepted as legitimate, even praisewort­hy, on the grounds that private vices yield public benefits in the classic formulatio­n.” – Noam Chomsky

JUST recently, a tear-jerker of a video came around on WhatsApp, where a pet in an affluent household gets better treatment than a young maid. We may come across many such videos and quotes, all the more now with technology ruling every minute of our lives. Beyond reading and sharing, have we ever done anything else?

This is a question I pose myself as I write this …

I previously touched briefly about the extravagan­ces of the “Roaring Twenties” as presented in The Great Gatsby with a promise for a more insightful account and hence this. Sometimes we need to view things as a bystander for certain meanings in life to overwhelm us.

The Great Gatsby fits perfectly Scott Fitzgerald’s expressed intention “to write something new, something extraordin­ary and beautiful and simple and intricatel­y patterned”, for the novel was born out of this desire.

The Great Gatsby is hailed as one of the foremost pieces of American fiction of its time. It is one of those novels that richly evoke the texture of their time where bootlegged gin, cigarettes, gowns, suits, chauffeurs, games, illicit affairs, fortune made in mysterious ways, drinking to drown an awkward moment sums up the main characteri­stic of the novel.

The story follows the young Nick Carraway as he recounts a summer in the 1920s that he spent in New York. His relationsh­ip with his second cousin Daisy, her husband Tom and how Nick gets drawn into the middle of Daisy’s affair with his neighbour, the mysterious­ly wealthy and charming Jay Gatsby.

Fitzgerald’s social insight in The Great Gatsby focuses on a select group: privileged young people between the ages of 20 and 30. In doing so, Fitzgerald provides a vision of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons the mind, and gives rise to greed. Throughout the novel, Nick finds himself surrounded by lavish mansions, fancy cars and an endless supply of material possession­s, typical of the Roaring Twenties.

As much as the novel carrying a variety of themes, social stratifica­tion is vividly woven into the novel, offering a peek into the American life in the 1920s: an era of decayed social and moral values. Fitzgerald divides the setting of the novel into three distinct groups: East Egg, West Egg and the Valley of Ash, representi­ng the old rich, the new rich and the lower class, respective­ly.

The theme of money, love and aspiration­s is also central to The Great Gatsby and is very much unique to the popular American fiction. The message that possession of one does not lead to possession of the other is clear right from beginning of the novel. The protagonis­t nourishes an adolescenc­e illusion about this dream girl who he can’t have, loses his life for nothing, despite having all the money and affluence he had ever wanted.

The word that can sum up many of the themes in the book is position. The word encompasse­s themes like class, wealth, social standing, and others. Gatsby’s whole life is spent trying to attain money and status so that he can reach a certain position in life. That is what motivated him to move to West Egg, make money by any means necessary, and strive to win Daisy back. There is a position in life that he yearns for and will do all that it takes to reach that status.

The Great Gatsby has often been applauded for its form, meticulous constructi­on, rigorous selection of episodes and what baffled me as a firsttime reader was the ingenious weaving of past and present not forgetting the careful control of the tone and point of view.

The Great Gatsby is the tragedy, if not death of the American dream. There is no union at the end, only death and separation. The work borders as a novel of manners and romance. If we look at Gatsby’s idealism as representi­ng a personal code of conduct, which opposes society and its values, the book can be called a novel of manners.

The tone, too, is satirical and comic most of the time, but bearing in mind the wider significan­ce (as highlighte­d by the various themes) it would be more appropriat­e to classify it as a romance, for the book does not merely show the different values of two groups of characters. The account is more to the portrayal of the man’s idealism on one hand and its unreality on the other hand

Take home message: Greed is toxic and if we learn to share our excesses with the less fortunate, there will enough to go around.

The writer holds a PhD from a local public university and believes that the Malaysian education system will reach greater

heights with a strong antidote to revolution­ise just about everything, a

complete overhaul, if you like. Comments: letters@thesundail­y.com

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